Saturday, June 15, 2024

13 white folks who are worthy of an invitation to ‘The Cookout’

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

It takes a lot for a white person to be cookout-worthy. I’m talking about the mythical cookout, a critical Black space, where the entire culture comes together as one and communes in peace and love. It’s a place where we can luxuriate in Black culture and Blackness. If we invite too any white people, we risk ruining it — the overwhelming Blackness of the space is the point. That said, we all know that there are some white people who are part of the extended family or who have given us some extraordinary example of allyship that makes them cookout-worthy. Here are 13 who I think could get in.

1. John Brown, the OG anti-abolitionist from the 1800s who murdered enslavers, freed enslaved people and gave his life for the cause. If there were more white people like him, we would have achieved racial justice already.

2. Ann Dunham, Barack Obama’s mother. A single mom who taught him about the world, manhood, and life. Without her, we would not have had him.

3. Gloria Johnson, the Tennessee state Congresswoman who stood with state Congressmen Justin Jones and Justin Pearson. The only white lawmaker in that chamber to disrupt the chamber alongside them. True allyship. 

4. Teena Marie, the quintessential example of a white person who’s cookout-worthy. She was a real part of Black culture in the ’70s and ’80s. She was a soul singer on Motown whose first single was released without a photo and many Black and white people heard that soulful voice and assumed she was Black. She was Soul Train’s first white female guest and she was on the show more often than any other white artist. She is the godmother of Maya Rudolph, the daughter of Minnie Riperton, and Nona Gaye, the daughter of Marvin Gaye. If Minnie and Marvin made her part of their family then yeah she’s part of the extended family.

5.  Prince Harry moved into our extended family when he wed Meghan Markle and also learned to publicly challenge white privilege and also left his own family to support his Black wife. The man radically changed his life to accommodate her when she found the royals to be too racist to bear. The depths of his love for her is inspiring. Also, please miss me with the Meghan ain’t Black silliness. She is and she knows she’s Black and she’s beloved by a lot of Black people.

6. Adele. One of the great soul music singers of the modern era. She doesn’t just make soul, she embodies it in the way she sings.

7. Bobby Caldwell was also a great soul singer (“What You Won’t Do For Love”) who many incorrectly thought of as Black because they didn’t know.

8. Jack White is one of the greatest musicians alive and a lover of the blues. His music has long been a deep celebration of the blues and bluesy rock. He’s not someone who uses Black music to seem cool; he’s someone who loves Black music and seeks to honor it. 

9. Gregg Popovich, the legendary coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is a loud and proud anti-racist who has spoken out against racism on many occasions, all while living and working in red state Texas. 

10.  Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors, and a friend and disciple of Popovich, has similarly used his platform to talk about racial justice on many occasions. This brand of talking back to white privilege is not the norm and it warms my heart to see it.

11.  Tim Wise has made a career of talking to white people about anti-racism. He’s written a slew of books and given a ton of lectures on this. He’s deeply committed to doing anti-racist work in white people’s faces.

12. David Bowie. The man was cool as hell, he married the supermodel Iman, and he publicly challenged MTV at a time when they were only playing white artists and helped forced them to add Black artists to their playlists. He’s an ally who lived it.

13. President Bill Clinton. Yes, I know this is controversial, but I’m personally escorting Clinton in and no one is stopping me. Millennials who only knew him as a historical figure try to reduce his legacy to the 1994 crime bill, which helped fuel mass incarceration and his welfare reforms, which also did not help Black people. As Melissa Harris-Perry wrote in 2008, “As Clinton performed Blackness, real Black people got poorer.” 

Clinton made some huge mistakes but those bills are not the entirety of who Clinton was. Toni Morrison once called him our first Black president. She wrote that he was: “Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.” Her explanation now feels problematic and, as you can see from the quote, at that point in history, even our most imaginative intellectuals did not envision an actual Black person getting elected anytime soon. But at the time Morrison’s larger point — that Clinton seemed cool and to have a deep affinity for Black culture and felt comfortable around Black people — was shared by many Black people. 

According to Andra Gillespite, a political science professor at Emory University, “Because of his Southern heritage, [Clinton] appeared to be very, very comfortable in African-American communities. It sort of hinted at a certain type of cultural fluency that was welcome to African-American voters.” Clinton said he believed in affirmative action and appointed four black Cabinet secretaries. This does not erase the long-term damage done by some of his legislation, it just means that Clinton’s legacy is complex. I believe he belongs at the cookout.


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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