My first Thanksgiving with white people
November 16th, 2011
09:05 AM ET
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LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @locs_n_laughs

I was told the substance in the glass casserole dish in front of me was potato salad - but I wasn’t buying it.

Why was it white?

Why was it smooth?

And where was the red stuff that goes on top?

It was 1998, and I was having my first Thanksgiving dinner with white people.

Now on the one hand going to his parents house for the holiday was a very good thing. I was in an interracial relationship and we had progressed to the point in which he felt comfortable doing so. But on other hand, I was a bit troubled when I walked through the door and didn’t smell greens cooking. Were we too early? Were they in the fridge?

As I was being introduced, I took a nice deep breath and...nope. Not a whiff of collards, or turnips or even the Tito Jackson of greens—mustard. For a moment I thought I had wandered into an episode of the Twilight Zone or maybe my mother had hired a witch doctor to put a hex on me because she was mad I wasn’t coming home.

I mean, it was Thanksgiving.

Who doesn’t cook greens on Thanksgiving?

It was a real eye-opening experience for me in that up to this point, I thought we had pretty much navigated across the sea of cultural differences between us. I taught him how to play spades, he taught me gin rummy, it was all good. But now there was this string bean casserole with dried up onions on my plate and a dish of naked potato salad in my face and I was beginning to think we wouldn’t make it.

It’s Thanksgiving. Why isn’t there any paprika on the potato salad? How come there isn’t any hot sauce out on the table? How come there’s nothing to put hot sauce on?

I was willing to do anything for love. But I wasn’t ready to do that.

Give up greens, and dressing and sweet potato pie.

I wasn’t ready to give up Thanksgiving.

I grew up in a household that if a particular aunt or uncle didn’t make their signature dish for the Thanksgiving festivities, the rest of us spent the rest of the day trying to figure out who they were mad at. We didn’t cook food just to eat. We cooked food to show love. It takes a lot of effort to make a dish of potato salad large enough to feed all of the mouths that would come together. It takes a lot of patience to pick all of those greens from the stem. And whoever volunteered to clean and cook a pot of “chitlins” had the biggest heart of all.

Had the kindest soul.

That’s what soul food is about. My family didn’t have a whole lot to give, but what we had plenty of was love and we poured that love, our soul into the food.

But the problem with the phrase “soul food” is that it insinuates no other kind of food has that soul, that care.

I knew it was good, but I wasn’t sure if it was made with the kind of love I had seen my family put into their food. How could I? My sphere was not very large, my worldview limited.

But as I’ve grown and had the chance to travel and become a citizen of the world, I realize that there’s a whole lot of people who are not black putting their whole heart and soul into their cooking. And it is good and it is delicious and it is full with a lot of love.

Looking back, that Thanksgiving Day was one of the most pivotal moments in my life. I had worked so hard to get into college and earn a scholarship, and yet I really didn’t know anything about people outside of my own experiences. Sure, I took classes and learned about people who weren’t black. I had been roommates with and worked with people who weren’t black. I was even dating someone who wasn’t black. But it wasn’t until I left my comfort zone and broke bread in someone else’s that I realized I was book smart, street wise but a little worldly dumb. And when I began to meet black people who didn't cook soul food and whites that did... well, let's just say some of the best lessons in life are not taught in school.

The potato salad - while still naked in my eyes - was pretty good. So was the pumpkin pie.

I’m not going to pretend as if I didn’t miss a lot of the smells and tastes of the Thanksgivings I was accustomed to. But I will say that if it wasn’t for that day, I might not be the adventurous eater that I am now. More importantly, it would have taken me a lot longer to understand the difference between accepting our differences and celebrating them.

And for that, I am forever thankful.

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Food says so much about where you’ve come from, where you’ve decided to go, and the lessons you’ve learned. It’s geography, politics, tradition, belief and so much more and these next two weeks, we invite you to dig in and discover the rich, ever-evolving taste of America in 2011. Catch up on past coverage and stay tuned for the live blog from our Secret Supper in Chicago on Wednesday night starting at 6:00 CT.



soundoff (2,159 Responses)
  1. LD

    People are so stupid lol

    There are differences in White thanksgivings and Black thanksgivings. White southerners, cook a bit differently, but they got most of their cooking from Black slaves and Black maids who taught their little runts how to cook. Southern food is Soul Food = Black cooking

    November 5, 2013 at 3:46 am | Reply
  2. Ironyoflife

    What a racist article and title. You should be so proud of your alliances with gay and lesbian communities- hypocrite is completely intolerant of another culture that is not your own. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?

    July 28, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  3. JD

    This whole premise is ridiculous. This is a regional thing, not a race thing. I am Southern and white, and I had collards cooked in fatback, dressing, and sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving - just like every year. I do admit that I made corn pudding with red peppers for some kick, but you have to mix things up some times. Oh, and while there was no potato salad, the deviled eggs did have paprika on top.

    December 1, 2011 at 12:22 am | Reply
    • Thomas

      I am not trying to be rude but did you actually read past the title? I ask because your comment seems to be EXACTLY what the story is about. Quote: "And when I began to meet black people who didn't cook soul food and whites that did... well, let's just say some of the best lessons in life are not taught in school."

      December 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  4. Jordan

    I agree that this is a regional difference in food not a race thing. I'm white and we always have dressing, greens, homemade pie, and everything else. This is the difference between a southern thanksgiving and a new england one.

    November 29, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Reply
    • owlafaye

      I love my greens., all kinds. I am white. squash pie is better...Butternut. Yams are better than sweet potatoes. Corn oil is better than lard. Steam baked turkey is best and fastest...therefore tenderer. My rice is now short grain organic brown sub gum...laughter. Fried chicken me loves tooo death. Okra is to die for and eggplant...gotta know how to cook em'

      I just dropped a lot of the fat, changed a recipe here and there...I add wrinkled, small, diced, late summer apples to my bread dressing, freash sage and butter...lightly browned celery and garden onion, parsley chopped, black pepper, cream...ohhhhh yes...dressing...and a gravy from heaven, slow cooked...I am Southern French.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:03 am | Reply
  5. GwT

    Oh, HELL no. I would rather get a butt whoopin' than to get anywhere NEAR a pot of chitlins. Now that I'm an adult, and a Chef, introducing Southern and Soul Food to an upscale clientele has been met with rave reviews, and they really DO "get" that soul food as a part of culture shares the same place that food and family celebrations have in cultures all over the planet.

    November 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  6. Scott from NH

    He doesn't say whether or not he ended up with the white boy.

    November 26, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  7. Mary Galbraith

    Hi everybody - loved the article and thought it was wonderfully self-deprecating and loving. I'm an old white woman who grew up with traditional northern Thanksgiving - had a fabulous Hungarian Thanksgiving with a refugee family one year - had fabulous black Thanksgiving arranged by my husband's black secretary - had a fabulous Italian Thanksgiving with my son's roommate - thought they were all huge fun and a grand celebration of AMERICAN!!! LZ is no racist, he's a bright guy who's poking fun at himself and enjoying the fact that he can also poke fun of his new second culture.. It's a healthy thing that people can lovingly poke fun at each other's differences. My black students think it's a hoot when I say that even a honkey (me) loves greens.

    November 25, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Reply
  8. omachuca18@hotmail.com

    What a fun interesting article. Let's celebrate our differences!

    November 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Reply
    • owlafaye

      It was an excellent article/story, wasn't it?

      December 1, 2011 at 2:06 am | Reply
  9. dawn

    I JUST had this experience. NO mac & cheese? what's creamed onion? what's broccoli casserole? what's store bought pies? NO greens! what's mashed turnips?

    November 24, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  10. Mike

    Caucasian.

    I am not "white" any more than LZ is "colored".

    November 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Reply
    • Vince

      I'm a little concerned since the author makes it appear that "white" people don't celebrate Thanksgiving as good as "colored" people. To be honest, Thanksgiving is what anyone wished to make of it and I have known families that eat shrimp instead of turkey. Does this imply that there celebration isn't as good as mine? I would feel a bit out of place if i smelled greens cooking but I wouldn't make it an issue NOR would I make it appear to be racist.

      November 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Reply
      • Tracey

        Oh and you don't see color right. Pretending you don't see(or smell) differences doesn't make you a better person.

        November 26, 2011 at 10:29 am | Reply
  11. IamColorBlind

    After reading the full article, I still deem this article very a$$ bacwards. Talk about a lot of generalizations of the whites and blacks while talking like he's learning about cultural differences. This is not necessarily a racist article but just seems like its coming from a child who has yet to seriously and deeply think about his "racial" identity. Also the title is sooooo bad, but I'm sure it was chosen to fish people into reading this total crap. *coughcoughattentionwhorecough*

    November 23, 2011 at 7:54 am | Reply
  12. Maman

    All conflict and consensus about Thanksgiving fare considered, I appreciate the "total package" inside out, be it a meal or a person. What is served by my Thanksgiving host and hostess is less important than how it is served, i.e., with true hospitality, the best that person has to offer (be it beans and franks, oyster dressing, etc.), and yes, how clean the place is, be it a dormitory room, apartment, house or palace, wherever the venue occurs. Whomever is sharing the best he or she has to offer being considerate enough to inquire about any health issues (vegetarian, no salt, sugar, gluten) is a plus, yet a cautionary note for all who accept a dinner offer.

    I rarely ate away from home and even now, I appreciate a restaurant or non-homemade meal more if I travel or some special event is connected to the food festivities. Who is being forced to eat dishes he or she does not like?

    As an older lady, most of my fond food memories are of family and acquaintances who shared the simplest dishes made with skill and love.

    November 23, 2011 at 2:04 am | Reply
  13. DC603

    I knew before I even clicked open this article that it was written by LZ Granderson.

    I have a few problems with this article, but my main beef is that LZ is constantly talking about breaking through the gay and black stereotypes...but then writes this article?

    What if I wrote an article called, "My first Thanksgiving with black people?"

    November 22, 2011 at 8:15 am | Reply
    • J.Troup

      It would actually be pretty cool. I don't think differences in the races should be hidden, I think they should be celebrated.

      Black households do things differently than white households, that do things differently than asian households, that do things differently than latin households. It's just a fact. And that's the beauty of the world. We're all different, and we all have something to learn from each other.

      So instead of acting like it doesn't exist, we should embrace it and learn as much as possible about each other.

      I'm black, and I'll tell u what...Best BBQ I ever had was from a white housewife over in southern Germany!

      November 22, 2011 at 9:48 am | Reply
      • DC603

        But that's my point; other than the title of this article, LZ isn't discussing differences in race; he's discussing differences in food style.

        The style he's discussing isn't a 'white' style it's a traditional northern-ish style. I'm from New England, and this is what we eat on Thanksgiving... me.. my white friends...my black friends...my Asian friends... It's not a race thing; it's a regional food thing.

        Sure, race and food can overlap, but that's not what he's discussing here.

        He simply used the title to draw in readers.

        November 22, 2011 at 9:56 am | Reply
    • augustghost

      Jesse jackson and the other gas bag sharpton would be calling for riots and looking to sue you..Personally, I 'm surprised blacks even celebrate this holiday. They are constantly complaining about slavery and how their people were forced to come to this country

      November 22, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Reply
      • ohgoodgrief

        #blocked

        November 22, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Reply
    • cjack

      I think you should write an article entitled – My first Thanksgiving with Black people. I think it would be as eye-opening, and funny as this article. I think folks are putting to much on it – differences abound, and rather than say "at the heart of it, we're all the same", it is fine to highlight, and laugh about them. After all, they are mere constructs and only have the weight that we give them. So, I'll look for your article – I wanna read it.

      November 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Reply
      • montyross

        and one day my first Thanksgiving with a woman that im not related to.....

        November 29, 2011 at 8:26 am | Reply
  14. In the same (gravy) boat...

    First, I’d like to say that I have really enjoyed many of your articles, LZ. Secondly, I would like to express my appreciation of this article. It really hit home, considering my impending first Thanksgiving with my husband’s family just for reference, my husband’s black, I’m white. As with EVERYTHING there is a large spectrum of exceptions to his experience, but I can say from my experiences with my in-laws that there are some definite surprises at another family’s table. First, there are the greens. There are always greens, and they look exactly like the nasty green spinach that my high school use to serve. So when I tried it out of courtesy, I was expecting to gag… but I was pleasantly surprised. Then there is this strange phenomenon of spaghetti showing up as side dish to accompany any meal ranging from barbeque to Ham. Inversely, I wouldn’t expect my husband to ever understand my family’s fixation on Jell-O side dishes (Lime Jell-O with cottage cheese, strawberry Jell-O with applesauce and Red-Hots…)
    I think the main point of this article was not to tell white people they eat weird food, or that any one group is wrong or right, but to illustrate the idea that food is what makes the gathering in many cultures. And experiencing another group (whether it be a separate culture or a family of similar descent down the street) can be like a glimpse into a different world. It can open your eyes to something new.

    November 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  15. CosmicC

    This is a really common experience. Not just the white/black aspect. I know of many people whose first contact with different cuisines was through Thanksgiving dinners with college friends. I never would have thought about having pasta on T-day before becoming close to a friend of Italian descent or pierogis until I dated someone of Polish descent. Even coming from NY, where all types of foods are common, the idea that Thanksgiving traditions vary can be a bridge in unexpected ways.

    November 21, 2011 at 9:52 am | Reply
  16. Joe

    There is nothing wrong with pointing out the differences in race or culture. That is not racist. Racist is when you hate their culture, and treat the other race poorly because of it. People have lost the meaning of what "racist" is. This article isn't racist. It's a black person writing about celebrating a holiday with the white race, and explaining the goods of it and the shock of it in the authors own words. Nothing wrong with that or racist.

    Now I will say, if some white author had written "Thanksgiving with a black family", and had pointed out a lot of differences, a larger majority of people would consider it racist. White people usually aren't given the same platform as black people to discuss these things openly. That observation isn't racist, it's just a fact of the media and the mixed culture we've created over the past 30 years.

    November 21, 2011 at 8:13 am | Reply
  17. K

    Forgot to mention – last year my son's girlfriend from Shanghai had Thanksgiving dinner with us. While she enjoyed the food and thought it was "tasty", she didn't hesitate pouring on her hot sauce, as she is accustomed to spicier food than we had.
    Hot sauce on my delicious, homemade oyster dressing?? To each his own.

    November 21, 2011 at 4:13 am | Reply
  18. K

    I enjoyed this article very much. You are all reading too much into this article....no racism, just a real, nice story about his experience.

    November 21, 2011 at 4:02 am | Reply
  19. Anthony Foust

    "What is it!?"

    "Bundt Cake."

    "BuuuuuunnnnnnndddddddddT....?"

    "Bundt Cake!"

    "BuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnndddddT Cake." :)

    November 21, 2011 at 3:23 am | Reply
    • CosmicC

      It's ok. I fixed it.

      November 21, 2011 at 9:43 am | Reply
  20. Marie

    I never knew that it mattered what comes on top or inside of a potato salad my grandmother from Germany made the best potato salad, I think it has to do with different countries or heritage not color or race. When I came to the States, I thought turkey, stuffing, gravy, corn, beans and pumpkin pie was the real thanksgiving dinner and till this day that's my thanksgiving dinner.

    November 21, 2011 at 3:03 am | Reply
  21. Hoosier Woman

    Dang ya'll! He was writing about an experience from 13 years ago and you are reading your own fears and misconceptions into his words. He's writing about what is "home" and "soul" for each of us.

    But paprika is for deviled eggs. And potato salad is so weird for Thanksgiving. Greens were an everyday food for us, far too mundane to be on the Holiday table.

    Every year I used to have to fight to have candied sweet potatoes on our table as my wife grew up in Wisconsin. We finally came across a recipe that is more like a sweet potato candy bar and everyone is happy again. She loves the green bean casserole. I think green beans are nasty no matter how much cream of mushroom you dump on them. She wouldn't eat my brussells sprout/asparagus/mushroom/garlic roast veggie dish if it would bring about world peace. However we both agree that canned gravy is of the devil.

    Every family is different and every family has traditions handed down.

    November 21, 2011 at 12:36 am | Reply
    • Leslie B

      Green beans aren't nasty UNTIL you dump the mushroom soup and dried onions on them!

      November 26, 2011 at 11:34 am | Reply
      • cjack

        Yeeesss! Leslie B. What the heck??? Just not right...

        November 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  22. james

    Why all the focus on race in the first place? There would be a lot less racism if people didn't obsess so much about race.

    November 20, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Reply
    • H

      Race shouldn't be minimized or ignored–it should be talked about and recognized. Opening a dialogue about racial differences is more likely to lead to acceptance than pretending that differences don't exist. Ignoring problems can breed ignorance, misunderstanding, and contempt.

      November 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  23. DoubleDeez

    Frightening display of how one person viewed/views others around him.
    If I met him and started a conversation with him, what would he be thinking of me? And to add to his CONFUSION - what if I was of a VISIBLY MIXED RACE?? Oh, how his little head would SPIN!
    This is a person that bought into a (Poisonous and Harmful) Collective Line of Thinking - one that unfortunately cancels out a human being on first glance - cancels out his individuality and humanness in the eyes of another.
    ... and the Worst Part ?? This writer most deeply stereotyped HIS OWN RACE. So, yeah, glad he's ALL BETTER NOW.

    November 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Reply
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