An Invocation for Black Liberation and the Food Movement
December 2, 2016
Marvin K. White delivered the following remarks at Berkeley Food Institute’s November 19, 2016 event, “Black Liberation and the Food Movement.”
I remember my mother asking my grandmother when I was a kid, “Bessie, Why do you cook so much food?” My grandmother was poor, yes, living in public housing, yes, living in part on public assistance, yes. “Bessie, why do you cook so much food?” And I remember my grandmother answering, “Just in case somebody come by hungry.” I learned in that moment that you can hang that sign on your door and you can say that you’re “Open” all you want, but if you’re not standing there telling the visitor to stop knocking and come on in, then it is not a real invitation. I learned from my grandmother that people, particularly vulnerable people, marginalized people, and the poor need proof that you are expecting them. They need to smell the chicken frying from the street, they need to be able to see the spoon in your hand ready to serve, they need to be able to touch your good China pattern, they need to be able to taste that you were expecting them. The hungry and the poor recognizes a feeding spirit. They know by your preparation and your readiness, if you actually saw them coming. Yes to your donation. Yes to your food drive. Yes to your half-eaten sandwich on top of the garbage can and not in it. But yes, to something more too. Yes to showing up in the world looking like somebody who is going to help!
You see, my grandmother used to say, as she held in her body, the intersectional-before-it-was-intersectional pains and strains of poverty, disappointment, fatherless child-rearing, dashed dreams, and illness—when she sat, and rocked and was wracked by the world’s rejection of her gifts—her blackness, rootworking and giving, her womanness, when she added up the threats against her life—diabetes, white supremacy, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, alcoholism, the death of her son, her mother, her sister, her best friend—she would say, “I wouldn’t wish this hurt on my worst enemy.” Don’t believe for a second that love employs terror and killing as a strategy. Love eases the hunger pain. Love breaks ground. Love feeds. Love says that you are not this pain. Love makes peace. Love makes believers of people who have never been believed. I believe beloved, that there is today, in this room, love. There is at this Community Forum on Black Liberation and the Food Movement, an invitation for us to become neurologically, and metaphysically, and psychically a part of each other. Because love has one job, to be the co-efficient, which can then multiply, unlock and unleash the love lessons and mysteries that are in our DNA. We know this math. We know this melaninated husk. We know this seed. We know this germination. We know this tending. We know this harvest. We know this moon. We know this preparation. We know how much salt. We know how much pork. We know plenty of meals ain’t no meat. We know being black and poor means you have been vegan at some point in your life. We know this love sifting for stones, and this love shuck for silk, and this love shelling for worm. We know this Love ancestral and through almanac and recipe moves us. Love is a movement. You cannot be stuck and in love. Love always lures us “towards” justice and unites us “with” peace.
The Last Supper
Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my grandmother gathered us to her for a family meal. Let’s call that meal “Cuz.” My mother called my grandmother on the phone and asked, what time the dinner was to be served, and what she should bring, cuz, we were hungry. My grandmother answered, “Tell everyone to come at seven and to bring appetites.” She then disappeared in plume of all purpose flour and went back into the kitchen to prepare the gizzard gravy. When the time had come. When the meats had rested, and the vegetables had been properly buttered, we sat at the folding card tables and waited. Before we began eating, my grandmother took the unevenly baked cornbread from the cast iron skillet, blessed, broke, and gave it to us, her children and grandchildren and stragglers and strangers, with eyes bigger than our stomachs, saying, “Take, eat, this is Our body. Which this world has tried to crumble.” Then she took the pot of simmering Collard Greens, gave thanks, and ladled some to each of us over our burnt cornbread, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is Our pot liquor. Our Africa. Our West Indies. Our Louisiana. Our Oakland. Our leavings. Our fixings. Our big toe and titties all up in it. Our sugar low and our love high. She then said, “Remember what I taught you, make sure anybody come by hungry not only eats but gets fed.” And when we ate, and oh when we ate, and when were not only full but satisfied, we sang and danced to some B.B. King, before eating Aunt Lavada’s peach cobbler.