Thank You, God, For This Food. Amen
Bon Appétit|November 2017

Rembert Browne on learning how to be black, one Thanksgiving at a time

I SHOULDN’T EVEN be talking about this. But here we are. First things first: Black people are not a monolith—it’s reductive and a gross generalization to think in such terms. And with that out of the way, let’s talk about Black Thanksgiving.

The details of this event are admittedly sourced from my own Thanksgiving, a Black Southern celebration featuring four generations of people, dishes, and stories. It’s the only Thanksgiving I can aptly speak of because I’ve only ever been to my own family’s Thanksgiving. And my attendance record is 100 percent, 30 for 30, which is appropriate because there should be a documentary about this glorious annual event that takes place in my mother’s home in Atlanta.

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 SevenLayer 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.

Anyone can see what’s on that plate, but describing what it’s like to hold the weighty mass, around all those black women (who in my family outnumber the men 6 to 1), and then commence eating a meal that celebrates in your mouth like Juneteenth, Brown v. Board, and Freaknik in a room of 50 people—it’s not easy.

The food and the cast of characters— these are the surface reasons for why it’s hard to explain Wakandan Thanksgiving. But then there’s the other reason: Blacksgiving is my blackest day of the year. And that is not something to take lightly; I typically have six to eight extremely black days a month.

To the untrained eye, the blackness is in the people. But that’s not the entire story. The true essence is in the lens through which we discuss what has happened since we last came together.

So what is it we talk about exactly? Again, I shouldn’t even be talking this s**t. I’ve already said too much. Let’s start from the beginning and see how this goes.

If you’ve seen a movie involving a black family and a holiday meal, there are a few tropes to expect: a sing- and dance-along of sorts, plus the holding of hands around an insane amount of food, with someone doing their best ViolaDavis-wins-any-award-type speech of a prayer, thanking Black Jesus for all that he has done for us over the past year, including bringing us here together.

Sometimes that is how it goes in my mother’s house.

If Thanksgiving begins when it’s supposed to, around 4 p.m., that’s how it will go: black excellence, opulence, decadence.

If it’s 5 p.m., there’s a chance it could still go like that.

If it’s 5:20 p.m. and there’s two people who were supposedly “on the way” at 4:30 p.m. still not there, it will no longer go like that. 5:30 p.m. is never cute; 5:30 p.m. is that moment you begin to wonder if it’s the final Black Thanksgiving for your family—the kitchen is filled with knives, hot grease, and attitude, after all. The under-the-breath comments about whoever is holding up the feast are at a high, as are the pleas to eat and the sounds of stomachs that starved themselves all day for this very moment, barking.

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