Entertainment & Culture
An Email to My Family About the Labor Day Cookout

By Michael Harriot

As one of the greatest cookout authorities of our time, Michael Harriot periodically shares instructions to his family’s holiday cookouts to give insight on the difficulty of preparing the perfect event. Here is his latest:

From: Me

To: Y’allWhat’s up family!

Once again it’s time for the family’s Labor Day cookout. I wanted to send this email reminder so we can all be on one accord about what we are supposed to bring and what is to be expected. The 4th of July cookout went so well that we are going to follow the same format, except for a few changes:

Aunt Christina: You don’t have to bring anything, but I want to address another issue: Every Black family has an aunt who comes down from “up north,” but you need to stop acting like you weren’t born and raised down here. No one wants to hear your constant complaining. Did you think mosquitos went extinct since you last lived here? Did you think they wouldn’t bite you because you drive a Mercedes now? Either rub some skin-so-soft on your legs or shut up. And stop whining about how hot it is. You know this is the same sun that shines in New Jersey, right? If you’re going to complain the whole time, you can’t be mad when Uncle Luther gets drunk and says he hopes the mosquitos fuck you up so bad that you get “the Zika.”

Uncle Luther: You shouldn’t have said that to Aunt Christina. I know we give you a lot of leeway because you are a Michelangelo on the grill, but you can’t spatula slapp people just because they open the grill to see if anything is done. Especially people’s kids. Someone is gonna sue us. Also, if you are going to bring moonshine, or as you call it—firewater—to the picnic, please don’t but it in a water jug. We can’t be responsible for drunk children because they sucked down a throat full of corn liquor at the end of the kickball game. We don’t need any more alcoholics in this family.

Jessica: This family has always believed in social justice and equality for all so you should know there are two other Jessica’s in the Harriot family. There is “Lil Jessica” and “Big Jessica.”This is why they call you “White Jessica.”  Also because you’re white.  Even though you never married cousin Tyrone, you have 3 of his children, so while he is locked up, we consider you a part of the family. Therefore, I am going to address you like I address any other family member, so please don’t take this personal: CAN YOU STAY THE FUCK OUT OF THE HOUSE?

I know you are used to caucasian celebrations where you gather in the den or the mancave and mingle while someone caters the food, but this is a cookout—the operative word being “out.” If Aunt Christina can swelter outside and catch Zika, so can you. And please stop referring to it as a “barbecue.” “Barbecue” is a type of sauce, and Uncle Luther’s ribs don’t need no sauce—unless you want to get spatula-slapped.

Trishonda: since no one else has the courage to do it, I guess it is up to me. The family’s executive board of potato salad makers have asked me to issue a formal notice that your potato salad no longer meets the Harriot family standard. After two Thanksgivings and three more cookouts, you will be allowed to resubmit a sample to the committee for reapproval. Please do not be embarrassed. Yolonda spent 8 years perfecting her recipe before it was approved by the council.  No one will even try White Jessica’s. Until then, you still have the approval of the deviled egg board and the Kool Aid committee. Good Luck and God Bless.

Everyone else will bring the same stuff they brought to the last cookout. There are, however, a few other things that I want to address. I know this is traditionally a family gathering, and as such, it has always been informal, but because the Harriot clan is getting so large, I think it is appropriate that we lay down some ground rules going forward:

  • The grace and opening prayer for all Harriot cookouts from henceforth will be limited to 3 minutes. If Reverend James prays longer than that, I’mma be fixing my plate while the rest of you catch the Holy Ghost. Nobody wants to have to eat cold macaroni and cheese because you have a testimony.
  • This year we have also set a 5 minute limit on 3 of our cousins: Aunt Earlene, we know the lord has blessed you since you got saved, but please stop asking everyone if you can lay hands on them. If you can’t convince someone to give their life to Christ in 5 minutes, you have to leave it in Jesus’ hands. We are also limiting our nephew Eric (now known as Malik Al Ma’at Shabazz) to 3 minutes of Hotep-ery. Whatever facts about Ancient Egypt, the Original man, and the God’s of the universe you can fit in that time, so be it. Similarly,  Cousin Joe, you have a 3 minute time to try to sell whatever multilevel marketing scheme you are peddling this year (although I have to admit that prepaid legal plan did come in handy when Uncle Luther slapped that police officer for saying “All Lives Matter” last year.)
  • The only person allowed to play music is Jeremy. If he is busy or has to leave, he has to name a replacement that is over 30 years old to act in his absence. Also, no song by an artist with “Lil,” or “Young,” shall be played at the cookout. In addition, anyone whose rap moniker ends in “-eezy” or whose name contains an “s”  that has been replaced with a dollar sign shall come through the speakers at the Harriot Family cookout.
  • This year, Karen will serve as the official macaroni scooper. In years past we have always run out of macaroni and cheese. To alleviate this problem, Karen—who has no culinary skills, but wants to help out— will serve the macaroni in reasonable amounts. Please don’t ask her for extra servings. If you do, whatever happens is on you, but I want to warn everyone—Uncle Luther has been giving her spatula-slapping lessons.
  • The to-go plate situation has gotten out of hand. From now on, you can only fix a plate to take with you five minutes before you leave. If you stay longer than five minutes, your plate will be repossessed and redistributed among the guests. Also, there will be no fixing plates to take to someone who is not here. If they didn’t come, they don’t eat. I’m tired of seeing y’all pile up deviled eggs on top of burned hot dogs to bring to some mysterious “friend” who had to work. We know that plate is for you! If you tell that lie again, I’m gonna ask Aunt Earlene to come pray with you.
  • Because this event is held at my house, I have the privilege of dictating this rule, of which there shall be no variations. Please take note, because this is the most important, yet most argued-about rule of the cookout. Allow me to clarify for all of you: It is Joker, Joker, deuce of spades… We do not honor the deuce of diamonds at my house.
  • Finally, I would like to add a legal disclaimer: If you bring your children to the Harriot family cookout, you hereby agree that if they commit any misdeeds that result in the need for disciplinary action, all adults in the Harriot family are endowed with the power to spank the butt of any child in attendance. As the old African proverb goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.
    …And a spatula.”

Uncle Luther taught me that proverb. I have the feeling he may have added that last part.

See Y’all this weekend



About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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