Eating with White Folks

I haven’t eaten with white folks in years and I’m getting a little concerned. I eat with black folks every day. They’re my family so I have no other choice. If I didn’t eat with my husband and kids I think they’d get a little concerned about me.

But from around 1995 to 2004, I ate with a bunch of white folks on a regular basis. Once or twice a month, I’d be in some white person’s house, resting my brown feet under their dining room table (or coffee table, in some cases) and talking about racial issues in the American church. We were ‘eating’ with white folks, and breaking more than bread.

When other ‘persons of the darker hue’ came to eat, we usually had some ‘interesting’ meetings. Especially if these were black folks that had never broken bread with whites in their homes before. We called it supper club.* It was our Christ-centered response to the call to racial reconciliation we felt in our lives.

“Interracial marriages are sinful,” the older white man said, his face set like stone. The mixed race group seated at the table around him were stunned.

Eating with white folks was a little risky at times. You had to have thick skin and a good hold of your sweet Jesus–the one Who knew when to turn the other cheek and when to upset a few tables.

The goal was not to change how another Christian thought. That was God’s job. Our call was to racial reconciliation–bringing light to race issues in the American church by sharing our lives. At times, it felt like an experiment. At times, it felt like a party. In the end, it was a two-way street of repentence and forgiveness.

“This is kind of wierd,” the burly black man said, “talking about white folks to their face.”

And that’s just the thing about our potluck dinner meetings, we could talk. But we had a few ground rules and a few goals. They went something like this: commit to coming for a year. Be honest. Be loving. Everyone shares. Admit when you’re wrong. Submit to God as you submit to one another. If you have a question, you better ask somebody.

To guide our discussion we often used nonfiction books like Breaking Down Walls: A Model for Reconciliation in an Age of Racial Strife by Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein and More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel, by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. The Bible was our base. God’s grace was our guide.

After a few months of meeting together, we felt like family. Real family. It didn’t matter if you talked with your mouth open. Or if you disagreed with my politics. I knew you loved me, respected me. You didn’t just know me as a black person. You knew me as a sister. You knew my story. You went to my biological family reunion and we got lots of stares.

So about a decade, my husband and I ate with white folks (and black, brown, yellow, and everything in between). We strived for sincerity, sensitivity, interdependence, sacrifice, and empowerment (a few of the tenets of biblical racial reconciliation). We were more than one hundred souls strong at its height. With a dozen or so groups meeting several nights during the month in homes and church basements around the tri-city area.
In an effort to develop Christian community in the inner city, a handful of us (whites and blacks) relocated to the hood. Some members got active politically, writing letters to public officials about racially unjust housing or lending practices. Some of the men started a regular ‘salt and pepper’ breakfast meeting apart from the supper club thing. We helped fix homes and care for children. We visited each others’ churches. Our kids had sleepovers. We challenged stereotypes and prejudices (in ourselves and others). God broke yokes and drew us closer, deeper.

Maybe I didn’t agree on everything you said, but you validated me and I returned the favor. We were committed to relationship no matter how crazy (or ‘black’ or ‘white’) you sounded. We were out of comfort zone at times but that was all good. It was part of the process of maturing and reconciling. It was part of being family and living in John 17 oneness.


* For more on doing a supper club, contact me or Reggie Edwards at Building Together Ministries, a CCDA organization in Raleigh, NC