No cookies at the party today

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I’ve been reading about being an ally in Black and Brown communities and about asking for cookies. Asking for cookies is when a white person asks for public praise for doing something that’s less racist than something else or motivated by racism but looks inclusive on the outside to get a free cookie.

This post by Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous is super helpful on cookies and on ally theater. Ally theater being when you turn the attention away from a social injustice and toward you, because you did a good job considering that social injustice. You called it bad. You said you don’t support it. Now you want praise. But you didn’t do anything to dismantle the structures keeping the injustice in place.

This happens when white people believe racism can be summed up by how people feel about other people. But it can’t. If you want to try summing it up, focus on systems and institutions. On how the U.S. was founded by immigrants, yet we want today’s immigrants out because so many of them are “rapists and drug users” based on no survey ever. Focus on how you see almost no Black people in the movies or TV, and when you do, they’re often prostitutes, villains, or goofy sidekicks. Focus on how many Black children get brutalized by police in schools and how many get funneled into prisons. Focus. Then take action. This Jamie Utt article from Everyday Feminism has some suggestions for what to do, starting with listening and learning. Shh. Do not ask Black and Brown people for cookies for listening to them, though.

Many things translate into disability community as well. I’ve made a short but giant listicle of disability ally theater to help you get started reflecting on–and changing–inequities in disability communities. Don’t do these things, please. If you realize you did these things, quietly learn from the experience. Without cookies. Do not tell disabled people how you used to do these things but don’t anymore. That’s still cookie-seeking. It prioritizes your need for praise over our need to not hear Another. Story. Like. That.

  1. Share a heart-melting story of fast food employees helping disabled people eat food. I sure love help if I ask for it. The problem here? OK, some of the problems. The articles focus on the employees’ kindness. We learn their names and what motivated them. We don’t know the disabled people’s names. Even the Qdoba staff admit to not knowing a customer’s name though she comes in so often they have her order memorized. Also, the customer can’t enter the restaurant independently because the door isn’t ADA-compliant.

The take home: If you want a cookie, feed a disabled person or share a story of a hungry person having their problems erased by the astounding generosity of an hourly worker! Share their image online without their permission. For extra icing, attack disabled critics in the comments section of the articles on this phenomenon. Tell them to quit complaining about inaccessibility, about objectifying disability, and why so many disabled people live in poverty. Tell them “you’re ruining the happy moment” you had reading the article. The comments section for these articles is education on how to shut down marginalized people. Read with caution. I get a stomach ache and the sweats after reading non-disabled cookie-seekers tell disabled people to go to hell in these articles’ comments. (Side note: if we all went to hell, who would you go feed in order to get public praise for helping? Oops. Time for a new plan.)

2. Talk about non-disabled people who hang out with disabled people as saintly. Last year, Jamie Foxx got applause on The Queen Latifah Show after telling us how amazing Chris Brown is. Chris hangs out with Jamie’s sister, DeOndra Dixon, when she wants. If DeOndra didn’t have Down syndrome, would it be amazing that a famous person’s sister gets to visit with another famous person? For bonus chocolate chips and nuts in the cookie, Jamie asked us to use this to reframe how we think of Chris. (He’s hinting that we need to forget about his brutal beating of Rihanna in 2009 and other brutality because now he’s nice to “special” people.)

The take home: If you want a cookie, talk about friendships in the Down syndrome community as special. I truly don’t doubt Jamie’s love and admiration for his sister. I question how he uses her to prop up Chris Brown and how he frames their visits as so remarkable. Why is it incredible to hang out with someone with Down syndrome, especially one who’s got such a famous brother and is a well-known ambassador for Global Down Syndrome Foundation? Why is it a stunning and rare achievement for a non-disabled person to spend time with a person with an intellectual disability?

3. Let everyone know you’re just trying not to do or say the wrong thing. I agree it can be awkward to interact with someone from an unfamiliar culture whose customs you don’t yet know or understand. That’s not what’s going on when a non-disabled person gets awkward around a disabled person. Non-disabled people don’t consider disability a culture with customs, norms, and mores. They do, however, want a cookie for trying hard to fight through the awkwardness and not being horribly awful to someone who’s not “regular” coming into their space. Their space. Usually it means talking to a non-disabled companion, baby-talking the disabled person, or ignoring them “for fear of messing up and saying the wrong thing.” (I don’t think it’s fear of messing up. I think it’s wanting them to go away as soon as possible so that regular balance will be restored among the regular people.)

It would be more helpful if non-disabled people located the awkwardness in our long history of  institutionalizing disabled people rather than in individual people. Please stop making it about you and how awkward it was for you when a disabled person showed up without emailing ahead to say they would be bringing their disability and accommodations needs with them. We have ages of unquestioned segregation of disabled people into institutions, warehouses, sheltered workshops, group homes, nursing homes, day programs, and special activities. Rather than question, challenge, and try to dismantle that, we ask for a free pass in being disrespectful cuz gosh, it’s just so awkward when they come around. Forgive us because at least we tried! Not that we’d ever go to where they are, but we try when they come to our place!

The take home:  If you want a cookie, be rude and/or condescending to disabled people. Then tell everyone how hard it is to be in an awkward situation when no one taught you how to navigate it! For a free baker’s dozen, let a disabled person know that you value them because you want them to teach you how to not be rude and condescending to them. Enjoy the free labor they might do to help you feel less weird about them.

If any of this is confusing, or you want more information on what to do, please first go to a search engine and see what you can uncover yourself on ableism, ally theater, cookies, etc. You can also visit other posts on Black Girl Dangerous, Everyday Feminism, Intersected, and Autistic Hoya as a quick start. Follow the links posted in articles there, follow the authors you find there, keep learning. If you find their websites inaccessible, drop me a line. I will send you posts to try to help answer your questions but only if you have attempted to find some of this on your own and/or you are blocked from information because of inaccessibility.

On a related note, visit the United States Access Board’s website for an exceedingly detailed guide about accessible buildings and spaces if you’re unsure whether someplace you’re holding an event is accessible.