Amy Cooper and the White Embrace of Racism
Lynchings are as endemic to America as apple pie and baseball. Even as we witness the crippling devastation of Covid-19, Black America still can’t escape lynchings. In the last three weeks, we have watched two videos documenting the last moments of both Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and now George Floyd in Minnesota. Between these two recorded murders, we have also learned about the murder of EMT worker Breonna Taylor, asleep in her own home when law enforcement busted in, opened fire, and shot her eight times. They had the wrong address.
What does each of these fatal incidents have in common? The presumption of guilt and criminality associated with Black skin and the power that accusations by White people hold. Amy Cooper, a White woman responsible for the latest outrageous case, knows all about this.
The latest interrupted lynching involves a Black man who was birding in New York City’s Central Park when a White woman threatened to call the cops and tell them an African American man was threatening her. Luckily, he videotaped the interlude, and thankfully, the police didn’t show up. We know all too well what typically happens when White women accuse Black men of anything — especially in Central Park. Look no further than the Central Park Exonerated Five — the five Black boys, now men, who spent years in prison after being falsely accused of raping a White woman in the late 1980s.
White, liberal women with Black friends and Black clients — and perhaps Black family members — can still be racist despite proximity to Blackness.
Amy Cooper presumably knew about the Exonerated Five, and her Central Park episode is the latest in a string of “Karen”-related incidents where White women call the police on Black people because they can. In parks, playgrounds, on our stoops, and in our own backyards, there have been countless calls made to police by White women who claim Black people just existing are interfering somehow with their lives. We, by our mere presence, are an issue that needs to be handled in their eyes. Our Blackness is a criminal marker that the “Karens” make sure to describe when they contact police.
Pundits continue to ask why these events keep happening. Well, I have part of the answer: White, liberal women with Black friends and Black clients — and perhaps Black family members — can still be racist despite their proximity to Blackness.
Some of them don’t academically understand the problem. But here goes: White females have a particular place within the construct of White supremacy. The protection of their supposed virtue and femininity by White men have cost tens of thousands of Black lives. From slavery to the Jim Crow South to this week’s incident in Central Park, all a White woman has ever had to do in America is lie about the threat of a Black man in order to incite White men wielding badges (or not) to come running to their aid with guns, ropes, torches, and chains at the ready. Emmett Till was just 14 years old when he was lynched and brutally beaten to death by a White mob after a White woman lied about him whistling at her. Dylann Roof murdered nine parishioners in 2015 at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, because of the threat he believed Black men present to White women.
White women have been lifted up as the standard of beauty and markers of success for White men — their most treasured property, which they protect by any means necessary.
In her 2015 piece for the New Republic, “I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore,” author Chole Angyal wrote this:
There is an important distinction between white women, a people, and the concept of white womanhood — one that holds that a white woman is the best thing you can be in America after a white man, and that it is the responsibility of white men to protect your virtue at any and all costs. This white supremacist and benevolently sexist ideology depends both on the subjugation of white women by white men, and on the subjugation of all people who are not white — by white people (including white women).
Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing when she asserted her privilege toward Christian Cooper (no relation), the Black man who dared to tell her to leash her dog in a protected wildlife refuge within Central Park. Amy Cooper is seen on Christian Cooper’s video saying that she is calling the cops and telling them an “African American man” is threatening her. She says this multiple times in the video. Why? Because she knows all too well what happens to Black men in this country who are seen as a threat. How could she not? She lives in NYC, where incidents of excessive force and harassment of Black men is the norm.
She seemed to want Christian Cooper to be put in his place and reminded that he better not speak out of turn against a White woman if he knows what’s good for him. What Amy Cooper signaled for Christian Cooper, with the threat of her phone call, is what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis — the knee of law enforcement pressing down both literally and figuratively on him. That will teach him.
One newspaper is alleging that Amy donated to the campaigns of Barack Obama and Pete Buttigieg. If their reporting is correct, then she is the very kind of White liberal that Martin Luther King Jr. famously warned us about in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s greatest stumbling block is the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Klu Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice: who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.
Amy Cooper has since been fired from her job and has returned the dog she was seen strangling in the video to an animal shelter. She claims she isn’t racist, and this, of course, is the problem. We have been conditioned to believe that racism looks like the McMichael father and son: scraggly, weathered White men in pickups wielding shotguns. But all too often, it is instead people like Amy Cooper. It’s the seemingly benign White person who lives in a city, has Black friends, and voted for the Black president but at their core is, in fact, anti-Black. Amy Cooper wasted no time in whipping out her White privilege and protected status as a White woman when threatening Christian Cooper.
She may not have been wielding a shotgun, but her accusations were indeed loaded and could have easily led to a man’s death.
America is sick and not just with Covid-19. The virus of racism has been allowed to spread into every aspect of our society. From our broken health care system, where 80% of those killed by the coronavirus are Black and Latino, to the mere presence of Black people in public or private spaces that has led to our deaths if we dare cross the wrong “Karens” or McMichaels in our path. America is dealing with two pandemics. And both of them are being viewed by far too many as a hoax. The denial of their potency will undoubtedly lead to the deaths of more innocent Black people or an uprising; but one thing is certain: The status quo will no longer be tolerated.