Thank You God, for Black Thanksgiving
November 27, 2019 12:00 PM   Subscribe

On learning how to be black, one family Thanksgiving in Atlanta at a time.

Blackness often invites hyperbole since we have to occasionally stretch the truth, loudly, simply to get acknowledged. The Big Black Southern American Thanksgiving, however—it’s near-impossible to exaggerate what it’s like to attend, to participate. That said, I’ve never described it well. I always post a photo of my annual first plate—The Meatloaf and The Turkey and The Ham and The Seven-Layer Salad and The Macaroni and Cheese Alpha (Mom) and The Macaroni and Cheese Beta (a person who has the audacity to compete with my mother’s Velveeta Valhalla) and The Broccoli Casserole and The Yams and The Cranberry Sauce and The Dressing and The Collard Greens and The Roll, with The Giblet Gravy Jackson Pollocked over every contiguous morsel in the messy mound of deliciousness.

posted by poffin boffin (13 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Related: The 2019 Rules and Revisions for Black Thanksgiving [The Root]
“For black families, Thanksgiving is an entirely different holiday than the traditional feast enjoyed by the dominant culture. When the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621, most black families in America weren’t invited to the festivities. In fact, legend has it that a particularly unruly enslaved African whispered to a Native Americans as they pulled up to the Plymouth Colony on Thanksgiving Day:

“Pssst. I’m not trying to throw shade, but I wouldn’t trust those motherfuckers with the buckles on their hats.”

No one quite knows the date of the first Black Thanksgiving but most historians agree that it took place shortly after the invention of seasoned salt. The holiday became popular in 1866 when Hattie Mae Jenkins combined pasta noodles with extra sharp cheddar in a casserole dish.”
posted by Fizz at 12:05 PM on November 27, 2019 [15 favorites]

The photograph that made my mouth water wasn't the macaroni & cheese or the beautiful roast turkey, it was the delicious looking greens. Weird.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:05 PM on November 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

That was beautiful.

Her smile was the one you give when you appreciate someone even pretending to help, all while assuming they either won’t, or they will but do it wrong, thus giving you more work to do.

My mother in law still gives me this look. But recognizing it just makes you try harder. And I can't wait till the day my kids recognize it too.
posted by Mchelly at 5:14 PM on November 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Awwww, that was sweet and awesome. And having just been to Atlanta for the first time and experienced a little of the culture, it also gave me a little hope for this country. And not just that mac and cheese or collards will become part of the tradition for all (because, hello, how much better would every table be???).
posted by ldthomps at 7:20 PM on November 27, 2019

That was a great read!

(I enjoyed this like I enjoy "Black Twitter", from the outside, pressing my nose to the glass, while missing half the references, but nevertheless thinking it's great.)
posted by Harald74 at 11:04 PM on November 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

He waited until he was pushing 30 to offer to help? It's a miracle they kept letting him come back at all!

You don't just, like, study how to make the dishes. If you hang around in the kitchen long enough, you learn the recipe. You could always ask! You could always help! It's like an apprenticeship. I can roast a turkey from muscle memory these days, and because I especially liked sweet potato pies (No mention of desserts AT ALL in the article! It wasn't until I came to Atlanta that I learned that sweet potato pecan pie was an actual thing!), I learned how to make them, crust and all. I and my siblings all acquired at least some portion of the family recipe, and even as kids we would have some level of participation. (My childhood role of Kool-Aid mixologist still gets referenced sometimes-- it was just cherry + lemonade!)

Anyway, at the last large family Thanksgiving I can remember, we found out that college students and ex-cons both ate the same way-- voraciously. (Ex-cons guard their food with their free hands while they eat. We made fun of that, but nobody was quite bold enough to reach across the plate to see what would happen.) The last group family Thanksgiving I attended actually was in Atlanta, where I went to a dinner hosted by one of my siblings. We DID talk about white people, now that I think about it-- since we're not from Atlanta, someone asked us what living here was like, and I described it by saying that in Atlanta I frequently forget that white people even exist. (I don't know whether this even makes sense out of context. Soon after that we started talking about the grapefruit lady, if that helps pinpoint the timeframe/seriousness.)

I'm not even all that into Thanksgiving these days, but I better call around and put in some long-distance family time anyway.
posted by tyro urge at 11:29 PM on November 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

Wait, we've had mac and cheese for Thanksgiving for my whole life and my ancestors are all white northerners. It is now my honor to make it (and I make a damn good 9x13 of it, too, just don't tell Aunt Julie about the MSG). Is this really not a standard Thanksgiving dish outside of black Thanksgiving?
posted by dis_integration at 5:36 AM on November 28, 2019

@dis_integration, I've tried taking homemade mac and cheese to dinner in years past, but it turns out I'm the only person in my (white Southern) nuclear+extended family who likes anything other than Kraft mac-and-cheese-product. This could be because, except for my father, they're all terrible cooks from long lines of terrible cooks. We usually have mashed potatoes (with the consistency of Elmer's glue, unless my dad makes them) instead.

Other than the mac and cheese, I think the biggest differences between our Thanksgiving dinner and the black Thanksgiving dinner are the absence of greens and the presence of pear salad (canned pear halves with a dollop of mayo in their hollows and topped with grated cheddar--perhaps the whitest food in creation). For some reason, my family sees greens as too everyday a food for Thanksgiving, so we have green beans cooked down with a couple of bacon strips instead. I have no idea where they got the idea that green beans are fancy, but here we are. Also, we all prefer turnip greens to collard, but I have no idea what that says about what.
posted by mattwan at 6:26 AM on November 28, 2019

I think the biggest differences between our Thanksgiving dinner and the black Thanksgiving dinner

To me the biggest difference seems to be the absence of dreadful relatives talking politics/race/crazy conspiracies/hate/unresolved family grievances that make Thanksgiving barely worth the trouble.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:41 AM on November 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh! I was thinking specifically of the food itself. The atmosphere of black Thanksgiving is infinitely superior.
posted by mattwan at 6:55 AM on November 28, 2019

Since marrying my hubby 9 years ago, I have been making Thanksgiving mine. Sometimes we have a little family over, sometimes friends, or both. But it is absolutely a no-politics/religion/controversy zone. The world can really feel like a shitshow, especially now. Treasuring those moments where you can find the things you are truly thankful for, take them out and examine them, hold them up to the light to see them sparkle so everyone can enjoy them... That's what I'm trying for. Even if it's only for one day.

I enjoy cooking, and I love making a big dinner like Thanksgiving. I'm experienced enough that I just kind of know when this needs to go in and that needs to come out, and I love the payoff at the end of the chaotic ballet, where everything comes out of the oven/kitchen and hits the table all within a 10-minute window.
posted by xedrik at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

That was beautiful.

Yes, out was. And now I'm hungry.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:35 AM on November 29, 2019

It was about this time last year that Atlanta's mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, sent a picture of her macaroni and cheese to Twitter. Believe it or not, she actually managed to wring a little good out of the infamy it brought her. (She was not tasked with making macaroni and cheese again this year.)

(And you know, I don't think I've ever had to argue politics over dinner, with anyone, and now I'm trying to suss out why/how such a difference would even exist.)
posted by tyro urge at 8:36 PM on December 7, 2019

« Older In the mouse world, Europe is still divided in...   |   A Deepfake Nixon Delivers Eulogy for the Apollo 11... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments