Potlucks and Race

With the holiday season underway and financial times tough for many folks, everyone is looking for a way to celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank. One of the suggestions that seems to come up often for planning a get together is to make it a potluck style meal. Now obviously the benefits of taking this route are easy to see, no one person gets slammed with the cost of  feeding a gaggle of folks.

I must admit that prior to moving to Maine, the only time I ever encountered a potluck was in the work place. I worked at a few places where my coworkers loved having a potluck lunch…I always thought they were nice but really can’t say I ever went to a potluck style gathering at someone’s house. I never hosted one. Generally anytime I hosted a gathering, I put together the meal and told folks to just bring the drinks.

Yet moving to Maine I have encountered potlucks in pretty much every part of my life. We have them at church, friends have them, even work related gatherings are often potlucks. I have to say that potlucks have allowed me to try foods I would never think about making on my own, some of which have become favorites…cocktail weiners being a big one.

But I have to admit I have often wondered is something as simple as a potluck, a cultural difference? See, among my Black friends even in Maine, very few host potlucks. To be honest, I only know one Black person that will host a potluck and even then she still provides most of the meal with the idea that others will provide the dessert.

Now I gotta be honest, I have asked some of my inner circle their thoughts on why don’t Black folks embrace the potluck as a cheap way to entertain and to be honest, I am not gonna post the replies since frankly they are insulting and not logical. After all lack of hygiene knows no racial boundaries and yes there are plenty of white folks who consider their pets family members but Black folks like animals too and might get a stray hair into the chili as well.

So I ask you dear reader, is a potluck a symbol of a racial and cultural difference? Or is it just a regional difference?

I love the idea of entertaining yet rarely do it because of the cost and most certainly am thinking that potlucks might be a way to entertain without breaking the bank. Yet as a Black woman, I am strangely curiously about why potlucks are not as popular with Black folks as they are with White folks.

See, this is what happens when you are stuck home with a sick child and snow…your mind goes all over the place!

14 thoughts on “Potlucks and Race”

  1. That is an interesting question (hello from MDC btw). I am black and have participated in many potlucks. I’ve even done potlucks with all black people but I now realize that we didn’t call them potlucks. Somebody would fry some fish or bbq something and everybody else brought the sides and desserts. In fact whenever I hosted a get-together at my house it usually turned into a potluck. This was in the Midwest.

  2. Huh. I have to say that I’ve rarely been to a party that wasn’t a potluck, here in Maine or anywhere. My Ohio family (both white and black) is much the same–you go to a party, you better bring a Jello-Salad. And I’m not sure it’s all about being frugal. I think some of it is just the opposite–it’s about abundance and sharing your skills, tastes, talents and offerings with new and old friends. It’s a friendly way to have a party and doesn’t put a burden on the hosts, OR the guests (in that they feel they’ve put the hosts through the strain of a lavish meal.) Mostly, a potluck is a fun and interesting way to be together.

    (Also–if I’m following this correctly–“Now I gotta be honest, I have asked some of my inner circle their thoughts on why don’t Black folks embrace the potluck as a cheap way to entertain and to be honest, I am not gonna post the replies since frankly they are insulting and not logical. After all lack of hygiene knows no racial boundaries and yes there are plenty of white folks who consider their pets family members but Black folks like animals too and might get a stray hair into the chili as well.” — so what I take from this is people would eat the food if all of it WAS provided by a single host, but if made by many folks, it’s a no thanks? That’s completely whacked.)

  3. Based on my experience, potlucks just happen for the most part; the only part left to sort out is who brings what. Few (if any) cultural/regional differences that I’m aware of…then again, the Chicagoan in me is talking: folks are expected to “earn their plate(s)” as it were, whether in extra ice, another two liter of pop [uh, I presume it’s soda in your neck of the woods?] or at least surplus plasticware.

  4. My 1st potluck was for the holidays at a company where I was the only black person. My current job, we have potlucks more often and I am one of 2 black people there (there is a black guy). Mostly, the women love them & the men bring something their wives made. I know too many people who just refuse to eat someone else’s cooking but dine out more than they eat it. Or, they are just lazy and would rather show up and clean you out than bring something even if it’s store bought or a 2 liter. From I come from (inner city), they usually take take take and think if you have it to give or even the means to host an event you can afford to feed them and their entire family. Every summer, my family used to host a barbecue and we’d all bring our bus full of kids, spouses, etc. It wasn’t til I got older that I heard it was always a pain because folks didn’t even want to chip in money to purchase the meat much less bring a side dish but they ALWAYS showed up.

  5. Rainbeaux, here they call it soda but as a person who spent 30 years in Chicago it will always be pop to me.

    Amy, some of the reasons I have heard why people specifically Black folks don’t care for potlucks are confusing to me. That really is why I wrote this, I mean now that I have had the experience I like them. After all, everyone brings a dish and no one person has to do it all but I wonder why I never encountered them back home. 32B hit on one of the issues I have heard against them “don’t want to eat other folks cooking” well unless a person never eats anything but their own cooking from their own house, they do eat someone else’s food.

  6. Most potlucks I know of are done at work. How many of us like our co-workers? And actually want to break bread with them? I think that has more to do with than anything. And we’re lazy. That too. And depending on the person, if you know they cook good food, you’re not trying to disturb the groove, you just goan bring the grape drank and call it a day. lol But most people will bring something to the potluck if told. But it might just not be the food.

  7. Hi Shay!!

    I don’t host potlucks for reasons that will sound VERRRY silly to others… but okay…..here it is…

    1 – I am a person who cares about food presentation and table presentation when I entertain. When you have a potluck, you don’t have control over the whole aesthetic.

    2 – People don’t buy the same quality food even if they are bringing an entree that “looks” familiar. Is it REALLY appropriate to prepare boxed macaroni-and-cheese and toss it in a casserole to bring to a potluck? I don’t think so… yet people do these things… *LOL*

    3 – Even very stylish and meticulous people can keep a nasty house and have nasty hygiene. I know a lady at my church who has six cats and they climb on her counter tops after being in their litter pan and she doesn’t think that’s disgusting. Once, she brought me some cake that she made… in HER kitchen? Ummmm…. just ask me if I ate it.

    Okay those are my reasons…as I said… they don’t make sense to most people.

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

  8. Potlucks were what my parents always did and I associate it with hippies. Crunchy/granola types and, now that you mention it, highly educated white people. Not so much money as it was sharing ourselves. For me, though, it’s more about saving money and, even more important, less stress.

    Fwiw, having a potluck for my daughter’s birthday party is something I’d never heard of before but I couldn’t have swung a decent party any other way at that point in my life… And, it turned out fun. 🙂

    (See you at the New Year’s Eve potluck! 🙂

  9. I’m black and belong to several different groups on meetup.com. My natural hair group which is 99.9% black has never had a potluck were as my lesbian social group has had at least 6 this year alone. Not quiet sure why but it could be simply a greater desire to create a comfortable space. Texas isn’t exactly a Lgbtq mecca.

  10. My friends and I (both white/black and everything in-between) potluck often. Definitely more with non-blacks, but I never met one I didn’t like. We also have learned to potluck but assign categories etc. – it keeps it so you don’t end up with all meats and no sides or some other such nonesense.

  11. Girl, oh my goodness! FINALLY, someone understands. I have a love-hate relationship with potlucks. I have always considered potlucks TACKY. In my upbringing when you invited someone over to your house YOU were supposed to cook for them, serve them and lavish them as a guest. And this is what I tend to do as an adult. I was introduced to the potluck world as an adult, and I have seen all types of foolishness go down. From people throwing birthday parties for themselves and asking you to bring food or liquor, etc.

    On the other hand, my friends and I often get together to have “Latino brunches”–it’s a celebration of our family-like friendship, culture and food. I’ve hosted a couple of these Everyone brings a dish. I don’t necessarily consider this a potluck. I’m not sure why. LOL. As I said, it’s more like family vs. throwing a party and demanding that people bring food.

    I also thinks it’s a question of etiquette. If someone invites me to their house for dinner, there is a 95 percent chance I will bring wine–even if they tell me to bring nothing. I feel that it is proper etiquette and gracious to show up with a wine or a small gift. On the other hand, I also feel it is rude to ASK people to bring stuff. To me, common sense and etiquette dictate that, if someone is offering a meal, the guest should ask if they can bring anything.

  12. I’m black, from the midwest (Detroit) with family from the south. Not only have I participated in all black (as well as other types) potlucks at school and at the university, my extended family holiday dinners have ALWAYS been potlucks! We never had a sit down dinner where the host cooks everything. Thanksgiving and Christmas is all about grandma, auntie, and your “cuzin an em” bringing the dish they are well known for. A bunch of us African American and a few Brit expats in Brazil tried to have a NYE potluck, but folks did not act right! Everyone brought liquor, which is good, but no food. I brought chicken wings and cake and everyone was so thnakful that they did not have to get drunk on an empty stomach. I told them I would host a potluck soon, but I am going to make a list and hold folks accountable for bringing food! BTW, a younger cousin tried the list thing with my family, but it did not work out too well. The fam prefers to just “wing it” when it comes to the communal dinners.

  13. I have participated in potlucks at work on several occasions. I only eat certain people’s food,..depending on habits I observe from them at work…(e.g., washing hands after leaving the restroom, washing hands before they eat their lunch, covering their mouth or nose when they sneeze)..or if I have personally visited their home.

    Their work habits will tell you whether they are a clean person and will help you decide whether you would eat their food or not.

    If a person is constantly talking about their pet(s), then I would probably not eat their food.

  14. I am so happy to find this post. I am the PTO President at my kids’ school and we stared doing potlucks for dinner at our PTO meetings last year to save money (we are a public school suffering budget cuts and do very little fundraising – another story). Anyway, we struggle with having our PTO reflect the brown, black and white faces of our students – mostly white people show up for the meetings. A black mom told me recently that we were alienating black people by having potlucks at the meetings. I was completely shocked – I had never heard of such a thing and our school has open house/potluck style events all the time. Also, I have been invited to several “cookouts” with black folks where I was asked to bring a dish to share – isn’t this a potluck? I am trying to be culturally sensitive but just really confused – is this a regional/class/cultural issue as much as a race one? Any insight would be most appreciated!

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