Five Rules for Black Cookouts ... and Life

Michael Harriott, The Root | 9/4/2017, 8:59 a.m.
In case you don't know how to behave at today's cookout, we've got you covered.

As one of the world’s leading cookoutologists (I would say I’m the leading authority, but my aunt Phyllis hasn’t officially retired), I feel it is my duty to keep you updated on the latest in cookout culture. (Always remember: White people barbecue, black people “cook out.”)

Although many people think of cookouts as events or celebrations, they are so much more. Cookouts have evolved into a metaphor for the black experience. Being “uninvited to the cookout” now means that you have been effectively excommunicated from the black community.

If you can handle a black cookout, you can handle anything you may encounter in life. As black America prepares to celebrate Labor Day in the tradition we all love, we have assembled this handy guide to help you learn how to navigate any black cookout, which coincidentally consists of the same rules that apply to living a happy, productive life.

1. Bring something to the table.

Showing up empty-handed to a black cookout is one of the worst offenses a human being can commit. If you’re wondering why everyone is giving you a slight side eye, it’s because you waltzed into Aunt Phyllis’ backyard with nothing but a cellphone and a beer. One beer! What kind of motherfucking savage are you?

I’m not saying you had to bring a pan or ribs or work the grill, but at least bring a case of NuGrape (the official soda sponsor of black cookouts since 1902). Or how about aluminum foil? A black barbecue can never have enough aluminum foil. (Did you know that black cookouts are responsible for 27 percent of all aluminum consumption in the United States? I’m not exactly sure what we do with all that aluminum foil. I think it goes in the macaroni, but I’m not sure. No one knows what’s in Aunt Phyllis’ macaroni. We just know it’s good.)

When your cousins say you “be actin’ white,” it has nothing to do with the way you talk, or that you went to an Ivy league college. It’s because you came to the cookout with nothing to offer. We love you, and you are part of the family, but showing up and expecting a seat at the table just because you were born in the right family is the definition of privilege.

Your people built this cookout!

2. Respect the culture.

Although every family has a set of individual rules, there are some universal rules for cookouts:

Honor those who came before you: I don’t care how hungry you are; if you step in line in front of Grandma Betty, you might catch a knife to the gut. Even if Uncle Jack is half drunk, you let him have the last rib. You didn’t fight in Vietnam. You didn’t march with Martin Luther King Jr.

To be fair, neither did Uncle Jack, but you know how he gets when he’s on that Crown Royal.

Don’t be selfish: Only two deviled eggs per plate. If you want more, come back for seconds. Or do what I do: Eat one, put one on the plate. Eat one, put one on the plate ...