With the rise in interracial dating and cross-cultural friendships, you may be one of the lucky few white people who get invited to a black family dinner during the holidays. And while our previous guides to black barbecues and black churches laid a template, the dynamic of our family holiday gatherings is a different animal altogether. As a gift to you during this holiday season, we now offer the third installment in our ongoing guide to bringing the world together.
I know this is antithetical to what you learned about black barbecues, but it’s different when you’re eating inside. Black Thanksgiving and Christmas meals are different. Here, every family member has unspoken duties and dishes they are responsible for that have been agreed upon, ratified over generations and intricately tailored to cooking skill, financial ability, and level of sanitation. Aunt Wilene makes the macaroni and cheese, Uncle Jerome fries the turkey, and Sharonda brings the cups and the napkins and her bad-ass kids. It is more complicated than the Warsaw Pact, and I don’t even know what the Warsaw Pact is.
If this is your first time attending this particular family’s gathering, you’ll be instructed to bring the ice. They do that because that’s some entry-level shit that no one can fuck up. Bring lots of ice and that’s it. Nothing extra. I know you think your grandmother’s mashed potatoes recipe is the bomb—yes, we know, the secret ingredient is basil—but RuthAnne brings the mashed potatoes every year, and you don’t want to overstep your bounds or step on any toes. Especially hers. RuthAnne will cut you.
Plus, no one is going to eat what you bring, anyway, but it’s not because you’re white. It’s because at least one person in attendance has to have been in your kitchen before you get the stamp of bringing-a-dish approval. Your kitchen might be nasty, and we don’t eat out of nasty people’s kitchens. That’s why Sharonda brings the cups, forks, and napkins. Plus, some black people think Caucasians let their dogs eat directly off their utensils, because we’ve seen it in so many sitcoms and movies.
Ok, so maybe it’s a little bit because you’re white.
Also, whatever you do, don’t try to make a splash by bringing some Patti’s Pies because you saw that one viral video. That video was for white folks and people whose mothers can’t cook. Ain’t no black people eating those light-skinned, cold-ass pies. In the late ’70s, a black British fellow brought a pumpkin pie to a black Christmas dinner; RuthAnne was there, and she sliced his face right up. I think that fellow’s name was Seal.
Don’t be nervous about the reactions when you show up. White people are, like, 98 percent of the population—I got that statistic from a Donald Trump tweet, so I’m pretty sure it’s correct—so there is virtually no place black people can go without encountering a Caucasian. You might feel like you’re breaking ground or infiltrating a hallowed family tradition, but you’re not. There is at least one European-American at every black nightclub, funeral, and family gathering. (I seriously think that’s how the steps to the Electric Slide got out.) Your presence doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable, so relax and embrace the few embarrassing moments that will inevitably occur. Laugh along when Uncle Lamont gets gone off that brown liquor (we’ll get to that) and remarks that you have a pretty fat ass for a white girl. That’s a compliment. When Sharonda’s youngest daughter asks if you brought your hair from the Korean beauty-supply store, roll with it. Sharon wears that good Remy #9, so that’s also a compliment.
The Black Holiday meal is divided into three parts.
1. The Prayer. This should only take about 30-45 minutes. Uncle Jerome is going to pray until he sweats. Until his mouth gets dry. Until his mouth gets wet again. Until the food goes from piping hot to just lukewarm. He’s gonna call every single name of Jesus: Son of God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Bright and Morning Star, etc. You will start to wonder how long he can go while simultaneously thinking, “Goddamn, this motherfucker can pray!” He won’t even get to the part about the food until he is at least 23 minutes in, but just before you start to feel the presence of the Black Holy Ghost, he’ll finally reach the end.
But it still isn’t time to eat.
2. Fixing your food. When eating at a black holiday gathering, there is a protocol for who goes first in line. It is a complicated algorithm of age, family hierarchy, and whose gout is acting up. To be safe, just wedge yourself at the back of the adult line, but in front of the kids. There is plenty enough for everyone—except for the macaroni. There’s never enough macaroni, so act accordingly.
Also, I pray you’re not one of those people who doesn’t like their food to touch the other food, because the plates here are small, and protocol dictates that you can only get one plate at a time. Fix an ample amount, but don’t be “long-eyed”—meaning, don’t fix more than you can eat. (I don’t mean to demean your Caucasian cultural sensibilities by suggesting that you don’t know what that means, but I’ve only heard black people use this term.) So pile that cornbread stuffing on top of that turkey and just douse all of it with gravy. If you’re skilled enough, you can get big gobs of macaroni and drape your collard greens over it so RuthAnne won’t see that you went over the average allotted amount.
Did I mention that she’ll cut you?
3. Eating. The eating portion of the gathering is the only holiday tradition whose length of time surpasses the prayer. It will take you years to build the skills where you can enjoy the orgasmic food while having a concurrent conversation. It’s going to be loud, and it’s going to take a long time. Don’t be a novice and gobble down your food, filling your belly too quickly. The trick is to find the pace where your body is digesting the food at the same rate you’re eating, and you can also answer Aunt Wilene’s inquiry about “how your mama doing.” I know there are some white friends who are estranged from their parents: Never bring that up. It’s not that they will judge you for it. It’s that they are incapable of understanding it. (I brought a white friend named Kenneth home with me for Thanksgiving 20 years ago, and he tried to tell my grandma that he doesn’t speak to his mother. To this day, my grandmother thinks that his mother is dead. What else could it be that prevents him from speaking to her? That’s his mother.)
There will be 17 different conversations going on at once, and you will be expected to keep up with all of them. You can’t do it. Shit, I can’t do it. When I am at a family dinner, I just laugh real loud and pepper in a few sporadic I-know-that’s-right’s for realism purposes. I don’t know what the hell anybody is talking about. Trying to hear over Sharonda’s bad-ass kids, an old Andre Crouch cassette in the boom box, and Uncle Lamont talking about how he was almost in the Commodores is damn near impossible. Dinner should last around two hours, and by the end, you’ll know everything about everyone in attendance.
This is when the good part starts. I know you might be used to having a nice glass of red or white wine after dinner. Well, there will be no Chardonnays or Pinot noirs here. The black holiday drink menu is broken down into two categories of potent potables: brown liquor and white liquor. And because this is a special time of year (and you’re a grown-ass man/woman), you are going to have some brown liquor. There is no designation for the type of brown liquor you’ll have. Don’t worry about that shit. White people always need to know the particulars. It’ll probably be something that tastes like someone stirred a jar of turpentine with a Black & Mild, but after your third sip it’ll taste like angel piss and hopefulness. Now you’re having fun.
Now Sharonda’s kids are gonna put on a talent show for you. At first you’ll be a little uncomfortable with the routine, because they seem to be a little too young know what “Anaconda” is actually about, plus their 12-year old booties are bigger than all your white girlfriends’. Relax. That’s what the brown liquor is for.
Next will be the worst part of the night, because you will inevitably be cornered by the bastard of the family. The one person who has a problem with you being there. The pro-black nephew who lives in the basement and works at Uncle Lamont’s roofing company because he’s a) got a felony on his record, b) the child-support people keep “fucking with” him, c) his rap career is about to blow as soon as he finishes this mixtape, or d) all of the above. We all know him. He is the “Hotep Nigga.”
You’re going to have to listen to him rant for about 11 minutes about how your people were raping and pillaging while his people were building the pyramids. Feel free to remind him that you are from poor Iowan immigrant stock and you don’t even talk to “your people,” but I told you he won’t understand that. Thank God you have that brown liquor inside you, making you feel like you just wanna hug his aggravating ass. Just as he’s reminding you that Thanksgiving is really celebrating the massacre of the indigenous people and asking if you know the 12 principles of Kwanzaa, lean over and whisper in his ear, “Why is RuthAnne coming over here? And why does she have a knife?”
I bet he’ll leave then.
Finally, white people, let me tell you a secret. If you want to experience the essence of blackness in all its soul and beauty, all you have to do is stay long enough at a holiday gathering. Inevitably, at the end of the night, you will get to sit back and enjoy the loveliest holiday tradition of them all. White people have “Jingle Bells,” and Bing Cosby’s “White Christmas,” and myriad other lovely holiday lullabies, but they all pale in comparison to the feeling when you have some brown liquor in your belly and you hear the Temptations’ “Silent Night.”
As the story goes, one night, the Temptations went into the studio with nothing but a bottle of Crown Royal and a carton of Benson and Hedges and said, “Fuck the lyrics.” What came out was an improvised, non-linear sermon, soul song, and outright classic about Jesus, Santa Claus, and freedom. I just made all that up, but it had to be something like that. When this song comes on, you’ll see the hope of youthfulness in the eyes of Sharonda’s kids. You’ll see the love of the holiday spirit that transcends race, culture, and color. You’ll see that you are drunk and that you don’t know how you’re going to get home. Don’t worry. RuthAnne is gonna walk you all the way to your door, and no one is gonna fuck with you.
Because RuthAnne will … well, you know.
And to all a good night.
Lead image via YouTube.
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