Identity

Here's Why You Shouldn't Feel Bad For Amy Cooper

There was a serious power imbalance at play—and she knew it

By now, chances are that you’ve seen the name #AmyCooper trending on Twitter. On May 25, Melody Cooper (no relation between the two) shared a video of an encounter between her brother, Christian Cooper, and a woman in New York City’s Central Park, over the woman’s refusal to put her dog on a leash. “Oh, when Karens take a walk with their dogs off leash in the famous Brambles in NY’s Central Park, where it is clearly posted on signs that dogs MUST be leashed at all times, and someone like my brother (an avid birder) politely asks her to put her dog on the leash,” Melody Cooper captioned the video.

In the video, a white woman—later identified as Amy Cooper—is seen in a wooded area of the park, holding her off-leash dog by the collar. She is heard asking Cooper—who is a Black man and is off-screen—to stop filming her. As she walks closer to Cooper, he says: “Please, don’t come close to me.” As he repeats his request for the woman and her dog to not come closer, the woman says: “Then I’m taking a picture and calling the cops.” When Cooper encourages her to call the cops (saying “please call the cops”), the woman—who is legit strangling her poor dog by this point—looks between her phone and Cooper, and with her voice registering somewhere between a taunt and a sneer says: “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” before proceeding to call the police and hysterically claim Cooper was threatening her and her dog, pleading with them to get to the scene immediately. As a viewer—knowing full well that Cooper is *not* being physically threatened at all (we can literally see the distance between them)—the video is honestly chilling to watch.

And if you don’t immediately see something wrong with Cooper’s statements—and the calculated implications of her call to the police—then we need to have a talk. Full stop. Because calling the police on a Black man—especially as a white woman—does have serious consequences, something that now, more than ever, everyone should be aware of. And Amy Cooper clearly was. Here’s why her comments—and that call—are much more nefarious than you may think.

It’s *very* clear that North America has a race problem

It’s 2020 and if you still don’t think that the United States and Canada have a racism issue, then you need to wake up. Because, at this point, *not* acknowledging that racism is still a deeply entrenched and systemic issue both north and south of the border is just straight-up dangerous. The evidence clearly supports it: and that evidence is dead Black men.

In the United States, a 2019 report on Race in America by the Pew Research Centre found that most U.S. adults feel that the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on the position of Black people in contemporary American society. According to the report, about six in 10 Americans (58%) say race relations in the U.S. are bad and, of those, few see them improving. And 65% of Americans say it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since Donald Trump was elected president in 2015. This has had incredibly deadly effects. Since 2014, the United States has seen the very publicized deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery—a Black man in Georgia who was literally hunted down by two men while on a run in February—and most recently, George Floyd, a Minneapolis, Minnesota resident who was killed by police on May 25, after an officer was caught on video kneeling on his neck during his arrest while Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.

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This anti-Black racism—the prejudice, beliefs, stereotyping and discrimination that is directed at Black people—isn’t new. As Robyn Maynard, the author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present emphasizes, this prejudice has persisted for centuries, beginning with slavery. And it exists outside of the United States as well. In Canada, Black Canadians are disproportionately accosted and carded by police and, in Toronto, are 20 times more likely to be shot by police than others.

There has also seemingly been a rise over the past year or so in white people calling the police on Black people for simply being in spaces that they deem they’re not able to rightfully exist, A.K.A “the white space,” under the guise of feeling “threatened.” (It’s notable that in some instances, these “white spaces” have been Black people’s actual homes, leading to their unarmed deaths on their own property).

And white women play a significant role

And, as writer Cameron Glover pointed out in a May 2018 article for Wear Your Voice magazine, a predominant number of the people enacting this policing of these spaces against Black people are white women. Glover’s piece points to several notable instances of this: A Yale student called campus police on another Yale grad student for napping in her common room; a Starbucks store manager in Philadelphia called the police on two Black men waiting for a friend; and then there’s the infamous May 2018 incident in which a Georgia woman called the police on a Black man who was babysitting two white children.

Similar to Amy Cooper’s actions, many of these calls to police are under the guise of feeling “threatened,” but often are over exacerbated, incorrect or, in cases like Cooper, just straight up lies—lies that can be *extremely* harmful. Because whether they know it or not, white women have the upper hand in these situations; their situations and distress tied, as blogger and author Luvvie Ajayi puts it, “to the symbol of femininity.”

“These tears are pouring out from the eyes of the one chosen to be the prototype of womanhood,” Ajayi writes in an April 2018 blog post about White Women’s Tears. “The woman who has been painted as helpless against the whims of the world. The one who gets the most protection in a world that does a shitty job overall of cherishing women.”

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There still remains a social construct in which white women are always seen as fragile, and held up as the most virtuous and something to be protected, tied to a patriarchal and racist history in which an attack on white femininity—especially by a person, and particularly a male, of colour—is seen as an attack on white masculinity and supremacy.

These women are weaponizing their race and sex

As writer Elle Maruska points out in their Twitter thread, this “supposed purity” is very often weaponized, used as “the justification behind acts of racial violence and murder.”

And it is most often leaned on when Black people fail to, as Glover points out, respond to them in a way that white people believe they should. Glover sees it as a mirroring of the Jim Crow laws. Take for example, the tragic case of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old boy who was murdered in Mississippi in August 1955 for talking to a white woman (a woman who later lied and claimed that he’d grabbed her and made lewd remarks—she has since recanted her claim).

In many cases—as Till’s murder shows—this weaponization of race and sex to silence people of colour can be enacted by the women themselves, contingent on the knowledge that their distress will elicit a strong reaction, especially when linked to a Black man and claims of aggression. The power dynamic—and imbalance—is crystal clear.

Two days after the video was released, Yamikani Msosa—a Toronto-based anti-oppression facilitator and equity consultant—says she is still overwhelmed by the video. “For me, it was a clear indication of how people use systemic racism,” Msosa says. “Because she knew strategically what she was doing.” She points to several cues Cooper enacted in her phone call, including pointedly saying she was in the park and was being threatened by an African American man, and heightening her voice to the point of hysterics. “She did the things that would incite a response.”

Their privilege is invoked to get what they want, regardless of how trivial

This power dynamic and inherent white privilege extends beyond just racially charged encounters. Take for instance the April 21 video of several white women at a closed Idaho park who, upon refusing to leave regardless government-mandated distancing rules, essentially threatened the police officers tasked with asking them to leave; with one woman urging her friends to film the interaction while telling the officer: “Arrest me for being difficult. Do it! Record it!”

Msosa agrees that this encounter is a case-in-point example of white women’s privilege at work. “Privilege is something that is unearned and it’s something that also lends itself to power,” Msosa says. “And quite frankly, it’s the fact that—as a white person—you never have to fear the police. The police are something that is safe for you. And because of that, you do entitled stuff like challenge [the police] in a park to arrest you.”

Those women in the Idaho park probably knew that they could act defiantly towards authority because they wouldn’t face any repercussions, certainly not violence. “You don’t see your race experiencing police brutality, so you do not fear the police in the same way,” she says. “You don’t experience anti-Black racism, so you don’t have to think about the implications of your actions.”

Don’t kid yourself: Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing

On May 26, Cooper issued an apology, telling NBC New York that she had simply overreacted: “I sincerely and humbly apologize to everyone, especially to that man, his family. It was unacceptable and I humbly and fully apologize to everyone who’s seen that video, everyone that’s been offended…everyone who thinks of me in a lower light and I understand why they do.”

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“When I think about the police, I’m such a blessed person. I’ve come to realize especially today that I think of [the police] as a protection agency, and unfortunately, this has caused me to realize that there are so many people in this country that don’t have that luxury.”

As many online pointed out, Cooper’s initial comments demonstrate that she *does* know that specific demographics of people who aren’t afforded this luxury—and was, in fact, banking on that by weaponizing Cooper’s race against him, knowing full well the treatment of Black men by police in the country. Why else would she mention his race? Honestly, she might as well have just said: “You know what’s going to happen if I call them.”

As writer Zeba Blay so succinctly notes in a piece for HuffPost US, “her actions and her apology reveal a kind of savviness, a calculated racism showing she was already aware of that privilege. The clip of Cooper sneering ‘I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life’ highlights this truth about race in America: White people are far more aware of the structure of the thing than they care to admit.”

“It’s the fact that she knew as a white woman who has a white privilege that if she called and said, ‘I’m in danger,’—through implicit or explicit bias—knew that there would be a response, because the system has been built to protect individuals like her,” Msosa says. And not just a response, but one where she would be inherently believed. Msosa refers back to the historical lynching of Black men in the Unites States in order to “protect” white women. “So there’s already this sub-context and residual historical context within these institutions,” Msosa says. “So we see in this case with this person calling the police, knowing that she has that historical and systemic backing, that she will be believed immediately even if there was not proof.”

And even in her apology, Amy Cooper continued to play the victim card, telling news outlets that her “entire life is being destroyed right now.” (Shortly after the video went viral on social media, Cooper willingly surrendered her dog to the shelter she’d adopted it from, and was put on administrative leave from her job.)

Then, on May 26, Amy Cooper’s employers, Franklin Templeton, announced on Twitter that they had fully terminated the vice president, effective immediately, tweeting: “We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton.”

It’s a decision that will, no doubt, bring some racism deniers out of the wood work to say the “social media mob” has ruined a woman’s life. But let’s just remember that Amy Cooper was quite literally threatening to end a Black man’s life. Frankly, she got off easy.

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