I have a complicated relationship with Thanksgiving. It has historically been framed as a day, every year, when we are gluttonous to celebrate the fact that white people were saved by Native Americans. Therefore, it is only fitting that Thanksgiving, like the word “n—ga,” has become one of the blackest things in America.
As with that word, we took something rooted in white supremacy and filled it with ontological cultural blackness. The food (there may be chitterlings—pronounced “chitlins”), music (Frankie Beverly) and traditions of black Thanksgiving (the long prayer of the matriarch before dinner is served) are, to me, sacred.
Contrary to white supremacist narratives about what it means to be black, we, as a people, do not all like the same things. Our preferences vary according to region and class, and our traditions sometimes differ. We are a complex, beautiful people, and we should celebrate our variations instead of seeking uniformity.
Much has been said about the difficult political conversations that may happen around the kitchen table in white households because of ol’ dude. (Indeed, as my friend Kim Foster of For Harriet once reminded me, we need to have our own difficult political conversations about homophobia and the like.) Yet, despite the fact that we are a diverse people, the following statements will almost certainly cause a difficult conversation (and maybe a few side eyes) at almost any black home during Thanksgiving dinner.
1. “Do y’all have anything other than Louisiana?”
I have a frat brother in Oklahoma who SWEARS by Frank’s RedHot hot sauce. Since I discovered that about him, our friendship has never been the same. You just can’t trust a man who chooses warm ketchup over Louisiana.
2. “Pass me that stuffing.”
This is a regional thing, and I get it—there are many black families that serve stuffing instead of the cornmeal-based dressing. Y’all can do that. Just know that the same thing is being served at the home of Clarence Thomas.
3. “I don’t want my son to sit at the kids table.”
This is a case of what Bomani Jones, The Root 100 gala’s host, calls insufficient daddyin’. Tables specifically for kids are a staple in many black homes during Thanksgiving. You can try to sit your little bad-ass 8-year-old in a seat at the adult table if you want to; just know that the wine and spirits will be flowing. If he hears something that scars him for life, that’s on you.
4. “I wish Granny had made pumpkin pie instead.”
Someone will probably respond with, “That’s why you need to leave those white girls alone.”
5. “Why hasn’t dinner started yet? I need to get to Wal-Mart.”
Fool, you know that Thanksgiving dinner never starts on time. You better try to catch that Black Friday online deal.
6. “You know, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad says in Eat to Live … ”
Shut up. I’m eating this ham today. Ain’t nobody got time for that. It’s Thanksgiving.
7. “Why y’all gotta argue about spades?”
I get mad suspicious if someone starts walking jacks at the spades table. Makes me think something funny is going on. Listen, I once knew a man in rural Texas who got a roscoe (large-caliber handgun) pulled on him because he was caught cheating in a game of spades. Legend has it that no one ever played with, nor spoke to, him again. Yes, it’s that serious.
8. “I really wish this was Jiffy cornbread.”
Apparently that sweet cornbread is what these millennial black folks eat. They can have it. For me, hot-water cornbread is preferable, but regular cornbread will suffice. Asking for Jiffy is just disrespectful; you’re looking for a fight. That mess is, as my friend Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, once said, “post-civil-rights processed-food gentrification.” I’m inclined to agree.
9. “Stop slamming those dominoes!”
I honestly don’t know how to put dominoes down on a table quietly. I’m not sure it can be done. And even if such a thing were possible, it feels disrespectful to the ancestors to do it.
10. “I made these greens myself. They’re from Neiman Marcus.”
The Root staff recently tasted the store’s widely discussed $66 greens. It didn’t end well. Bring that to the house if you want to. Just know we gon’ talk about you when you leave.
Because of the complexity of the black experience, the aforementioned are forgivable—and, to be sure, centered in my Southern bias. There is one black Thanksgiving deal breaker, though: “Yeah, Trump said some mean things, but … ” Utter this and you’ll probably get the taste slapped out your mouth—and you will have deserved it.
Lawrence Ware is a progressive writer in a conservative state. A frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Dissent magazine, he is also a contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and the Democratic Left. He has been featured in the New York Times and discussed race and politics on HuffPost Live, NPR and Public Radio International. Ware’s book on the life and thought of C.L.R. James will be published by Verso Books in the fall of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.