The True Meaning of Chitlins

The indignities and frustrations of being the only black child in your class are many. There are so many things that you are forced to explain to your white classmates. One of the things that I had to explain was chitlins (chitterlings).

 

What!? You don’t know what chitlins are? Sigh.

 

Okay, chitlins are the intestines of a pig, but really they’re so much more than that. They’re a delicacy and a legacy that has been handed down through the black generations. If you’re sitting there saying to yourself, “Ew, gross, how can pig intestines taste good?” you need to open your mind and then prepare to have it blown.

 

Chitlins are fucking delicious. They just are. Like most delicious things, they are also terrible for you. I’m not exactly sure why. I think they’re, like, really fatty or something. I guess most pork is really fatty. I could look this up on the internet, but I’m not going to.

 

I was on the phone with my best friend right before Thanksgiving, and we were talking about what we were going to have at our respective holiday meals. She teasingly asked if there would be chitlins. Unfortunately, there would not be. I would definitely nominate my best friend for “woke white person” status, but I still have not been able to convince her to try chitlins. As we talked about chitlins, though, I realized that there’s so much cultural significance wrapped up in these fatty pig organs.

 

When I tried to explained chitlins to the white kids I grew up with they were all pretty much dicks about it, and I was embarrassed. It was tempting to relent and say, “Yeah, you guys are right. My cultural foods are nasty. Assimilation, huzzah!” But, tiny me stood her ground amidst the jeers and cries of “gross”. Still, my fledgling heart was filled with doubt: maybe my family and I were just gross? Now, full-grown me knows enough to say, “Hell no! We are not gross!” I’m not going to let those little kids judge me. Half of them don’t even know what hummus is. You know what’s gross, Brittany? The way you drink Rockstar like it’s water, that’s what!

 

Chitlins take work. When you get them from the grocery store, they’re half-frozen in this huge bucket. You crack ‘em open, dump ‘em in the sink, and it stinks. It stinks throughout the whole house. It’s not like a bad stink. It’s not like poop or dead squirrel on the side of the road. It’s just not a smell you normally smell in the house. You get used to it, though. Trust me it’s worth it.

 

The smell is just the tip of the blubbery iceberg. Next comes the cleaning. Cleaning chitlins takes forever! Intestines are basically feet and feet of tubes rolled up and stuffed into the body. When you get the chitlins the tubes have been sliced open, but they still have a bunch of grit in them. The grit is the leftovers of the pig’s food moving through its intestines. Okay, I hear you that you have a weak stomach and this is really not what you want to hear about your food before you eat it, but life is hard and you have to toughen up at some point. Worthwhile things do not come easily!

 

Alright, so you’ve spent the last couple of hours picking grit out of icy pig intestines. Way to go, champ! Now it’s time to season, toss in some onions and boil for a very, very long time. Good things come to those who wait!

 

Oh, did I mention that the smell isn’t going to go away? Actually, as they cook it’s going to intensify. I swear it’s not that bad, and I swear the end result will be worth it. It’s kind of like a weird candle is burning. You’ll get used to it.

 

The time that you spend over a sink full of raw intestines and then a pot full of boiling intestines is really time to reflect on what chitlins mean. In the olden days, slaves ate chitlins, because their owners didn’t want to waste what they considered the good parts of the pig on their human chattel.

 

Well, the joke’s on you, white people, because this shit is delicious! To be more precise, this organ that used to have shit in it is delicious!

 

Historically, black people end up with the short end of the stick. America has been around for 241 years. The Civil Rights Act that outlawed racial discrimination passed in 1964. That means black people have only had 53 years of not being officially second-class citizens. So, it’s not that shocking that black people are statistically more likely to have more difficult lives and face more injustice than their white counterparts.

 

What chitlins mean to me is that you can give black people what you think is the worst part of the pig, the worst possible situation in life, and we’ll prevail. We’re awesome! We’ll make something delicious and amazing out of what should have been a raw deal. You can’t keep us down!

 

Going through day to day life as a black person can get pretty discouraging. I have to deal with the fact that as a black woman, no one wants to date me. I’m not sure how we’re going to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. I’m worried about how black people are going to start accessing the behavioral health services we so desperately need. It’s nice to just take a moment and remind myself that everything about being black is not all doom and gloom and shootings and incarceration. We made chitlins. We can keep going. We can persevere. Jews eat the bitter herbs on the Seder plate and remember the suffering that their ancestors endured without giving up. As we let fatty pieces of pig dissolve in our mouths, black people can remember that our ancestors, amidst their suffering, turned intestines into something cherished and exquisite. That’s beautiful to me.

 

Also, if all else fails, we still have hip-hop. Guys, mass incarceration be damned, we can claim the most popular music genre. #Winning!    

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