Collard Greens, Christianity and Colonization


Dr Herukhuti By Dr. Herukhuti

Millions of Black folks will be eating black-eyed peas and collard greens over the next 24 hours as a part of the new year African tradition in the Americas. We do this to maintain our connection with our ancestors and elders, heritage and as a ritual of positive attraction i.e., drawing forth the good fortune associated with the ritual. Our ancestors, most of whom made it here by way of European colonization and slavery, brought the use of black-eyed peas to the Americas. We honor them this time of year through these black-eyed peas and collard greens meals.

Peas Collards Trout and CornbreadTalk to a Black person about preparing collard greens and you would think that we need the power of ancestry, heritage and cultural connection to summon up the energy necessary to cook them. Collard greens are notoriously coated in the earthen dirt in which they grow. Everyone has an elaborate process to clean them. Soak the collard greens in water. Scrub the leafs. Rub shea butter on them. Pray on them. And nobody wants collards that are tough so there are zealously prescribed methods for softening them. Add baking soda. Remove the stem. Punch the leaves in the eye and talk bad about they mama.

This stuff is more about the retention of practices after the period when the realities they were created to address changed. Most of us get our collards from the store rather than the field. I’ve yet to come across collard greens in the store with the kind of dirt on them that require so much fuss as to require any more attention to washing than most vegetables. Fresh spinach has more dirt attached to it than some collard greens. But spinach is for white folks like Popeye so they don’t warrant as much concern, right?

Ham hocks, talk about black-eyed peas or collards with most Black folks and someone is gonna mention them. People season their peas and collards by adding them to the pot. Ham hocks are pig knuckles. The pig is a nasty ass animal period (no, I was never a member of the Nation of Islam) but ask yourself who would willingly select the knuckles of a pig–or any animal for that matter–to eat instead of other parts of the animal and you’re confront one of the realities of colonization and slavery. Africans who the Europeans enslaved did not have full control over what they ate. Europeans who owned people ate high on the hog while leaving the rest for ingenuous Africans to make what they could to sustain themselves.

Feed a Black person food that is under-seasoned and they will talk about your ass forever. Don’t get me started on potato salad. There are Black people who will only eat someone’s potato salad if they have been pre-approved like a mortgage loan. Family meals have devolved into heated arguments over who makes the best macaroni and cheese and sweet potato pie. But ham hocks, the knuckles of nasty ass pigs, are not necessary to have one’s season game on fleek. Their use is just something that many of us think we have to do to make things right. Pork eating has contributed to significantly negative health outcomes for Black people. I use sautéed onions and garlic with salt, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and balsamic vinegar to make flavorful, aromatic greens. Black-eyed peas can be prepared just as successfully without the swine as seasoning.

The Christianity that many Black folks practice today is like the ham hocks many of us use to cook our collards. Our ancestors learned to practice the Christianity we know today (as compared to the Christianity of our cousins in the Coptic tradition) in the context of colonization and slavery. The same Europeans who kidnapped, held hostage, raped, maimed, and enslaved our ancestors also introduced their version of Christianity to them. We don’t need their version of Christianity to be Christian; we don’t need their approach to religion to be religious, spiritual or ethical.

The fire and brimstone, dogma, intolerance, pie-in-the-sky, and prosperity capitalism that has been promoted in so many of our Christian churches has also contributed to significantly negative spiritual and social health outcomes for Black people. A theology of liberation calls us to decolonize Christianity and religion by seeking the African in our practices and those spiritual ingredients that fortify us rather than contribute to religious hypertension.

So starting with the next 24 hours, let’s think about ways we can decolonize our food and spirituality.

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