How to Survive White Cookouts

How to Survive White Cookouts

IT IS SUMMER! My favorite season of the year. It’s hot, sunny, beautiful, concerts on the beach, tiddies out, thighs out, everyone is generally happier and best of all, it’s cookout season. 

As we continue to live in this supposed “melting pot” acknowledged by some as America, more of us brown skint folks are finding ourselves at white cookouts. For those of you who have not had the joy of experiencing one yet, I’ll just tell you that there are vastly different than ours. Have no fear my fellow brown folks, I’m here to give you the lifesaving deets on how to survive a white cookout. You see, I am a real life, in the flesh transracial adoptee. I have been raised by white people, as a white person, lived with white people and will forever be attached to whiteness as my family is such. I’m also black and have spent the past 25 years of my life Double Dutch-ing in between those racial lines and cultures. As I am not dead, I will continue to experience whiteness first hand because the people who raised me are white. So, as you can imagine, I have just about the closest relationship you could possibly have to white people without actually being white. I live as a black person in a white world every single day and had to develop this guide to use myself in order to survive. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but let’s not pretend that white people and black people are the same or have the same experiences. This is all in fun and good humor, but also kinda serious because it’s also true. So, get out your notes and get to jottin’. I’m here to save your summer nights with Catherine-Jo and the Fam. 

It’s Not a Cookout…
It’s a “BBQ”. You’re probably thinking why this distinction matters, or that there is no difference Tomato, Tomato. But oh my dear brown friend, there is a huge difference.  If you talk about a cookout at a white BBQ, no one will know what the hell you’re talking about. To us, a cookout is a gather of family and friends. There’s music, laughing, dancing, people stealing to-go plates, probably a game of spades going on somewhere, aunties clowning each other’s potato salad, someone’s bad ass kid running around, and of course more food than necessary. That’s a cookout. A BBQ is literally a BBQ. You come, you eat, maybe make some awkward small talk, you leave. That’s it. Nothing more. Half the people there probably don’t even like each other and someone intentionally left a child with the neighbors so they had an excuse to leave early.

It’s Starts at The Advertised Time

For us, a cookout that starts at 3 pm, means we getting ready at 3 and arrive around 6. For white people, that shit starts at 3 pm on the dot, and by god, you better have a good excuse if you’re late. I suggest traffic or a flat tire as an excuse. If you’re really committed to the story, maybe intentionally getting into a fender bender, nothing too serious but enough. Arriving on CP time to a white function…sis, just don’t do it to yourself. You’re already going to be the first or one a few POCs to ever been invited, you don’t wanna kick or the day confirming their stereotypes. Show up on time.

Tell yourself it starts three hours earlier if you have to. You do not want to be the one strolling in late, getting whatever food may or may not be left, and have to hear the tired end of the small talk because everyone already used up their best topics.

Speaking of small talk…

Navigating Small Talk

The acceptable BBQ small talk is quite different among gaggles of white folks than what you may be used to. You will encounter the following groups of people as you make your rounds.

The history buffs: They are mostly old and fought in one of the world wars. They aren’t necessarily racist, but they will go on and on about the state of America, demand that you share your political views, and are not really living in the reality of 2017 politics. You will probably be referred to as “colored”, “son”, or “sweetie” and many other demeaning names. My advice is to avoid them all together. But should you find yourself stuck in this circle, let your eyes glaze over and tune them out until you can make a run for it. Don’t try to fight or correct them because you will wear yourself out. Whatever you do, DO NOT talk about politics. They will try to trap you with comments about Obama and then you will be in a never-ending circle of “well actually” and “devil’s advocate. 

The “Friends is the best show ever” group: This group is usually young adult to middle age white women who are “hip” to entertainment…white entertainment that is. Points of interest, Downton Abby, Gilmore Girls, Friends, Sex In The City and other similar shows. They might dabble a bit in the brown shows and watch something kinda brown but not “too” brown like Parks & Rec or something. This group actually isn’t terrible to be around. They’re probably the most level headed but, they also watch some boring ass shows. So just feel your way in the conversation and test the waters.

The “I love black people” group: the people who fetishize black people and think they’re “down” with the nigs. They will try to fist bump you, immediately change their vernacular to very poor and outdated slang, start calling you “bro” or “my sista”. They will immediately ask you what your favorite rapper is and proceed to tell you how hip-hop changed their white lives. I am an advocate for slapping people, but apparently, that’s not acceptable these days, so kill them with sarcasm and embarrass them.

The Gossips: My favorite group, to be honest. The one thing that brings us all together across racial lines, is the love of gossip, and there is no one better at it than middle-aged white women. Chillllleee it is fascinating. The best part is unlike most brown cultures, there is no “grown folk’s business”, they let you join in regardless. It’s like watching a reality show live. Just grab a drink and sit back and listen to them go. Contribute an occasional pearl clutch and loud gasp, and you’re in. You’ll know everything about everyone there, in a matter of minutes.

The Braggers: The ones who love to brag about themselves and/or their kids that no one cares about. They will come up to you uninvited and find a way to talk about themselves and their kid that no one likes. The best way to get through this is to smile, nod and randomly laugh while you think of a reason to excuse yourself and go hide forever.

Have a Pre-Planned Story to Tell

This actually isn’t hard to do. Most people, in general, have had to deal with coming home from college or whatever and having to answer the same basic questions over and over. “Are you dating”, “What’s your major” etc. It’s the same gist. Have pre-planned answers in your head. You’re going to be the “hot topic” of the BBQ and everyone is going to want to know your life story, so create a 30-second elevator pitch and use it.


Bring Hot Sauce

Look, I know we make jokes about white people not seasoning things, but it’s really no joke. Unless you get lucky and happen to end up at the only white BBQ that seasons food, come prepared. Their seasoning consists of salt and pepper. If they’re really feeling on the wild side, basil and oregano. What I have discovered is that, as much as I would love to carry my entire shelf of spices with me, it’s not realistic. However, my saving grace has been hot sauce. See, if you can’t bring all the spices with you, hot sauce is a way to get some extra flavor, or to just burn your mouth so much that you don’t have to suffer through the blandness. Plus, there is usually at least one uncle who has traveled the world or some shit and also likes hot sauce. So, you don’t look completely ridiculous. Now, I know you’re thinking, “Right. like I’m going to be the only brown person there carrying around hot sauce in my bag”, but hear me out. I do not care. I will proudly whip out a bottle of hot sauce at any function white or not. They literally sell keychain size bottles and best believe, I have them. However, if you are not comfortable with doing so yet, what you do is casually sneak it in with the rest of the condiments and make it look like it was already there or that someone else brought it along. Or casually drop it on the ground and be like “Well would you look at this? Nice, who brought this along???” Viola! Problem solved.

About the Condiments and Meat

So, you’re either going to encounter one of two extremes. Either the “I only eat meat, MURCIA” crowd or the “Did I mention I was vegan” crowd? There typically isn’t an in between. Sometimes, but it’s rare. It’s either BBQ Portello mushrooms with kale chips or raw meat that was hand cut off a live cow this morning with a side of bacon. My family is the “all meat” type. Vegetables? LOL K. Kidding, we’re balanced. We certainly are on the meat-heavy side, but the aunties whip up their salads and shit too. If you get the vegan crowd, I can’t help you there because I would never stay long enough to devise a plan. I suggest proactively adding lots of salt to all dishes as they usually are under salted if salted at all. And your only choices of condiments will be 3 types of mayo, mustard, and ketchup. Maybe some sweet relish and sauerkraut if they really fancy.

There Will Be No Hard Liquor

Your choices will be beer or wine. There is rarely ever hard liquor. If there is, it was mixed with a punch or some shit. There are no bottles of Henny waiting to be consumed. Also, it is no ordinary beer. It is probably homemade is someone’s basement or its some disgusting raw, hoppy, barley beer because of …reasons. I cannot tell you how many times I go home and have to listen to legit lectures and arguments about how this beer has more hops in it, or the how the water was filtered through Zeus’s asscrack making it superior. I have found that people aren’t necessarily opposed to hard liquor they just don’t bring it. So if you want to bring your own bottle, go ahead. Or convince one of the cousins to get a few.

There’s No Music

This is one the most awkward parts about white BBQs. We are used to having that perfect cookout playlist with “Poison” and “Before I Let Go” the family hitting the electric slide at some point, but white BBQs…there is no music at all. My family has multiple black children and we don’t play that shit. We turn on music ourselves, but if we didn’t, there would be none. Trust there have been many parties celebrated with no music. You enjoy your BBQ gathering with no Franky Beverly or Cupid Shuffling. On the bright side, this is a plus for you. Had there been music, you would have everyone asking you to show them the newest twerk move or be asked to lead the swag surf in the right direction. So really, this is a win for you. If there IS music, it is most likely Frank Sinatra or Michael Buble, which isn’t terrible, but it’s not exactly what I would choose for a summer get-together. Should you be the one to CHOOSE the music, Motown type artists is always a safe bet. No one hates funk and you can groove to it.

There Are No “To-Go” Plates

Normally, to-go plates are factored into the initial meal. Meaning we make for more food than necessary because we already planned for each person to take at least 1-2 to-go plates. White BBQs, to-go plates are a secondary thought. It’s more of an “if there is anything left over” plate. Which reminds me that, you will be using ACTUAL plates. I’ve never been to a white function that used paper plates. They always use the real, ceramic plates which makes it harder to make a to-go plate”. Most of the time someone will allow you to take some of their Tupperware with a promise to bring it back and they’re serious. Bring that shit back, mail it, something, but they for real want it back.

Don’t Be the First OR Last to Leave

You gotta wait for someone else to start the “goodbyes” and then jump at your chance. If you leave too early, you’re rude. If you leave too late, you’re a nuisance. Since you’re a guest, probably a first-timer, you can’t be the first one to leave. You gotta hang around after the first person leaves to make it seem like you’re really into this BBQ. Maybe you truly are, idk. If that’s the case stay. Usually, the people with kids leave first, then the BBQ really gets lit. With no annoying children, around, people let loose and typically let the alcohol flow more freely. It’s quite entertaining, I highly suggest sticking around for an hour or so, then taking your leave when there are about 6-8 people left.

There you have it, folks. That is all that I can offer you this summer. Do with this information what you will. Use it, laugh at it, disregard it. Who cares, but you read it so, jokes on you. Have fun at the BBQ/cookouts, they really are not that bad…depending on the family, but that’s why you have this guide. Anything outside of this, I can’t help you but Godspeed my friend.


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