The African American Literature and Culture Society (AALCS) celebrated its eleventh anniversary at the 15th Annual American Literature Association Conference in San Francisco, California in May of 2004.
Sometime ago I was in a hotel lobby in Washington, D.C. talking with a friend from another university. The occasion that brought both of us, and eighty-two other scholars to the nation's capital, was the annual competition for the Ford Foundation Dissertation and Post-Doctoral Minority Fellowships Program, hosted by the National Research Council. After two days of intense review sessions of proposals from qualified minorities, we had fulfilled our responsibilities, and were taking a moment to reflect on the many fine proposals that deserved funding, but which--due to limited moneys--would only receive "honorable mention." While in the midst of this conversation, a middle-aged white male approached my friend and me and asked if either of us was the bellman. We were both taken back at this man's query, since although both of us are African American males, neither physically looked the part of a bellman. In fact, my friend had been teasing me about my dapper style of clothing, complete with a 100% virgin wool Kango hat and matching topcoat, accented by Stacey Adams shoes, an expensive suit, French-cuffed white shirt and tie. I, in turn, had been "signifying" on his more than casual style of dress, for he had chosen to "dress down" after the sessions by donning the garb of the hip-hop generation, with a baseball cap, Air Jordan tennis shoes, jeans, casual shirt, and a trendy athletic warm-up jacket. We responded to this man's query by telling him that not only was neither of us the bellman, but the tradition of the bellman requires him to establish difference between himself and others by wearing a particular uniform, which neither of us wore. As the man walked away, we continued to comment that not only did we not look like bellmen, but each of us carried a briefcase, usually a signifier of professional status.