This post was written in a compensated editorial partnership with The Family Dinner Project. All storytelling and opinions are my own.
By DENENE MILLNER
Really, it wasn’t planned, this cornucopia of color and races and backgrounds and experiences. It was just Mari’s 12th birthday party, a tiny affair that involved five beautiful girls with big personalities, lots of shared interests in Lemonade Mouth and Glee and an affinity for gourmet strawberry cupcakes and painting each others toes and fingers. Peeping around the corner into the room where this loud, giggly affair was taking place was like gazing at a Benetton ad on helium: lots of colors, lots of cultures, lots of backgrounds, lots of languages, all united, with a sole mission: to have as much giggly sleepover fun at our place as humanly possible.
They weren’t focused on their differences, by any stretch. But I noticed and reveled in them—the hysterically gregarious Ethiopian baby girl of the interracial couple from New Orleans; the motor-mouthed and deliciously bubbly daughter of an African American woman and a Mexican dad; the quiet, observant Jamaican-American; the lanky, thoughtful Chinese child of two white Southerners; and my baby, 100 percent Black Georgia peach by way of NYC. And I couldn’t help but to be proud of my Mari for picking the mix, even if it happened only subconsciously.
Oh, she swears she doesn’t pick friends by color or culture or background—that she’s an equal opportunity friend, so long as you’re a nice person and kinda, sorta dig some of the same things she does. We have plenty of interesting family discussions about this—an ongoing family conversation we’ve been having about differences. About noticing them. And giving them a nod. And appreciating them for what they are. Both my daughters understand its import—and for that, I’m grateful. But they’ve also told me, too, that picking friends according to some arbitrary thing like skin color doesn’t rule their choices, either—and for that, I’m grateful, too.
This, after all, is our way—what our children know is true of how our family forges friendships. Surely, when it comes to getting along with others, similarities matter and so, like most humans, a majority of our friends tend to physically look like we do. But we revel in different—the unfamiliar. And often we invite friends with those characteristics to our family dinner table because, in addition to intelligent, warm and friendly, we appreciate people who are interesting.
Indeed, some of our fondest friendship memories have been made around the family dinner table. I won’t ever forget the one holiday season back in New Jersey, when my friend Cecelia, an Italian from Brooklyn married to a Jewish man from upstate New York, invited my family to her dinner table to celebrate Hanukkah. Our children—we have four daughters between us—played dreidel together and ate latkes, matzo ball soup and Italian meatballs for dinner after Cecelia’s husband, Eric, said a traditional prayer and lit he menorah. What a gift this celebration was this for my daughters. For our families. For our friendship.
Similarly, it’s always an international party when my best girlfriends and I get our families together. Always, it’s a feast fit for royalty. Our plots and plans start off simply via text message: “Dinner at our house on Sunday. What you bringing?” In no time flat, my phone is buzzing with the promise of culinary heaven: groundnut stew, ampesie and red red from Ghana, escovitch fish, jerk chicken and curry goat from Jamaica, fufu, akara and jollof rice from Nigeria, biryani and samosa from India, macaroni and cheese and peach cobbler from down South. Our conversation is every bit as rich as the food: we talk about everything from nightlife in Accra and the Biafran War in Nigeria to Michelle Obama’s bangs and breastfeeding Black babies to reggae and the skill of the Jamaican whine up—and our children are invited into the conversation so that they can know, firsthand and for sure, that our world is every bit as diverse and beautiful and delicious as the food on the plates in front of them.
And isn’t this what we should want for our kids? That they understand that there is tremendous beauty in different? That our words are much bigger than our corner of Atlanta, and Georgia and the United States and North America?
This is a discussion we’ll continue to have in our home, at the dinner table, for sure, where family meals are our time to bond and giggle and share not just our days, but also how to… be. I am grateful for those moments, each and every one.
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As millions prepare to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by uniting in service, MyBrownBaby invites you to participate in America’s Sunday Supper, a Points of Light program that encourages people to share a meal and discuss issues that affect their community, increase racial and cultural understanding and promote unity. Check out The Family Dinner Project for recipes, films and conversation starters, plus great tips for organizing service projects on Martin Luther King Jr., Day.
Pledge to join in America’s Sunday Supper (January 18), during which people around the country will come together around a meal and engage in civic dialogue. Follow #familydinnerforward to see how others are inspiring dinner-oriented acts of giving!
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.