I’m white. My husband is black. Most of the time, neither of us remembers that the other is a different race.
Except at Thanksgiving.
More than 10% of marriages in the U.S. are interracial. That means approximately 12.2 million people in the United States are married to someone from a different racial background. For the last ten years, I’ve been among that group. I’m white. Not just white, but super white. I have red hair and blue eyes and I don’t tan in the summer. My ancestors came to this country from the parts of Europe that don’t get a lot of sunshine. My beloved husband is black. Ancestry DNA tells us that most of his ancestors were from Cameroon. He grew up in the inner city, and I grew up on a farm in the country. Even still, most of the time, neither of us remembers that the other is a different race.
Except at Thanksgiving.
Growing up in my lily white family, Thanksgiving was a simple affair. Turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mom’s green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. The first year that Joe and I celebrated with each other’s families, he had no clue what to make of our Thanksgiving meal. First of all, there was only turkey. We don’t go crazy with the proteins. Some years, you might find a honey baked ham, but that’s as far as it ever goes. He described our menu as low-carb, offering only mashed potatoes and stuffing, and the green bean casserole — that was a completely foreign concept to him. Worst of all, he had to choke down my mom’s salad, which contains both celery and sunflower seeds. Even now, when we talk about that first Thanksgiving, he shakes his head sadly and mutters “sunflower seeds” under his breath.
I didn’t understand what Joe meant about a carb shortage until we celebrated Thanksgiving with his family. Literally every food in all of human history was present. And it was the first time I was introduced to his family’s holiday staple of baked macaroni and cheese. This is not just macaroni and cheese, friends, this is elevated, this is several cheeses, with a crunch on top. This is manna from heaven and angels singing.
Anything else you could possibly want was also present. Ribs? You got it. Potato salad, red beans and rice, gumbo, cakes, shrimp, ham, three kinds of dressing. (Did you know that dressing and stuffing are NOT the same thing? I didn’t either.) Greens, pulled pork, and so much more, as well as off brand sodas as far as the eye can see. As someone who loves a deal and a store brand, it spoke to my heart.
During that first Thanksgiving, I also learned a lesson that I have carried with me since: My family is way more comfortable potentially sharing germs than my husband’s. Growing up, if my aunt had offered me a bit of food off her fork, or encouraged me to try a bite from the pan, I would have done it without thinking. In fact, I probably would have been looked at as crazy for refusing. This is not the case at my in-law’s home. That first year, I got up to fix Joe a second plate of food. I walked up to the buffet table and picked up a serving spoon — not even a spoon that people eat with — but a serving spoon meant to scoop food out of one of the platters. Even I heard the record scratch. Unsure what I had done, I froze, and my eyes darted over to Joe who half hissed, half whispered, half motioned with his eyes (yes, I know that’s three halves) to a box of plastic gloves at the end of the table. When dining with my husband’s family, DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING without first putting on plastic gloves. Also, before the meal, make sure everyone sees you wash your hands. I don’t care if you just washed them, I don’t care if you keep a liter of hand sanitizer with you at all times, wash your hands again and make sure there are witnesses. And while we’re on it, the handwashing can only take place in a bathroom, NOT in the kitchen. Ten years later, I’m still not sure why only bathroom sinks are acceptable, but sometimes it’s best just to not ask questions.
Our little flavor crystal babies have gotten to grow up in a world of interracial holiday celebrations. Our eight year old, like his father, swears there is a difference between sweet potato and pumpkin pie. I can’t personally taste it, but I’m told that’s because of my less discerning taste buds, which have been weakened by years of only having salt and pepper as seasoning. Our daughter tends to stick more to my family’s Thanksgiving staples, though she, like her mother, makes a strong exception for the baked macaroni and cheese.
My husband also likes to tease me about putting foods together that really don’t need to be together. I think we all remember Chadwick Boseman on SNL talking about white people putting raisins in the potato salad. I’ve never personally see that happen, but I’m not ruling it out as a possibility.
Last night while looking for new recipes my husband sent me this picture of a meatloaf igloo covered in potatoes and cheese.
It doesn’t sound too bad to me, honestly. Along with the picture, he sent the simple caption, “That’s your people.”
My best advice for you if this is your first holiday season experiencing the holiday with a culture outside of your own is to just go with it. As you continue in your relationship, you get to do what Joe and I have done and combine elements of the holiday that you both love into new traditions for your own family. Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve gotten so good at making the baked macaroni and cheese that my in-laws ask me to make it. My husband (who is truly the greatest chef I have ever met) uses my dad’s rib sauce, and we also serve the ham buns that I grew up with, along with his family’s recipe for greens. We have stuffing AND dressing. We even make my mom’s salad, but we definitely leave out the sunflower seeds.
This article was originally posted November 2019.
Halley Dean lives in Kansas with her husband, three children, and attack cat. By day, she puts her extensive social media stalking skills to use as a the head of her company’s special investigations unit. She is a would be writer and passionate advocate for social justice, particularly as it pertains to issues involving women and children. She has degrees in American History, Organizational Administration, and Communications, but is often unable to locate her car keys.