Let’s let 2018 be the year we quit inviting people to the cookout

Image description: a black man flips grilled chicken on a stainless-steel grill on a summer day.

Andrew Itaga

Recently, some white folks who’d been invited to the proverbial black “cookout” have been doing some non-cookoutish things. Justin Timberlake, who has made some groovy tunes in the past, has unleashed a series of poor decisions which have effectively ended his career with a large swath of black music buyers, Prince fans, and black music buyers who also happen to be Prince fans (which is redundant, since that’s basically most black people). Longtime “cookout” resident Michael Rapaport got a hailstorm of angry Twitter denizens after he tried to suggest Janet Jackson, the person Timberlake threw under the bus during their joint 2004 Super Bowl performance, was irrelevant.

In 2018, it’s time we stop letting people come to the cookout.

Being someone who’s relatively old for a young person, I’d heard the term “invited to the cookout” before. The other way I’d heard it more often was giving someone a “black card.” But up until a few years ago, I’d heard “invited to the cookout” sparingly. The advent of social media has seen the term–now a meme–skyrocket to a point where anyone who does anything adjacent to blackness or so-called “wokeness” was given a lifetime pass to black people. The time between 2016 and 2017 was when I saw a glut of folks online talk about people that should have a cookout invitation. Bradley Cooper was invited to the cookout for swag surfing along with tons of black celebs at the final Obama White House party. Leonardo DiCaprio was invited for his socially-aware Oscars speech after finally winning for his role in The Revenant. Bernie Sanders was given an invite for the debatable amount of protesting he did in the 1960s. Bob Saget got invited for this wild tweet which makes no sense, much less should earn you a plate of coveted ribs.

As someone who usually sits back and lets shenanigans unfold, I watched the “invited to the cookout” meme grow to unfathomable heights. As I watched, I grew more and more annoyed. Not only is Black Twitter going to decide what blackness looks like to the rest of the world, but they’re going to actively let in non-members for seemingly innocuous things? Even worse, they’re going to let folks in for doing things they should have been doing in the first place? 

First of all, everyone should be like DiCaprio and realize what debts are owed to the marginalized people of this nation. Does that merit a seat at the black table? Also, should Matt McGorry, Twitter’s WokeBae of 2017, be held on a high pedestal for reading books on black oppression, boning up on black scholarship and standing up for the rights of black people, women, and other marginalized communities? No, because that’s what he should be doing. That’s what we all should be doing. 

I saw some of the same ire happen with other racial groups as well. One moment that caught my eye was when Ed Skrein gave up his role in Hellboy 2 after realizing the role he had signed up for, Major Ben Daimio, was Asian in the comic books.

“It is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voice in the Arts. I feel it is important to honour and respect that. Therefore I have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately,”he said in a statement, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed heritage family. It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and to give voice to inclusivity. It is my hope that one day these discussions will become less necessary and that we can help make equal representation in the Arts a reality.”

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Many Asian Twitter users praised Skrein for doing the right thing and hailed him as one of Hollywood’s good guys. And while Skrein might be a good guy in real life, some rightly felt like Skrein shouldn’t be praised for doing what he and other actors should always do when put in a whitewashing situation. Others still thought Skrein’s actions weren’t done out of benevolence or some type of “woke” understanding; they were done out of fear.

“There was the actor [Ed Skrein] who dropped out of the Hellboy role,” she said to The Huffington Post’s Kimberly Yam when talking about the successes of Asian actors fighting for representation. “Everyone was like ‘he’s such a hero! He’s my hero!’ The truth is, what he did was valiant but he’s not a hero. He was scared. He saw the backlash that white actors face when they play Asian roles and he didn’t want that stain on his career. That change [in Hollywood] is amazing because if there was no backlash, then he probably would’ve been like ‘hell yeah! Let me be Asian.’”

While I can’t speak for my friends of other races and how they handle their own cookout situations, I can definitely speak to my people–we need to stop accepting invitees. 

Just because someone does something that’s deemed “woke” or “down” or whatever doesn’t mean they automatically get a black pass. First of all, there are no black passes. No one gets a pass into anyone’s race or any other defining feature of a person. I don’t care if you’re someone who knows every rap song ever, how many black friends you have, if you’ve listened to Thriller a thousand times, if you’ve bought every pair of Air Jordans there are, or even if you’ve read A Raisin in the Sun and Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches from front to back–you can do all of the performative things like Rapaport and Timberlake, and still not be eligible for the elusive (and, admittedly fake) “invite to the cookout.”

Similarly, doing the bare minimum of what’s right shouldn’t be rewarded in the way we humans do. Doing what’s right should be a necessity for proper human life, not a perk. As Michael Arceneaux wrote for The Root, performing blackness (or any other ethnicity) isn’t all it takes to be considered “one of the people,” if you will.

“…[T]here are some sentiments I read in which some black folks get way too giddy when someone white doesn’t sound like he or she hopped out of the basket of deplorables. On some level it’s funny, but for the most part it’s irritating as hell. Personally, while I would love to drink with Adele and rap Nicki Minaj lyrics with her, I also don’t believe in handing someone from the majority absolute acclaim for doing the bare minimum.”

If there’s anything my parents, Terry Crews’ Julius from Everybody Hates Chris and probably your parents have in common is that when you were in school and you made good grades, you didn’t get rewarded. As Julius said to little Chris Rock and his siblings, “that’s what you’re supposed to do!” The reward we should be seeking for doing the right thing shouldn’t be social clout and likes online. The real reward is knowing you’ve done your part to make society a better place for all. The reward is one that isn’t immediate; it’s one that you might not even get to experience in your lifetime. But just because you might not immediately benefit from it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

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The reward system the cookout represents is at the root of what can go wrong with allyship. Being an ally isn’t a way to garner cool points; allyship is just a fancy way of saying you’re a person who has empathy for others. It’s as simple as that, and empathy doesn’t come with cool add-ons.

As Rawiya Kameir wrote for Fader:

“Much like love, allyship is an action. It is not passive or stagnant or easy. It is, as groups such as the British Columbia non-profit PeerNet and the Anti-Oppression Network explain, ‘not an identity.’ For a person of privilege — race or gender or sexual identity or ability — to be a true ally means engaging in “a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.”

This means that one action does not an ally make, and it certainly doesn’t make you a carrying card member of a race. Allyship is constant action, constant learning, and constant re-learning. It never ends, and while it doesn’t have to be difficult (it can be fun!), allyship is certainly not something you can pick up like a new pair of Yeezys and call yourself “down.”

So if we have no more cookouts, what next? Perhaps we can use the lack of a cookout to actually understand the people we deem worthy enough to be around us. Do they truly understand the issues affecting us and others, or are they just pretending to because it’s cool and hip right now? Do they have something of merit to say in these challenging times that can uplift and inspire, or are they simply squatting like a culture vulture for their next paycheck? Do they wear blackness (or any other race) like a mask, or do they really respect the culture?

Respect is really what it comes down to for me. You don’t have to look or act a certain way, but if you respect me and my culture, then we can be friends. But you’re still not invited to a cookout. Not because you’re not welcome, but just because I don’t invite people to family gatherings anyway. ♦

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