A Barbecue Ain’t Gonna Fix It… (Part 3)
Taking the Reins So Our Traditions Live On
Welcome back to the last installment of this blog series. What a ride it has been. In the previous two posts, I’ve talked to you about the reasons Black families don’t get together like they used to and how to be intentional about gaining a better understanding of the issues that prevent some of our families from getting along. In many cases, those persistent issues and unresolved conflicts are key contributors to keeping some families apart. To close it all out, I want to talk about what we – those of us in our 20’s and 30’s – can do to bring those gathering traditions back. Instead of asking why folks aren’t having gatherings anymore, we need to look within and ask ourselves either why we haven’t been passed the torch, or what prevents us from picking it up. We are the rising elders, after all.
The first step is to respect each other enough to help plan and pay for large family gatherings in a fair way. We all have those family members who are known for showing up to the party (oftentimes with an entourage) just to eat, pack 10 plates, and leave, without offering to do anything, bring anything, wash a dish, or take out the trash on their way out. Some people laugh it off, but if we’re being all the way real, it’s rude. Straight up disrespectful. I would be all for helping to put something together with some of my cousins, but I refuse to carry on my foremothers’ tradition of buying all the food and supplies, cooking the entire meal, setting up, hosting the crowd, and cleaning it all up afterwards, while everybody else shows up to eat, pack, and leave at their leisure. It’s not fair to the few people stuck with handling all the financing and logistics of the event, and as previously stated, it’s 100% impolite.
I don’t have kids, but even as a single person I wouldn’t dare to show up at someone’s home or gathering empty handed. Even if it’s as small as bringing a tub of ice cream to go with the dessert spread or a box of chicken from the local grocery store, every little bit helps and small acts of courtesy go a long way. It’s not about being extra, it’s about showing that you appreciate the strides being made to bring loved ones together, and care enough to help contribute in some way. There are too many men and women out here who host family functions and never get to enjoy themselves or feel appreciated. We need to nip that in the bud. Sharing is caring and we can do a whole lot better.
Second, we have to stop perpetuating the false expectation that all family members will mesh and be close. Yes, family is family, and blood is blood, but not all family members will be the best of friends. Not all issues between relatives will be overcome (especially when there is trauma involved), and nobody should be pressured to share space with someone who is harmful or uncomfortable to be around. I love every family member that lineage connects me to, but I am realistic enough to know that not all of us will have a close bond, and that is okay. It doesn’t mean that we have ill-feelings toward each other. It doesn’t mean that we don’t wish each other well. It just means that, while I’m open to building a bond with anyone who wants to build one with me, I also know whose interests and lifestyles* don’t align with my own, and I’m cool with staying in our respective lanes. I’ll still speak when we’re out, and love on you when I see you, but I’m not about to claim to have a deep connection to someone I haven’t seen, spoken to, or spent time with in 20 years. Family is inherited at birth, but a bond has to be built with effort and intention.
*Please Note: The term “lifestyle” does NOT apply to relatives in the LGBTQIA+ community. A lifestyle is a choice, sexual attraction is not. You’re welcome.
Do the Right Thing
We also have to do a better job about promoting transparency and opening up the lines of communication between our extended families. This means speaking openly about the truth, and also understanding that some painful past connections cannot be overlooked. Many of our elders either didn’t have the tools to do this, or simply didn’t know how; but I refuse to continue the pattern of discussing interpersonal issues with everyone except the other person/people involved. It’s immature, messy, and creates so much unnecessary confusion.
Conflict happens. Problems happen. Mistakes and misdoings happen, but the only way to fix them is to TALK it out and handle them head-on. As I stated in the second blog post of this series, failing to do so can create a whirlwind of problems that end up spanning across several generations, when it could all be resolved in one conversation between the parties directly involved. Facebook is not the place to air your confusion or frustrations about your family’s state of affairs. Call somebody on the phone, preferably wise counsel, for that. A vital part of being a loving family is holding each other accountable. The same way that I am direct with my friends and sisters, is the same way that I am with my family, and I want them to keep that same energy with me. Going back to #2 above, that’s not going to be well-received by everyone, and I’m okay with that. But I will be all-the-more grateful for those who can receive it and agree to meet me halfway.
Just Do It
Last, but certainly not least, if you’ve done everything I’ve suggested in this series, and still can’t seem to bring the family together like the summers and Sundays of your youth, then be bold enough to start your own traditions. Call up the folks you talk to regularly, grab a grill, head to the backyard (or park), crank up the music, and have a good time. Spend time with your elders, listen to their stories, collect a few family recipes, and incorporate them into your own cookout. Why sit around sulking because you feel like nobody’s having a BBQ, when you could throw your own AND control who all’s going to be there?! What is stopping you other than you? Call up the aunties and uncles you haven’t seen in a while and invite them to partake in the food and fellowship. Whether they come or not is up to them, but at least you will have done your part by extending the invitation. Just please don’t be that grown person looking for the 60–80-year-olds to invite you somewhere. Their dues have been paid, it’s our time to shine and let them relax.
Overall, the iconic Black BBQs and family reunions of yesteryear may look a little different for our community these days (especially during the COVID-19 panoramic*), but we have the power to bring them back. Planning a large-scale family event is not easy or cheap, but with effort, teamwork, commitment, and lots of love and patience in between, anyone can make it happen. So, stop waiting. Call up your cousins and use your connections to make something shake as soon as it’s safe to do so. In this season that has reminded so many of just how precious the bond of family is, there should be nothing that stops us from bridging the gap. Take these tips with an open heart and realistic expectations, and try and pick up the torch. It’s our turn to carry it on.
Best of luck. Sending love from my own family all the way to yours.