Ah, the venerable black and white cookie. No other cookie is more inextricable from the American Jewish identity—and particularly the New York Jewish identity—than this soft, sponge-like vanilla cookie that is slathered on top in equal part chocolate and vanilla fondant, right down the middle.
Some people call them “half-moons.” But they would be wrong, those people, because a half-moon cookie, while originating in Utica, New York in the same early 20th century time frame as the black-and-white, is in fact a devil’s food cookie iced with half-chocolate/half-vanilla buttercream frosting. So stop calling them that, philistines.
The origins of the black and white are murky, but it can be definitively established that it was among the original recipes of immigrants John and Justine Glaser of Glaser’s Bake Shop in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood, which opened in 1902. The cookie, though German in origin, was thus associated with Jewish culture to the general American populace, establishing the venerated tradition of Jews claiming non-Jewish things as having always been their own, such as pickled herring (traditional Polish Christmas Eve dish), bagels (14th century German monastery bread), and the West Bank.
Now I, as much as any respectable Jew, love the taste of black and white cookie. But outside of that I hate everything it has come to stand for: racial harmony.
I’m not sure when people started saying it and I sure as heck don’t know when people started believing it. The earliest known source I can attribute this lovey-dovey we-are-the-world sentiment to is an exchange from the a 1994 episode of Seinfeld (yet another Jewish institution that I loathe because, well, it’s just awful), called “The Dinner Party.”
“Look, Elaine, the black and white cookie,” says Jerry. “I love the black and white—two races of flavor living side by side in harmony.”
Fourteen years later, in a Ft. Lauderdale deli in 2008, President Obama likewise dubbed the black and white “Unity Cookies.”
And I…I just don’t understand. I don’t understand why the black and white cookie has come to be hailed as the pinnacle of how a racially harmonious society should be, when in actuality it is an illustration of how society actually racially functions right now. Y’know, with black people allll on one side, white people allll on another side, and a very thin margin in between where both sides are able to actually meet. How exactly did our society get duped into thinking that the baked good representation of the Mason-Dixon line was an awesome thing to aspire to?
Brown v. Board of Education didn’t happen so we could have “separate but equal” distribution of fondant, people. Because let’s face it: when Justice Earl Warren said that separation is “inherently unequal,” he was talking about the vanilla half of the cookie. Because it’s always shittier than the chocolate side. And that same episode of Seinfeld takes the extra step to exacerbate this fiction even more:
“See, the key to eating the black and white cookie, Elaine,” says Jerry. “Is that you want to get some black and some white in each bite…yet somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie all our problems would be solved!”
What?! No! No! Looking to the cookie is the entirety of the reason of our problems! That’s not a racial harmony cookie. That’s a Jim Crow cookie. That’s a de jure and de facto segregation cookie. That’s the kind of cookie an interracial couple could share when they got on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1951 just because they could split it in half as one of them got on in the front and the other got on in the back.
Come on now, people. Anyone who honestly believes that the black and white cookie is “togetherness” and “harmony” should never be someone who has ever complained about there being a mechitza during services. Y’know, when the men are allll on one side, and the women are allll on another side, and there’s a very thin line where the two sections actually touch?
What? Saying “look to the cookie” doesn’t pan out there? Shocking.
Now go enjoy your apartheid cookie. Moshiach Now!
MaNishtana is the pseudonym of Shais Rishon, an Orthodox African-American Jewish writer, speaker, rabbi, and author of Thoughts From A Unicorn. His latest book is Ariel Samson, Freelance Rabbi.