Hello, my name is Kyle and I’m addicted to ally cookies.
That’s a crass way to put it, but it’s true. There’s nothing like the feeling when a marginalized member of society offers me a white privilege macadamia nut by liking a Facebook comment I wrote in solidarity. When someone mentions my support publically, I chow down on sweet, sugary social justice pie.
It’s so good in fact, I find myself diving into Facebook comments’ sections to call out folks for their racism, homophobia, sexism, or whatever other systemic hate. That act in itself is not bad. As I understand it, it’s vital that those allying with the marginalized intervene when people with privilege choose to hate. It’s why white folks are often discouraged from ending Facebook friendships with those publishing bigoted posts.
I’m disgusted by bigotry and hate to see it, but that disgust is in itself a privilege. Awareness of that privilege requires that I work to end violence against marginalized peoples and raise their voices.
Even as I write that, a small part of me is hoping that a person of color or trans friend will come along and offer me that sweet rush of a simple thank you. And that is where we get issues.
You see, that search for validation often motivates me to intervene in comments’ sections or real life conversations. I want to be seen being a good person, even while I am motivated to be a good person because it is the right thing to do.
Sometimes I tell myself that the purity of my motivation is just a philosophical issue, which is effectively irrelevant to day-to-day conversations. As long as I keep reminding myself that these conversations are about more than my own self-satisfaction, it’s just part of my own internal battle against subconscious racism.
Except this is not just a philosophical issue, it has very real consequences. I write my comments knowing that social media is a public platform and others can see what I like and support it. Specifically, I try to write messages that will attract validation instead of ones that might help bring someone posting bigotry around.
That often results in grandstanding and preaching. Establishing my moral superiority will not bring someone around to recognize that their actions are hurtful. It will inevitably end in terminated friendships and connections across social media, as someone feels hurt and judged by my pointless moral superiority. In the end what good did my intervention really do?
For that reason, it’s critical to explore new resources and keep pushing to the limits. Likewise, it’s important for those working to be an ally to support one another and suggest better strategies.
I did just that after a series of really ineffective Facebook debates and reached out to a friend, Will Dierenfield, who is far better than me at all of this. He intentionally challenges his own views and those of the people around him, and has helped me connect the dots on the many ways I could be better. In general he is far better informed on solidarity and is just the fantastic sort of person who wants to help.
He offered countless valuable suggestions such as seeking to ask questions and avoiding morality, which can easily be misconstrued as labeling someone as immoral or evil (think Facebook debates that end in comparisons to Hitler). People do not want to find out they are wrong, especially when their error lands them on the side of hate. That, he said, is part of why it takes so long to bring someone around. One back and forth on Facebook will not be enough, it’s an ongoing discussion.
Now as for my own addiction to ally cookies, I found guidance in the person who originally introduced me to the metaphor, ray(nise) cange. They run the site Awkward Trans Kid, where they share informative videos they face as members of the trans and black communities. A recent video suggested that allies avoiding putting people of color on the spot by tagging them in posts. More importantly, ray(nise) suggested using privacy settings to block people of color from seeing the awful things said in the process of educating others (i.e. white folks). As ray(nise) puts it, “The only reason I can think that you’re doing that is for ally cookies.”
That sounds a bit odd at first, but consider how social media has shaped dialogue. Ten years ago, your conversations about racism were not openly available to thousands of folks on Facebook. Now that can be extremely useful to activism, but it has a dark side.
By blocking, you are not seeking to isolate yourself from criticism, but to take away just one of the many sources of harassment or violence faced every day. It’s important to remember that this is directed at those who are already acting like an ally and constantly reading and promoting the voices of color.
ray(nise)’s advice helped me recognize my own issues with ally cookies. They and so many others have helped me grow as an ally, which is ongoing process.
As Will aptly (though I believe unoriginally), “Ally is a verb, not a noun. It’s something you do, not something you are.”
(By the way, I am incredibly lucky, even blessed, to know such exceptionally compassionate and insightful people.)