The cookout is a long-standing tradition in the African American community dating back to God knows when. It’s a non-holiday specific, (although they do often coincide with such holidays as Labor Day and MLK Day), where Black families and friends gather for barbecue, spades games with trash-talking drunk uncles, aunty rivalries over who made the best dish, Luther Vandross blasting on the radio, and carefree Blackness at its peak. It’s the safety of belonging. It’s where you can let your guard down and simply be without having to swat at the incessant stings of microaggressions. It’s the place where no code switching is necessary because it’s just you and your tribe. It is being home in your skin with your kin.
But on occasion you will find that there is a white person at these gatherings. It is assumed that said white person is “down,” the precursor to what we now call being “woke.” They have earned their invitation usually by having grown up with the family, dated someone in the family, or simply having been around long enough to have been properly vetted. They know the etiquette and the rules. They don’t say the n-word, even when its part of the song. They don’t show up with some strange casserole. They bring a liquor of some sort (Hennessy being the obvious choice). And they certainly don’t invite other white people. And if anything were to go down they know it would be their duty to speak to the police, using their privilege for the good of those who lack it. They are simply happy to be there and we are happy to include them on the fun and maybe even send them home with a plate. These recipients of the illustrious cookout invite were the original allies.
These cookouts have, in popular culture, become synonymous with our lives, our social justice movements, our sacred spaces, our places of respect. So when a white person puts aside prejudice, stands up against racism, and uses their whiteness for good, someone on Twitter will announce that they are “invited to the cookout.” They can sit with us. They can join the spades game (as long as they don’t renege). They can electric slide their way into the inner circle of Blackness, status pending.
But that’s over. It’s cancelled.
And all because of this foolishness:
This is why we can’t have nice things.
The theoretical (and very much literal) cookouts we’ve been hosting for generations, our sacred sites of unadulterated, live-out-loud Blackness are being threatened by the forces of gentrification. We are about to become a minority at our own events. Because just like every slogan, trend, movement and hashtag we create, it is then coopted, commodified, and watered down until it is unrecognizable or unredeemable. Because it is never enough for white people to simply be happy as a spectator. They must own, take up space, profit from Black culture, Black creativity, Black genius. And even when they serve up poor and borderline insulting imitations of us, they are given the credit.
Yet, we as Black folks are partly to blame. This is what happens when we hold White “allies” to the lowest possible standard of human decency and start passing out invitations to the places in our movement, our community, and our lives without understanding that being an ally is not static, it is action. It not comfortable and it is not stagnant. It is putting in the work to unlearn behaviors, while confronting those in your family and social circle about their own behaviors. It isn’t asking Black people to teach you or offer suggestions, as there are already guidelines on how to do this work. But this is the outcome when white people are allowed to speak for us within our own movements. Its what happens when we allow this notion of “solidarity” and “unity” to lull us into a false sense of security in thinking our interests and well being will be centered. Its what happens when white mediocrity is rewarded and heaped with praise. The places that have long since been for us become colonized.
Nothing is more illuminating of this than Eminem’s recent Donald Trump diss at the BET Hip Hop Awards and the resulting onslaught of praise from everybody from Snoop Dog to Colin Kaepernick himself. A white rapper, who has profited immensely from sexist, racist, homophobic lyrics, spits an underwhelming rap (spoken word?) about Donald Trump with Black men as props in the background and this is what happens:
Nope. I’m not here for it anymore. The cookout is getting too damn crowded. The caucasity will reach new heights and next thing you know they are going to start bringing artisanal cheeses and unsweetened tea. Spades will be replaced with backgammon. The wobble will be replaced by the hockey pockey. Barry White will be replaced by Bruce Springsteen. Red Velvet cake will be replaced with some dry ass bundt cake. This is not the world I want to live in.
Once again, it is time we reevaluate how we protect our magic and our spaces. In the age of everyone in a pussy hat claiming to be our ally, it is important to be ever more vigilant. So while I do believe that white allies exist and are necessary to the success of movements for social justice, it will take more than lip service and bomb ass potato salad to get into the cookout.
And though I am guilty of inviting Colleen Dag (a.k.a “Becky Knuckles”) over for a plate ― a decision by which I still stand ― until stricter protocols are put in place, any and all invitations will be under further review.