Amy Cooper worked at my firm when I was a paralegal. She was a cohort member in my PhD program, a professor whose class I took, a professor in the department I taught in and on the faculty I interviewed with for a job. Amy Cooper is a character type. She votes democratically, lives in a liberal city, imagines herself a liberal, believes she’s “woke” and wears a mask that hides her racism and investment in the power of whiteness. Liberal white women are everywhere.
Rosy Image of US Equality Glosses Over Systemic Racism
The recent events relating to Amy Cooper, a supposed white liberal, feigning fear of a black man in New York City’s Central Park and falsely alerting police her safety was being threatened, is abhorrent. The fact that she could make a false accusation to incite fear in Christian Cooper (no relation) while knowing she was being recorded speaks volumes about her white privilege and how systemic racism operates. This visual representation harkens back to a time when countless black boys and men were murdered by lynch mobs because of lies. White lies have mattered throughout history and are still a tool used to subjugate and control black people.
White Women’s Rage
Amy Cooper was compelled to apologize due to social pressure. I see this as disingenuous, not as an acknowledgment that her intentional act could have led to deleterious effects on Christian Cooper’s life. I don’t buy her saying: “I’m not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way.” The racial ignorance projected in this statement is strategic and is used to illicit sympathy. It reminds me of the many stories I have heard from black women lawyers in my study who have been on the receiving end of white women’s rage.
This is a false rhetoric used by white liberals who purport to be progressive yet harbor racist views of black people. That’s why most economic, political, educational and professional organizations remain white institutional spaces. Many white liberals say they are anti-racist yet are reluctant to give up any privilege that would challenge the power they enjoy or disrupt the status quo. Am I to understand that an educated white liberal woman is not aware of America’s racial history and the implications of her accusations? If we are going to give her the benefit of the doubt, a luxury that most black people never get, let me explain what her call to the police reflects.
First, by threatening to call the police, Amy Cooper intentionally weaponized race to enforce her white privilege. She preempts the call by centering race, saying, “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” When she calls the police, her voice strategically becomes more frazzled and fearful to express the urgency in the threat that a black man poses to her wellbeing. The performance is magic! It’s a classic representation of the racial and gender privilege many white women have long enjoyed. Amy Cooper played on race to mobilize the police in an attempt to force Christian Cooper to cower. There are white people who feel they can use the system to do what they want simply as a virtue of being white — this is white privilege.
Secondly, the presumption that white people are truthful when calling the police on black people is pervasive. An entire dialogue exists, centered on white women who make false accusations targeting black people, summarized in the colloquial “Karen” meme. Black people targeted while doing mundane activities speak to the privilege of being white in America. Many examples exist, but recently, we have seen an abundance of white violence enacted on black bodies. This includes the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in February, Breonna Taylor in March and George Floyd, who was killed in a bold act of police brutality a week ago. Floyd’s agonizing death, captured on video, has incited nationwide protests against the continued brutalization of black people. George Floyd was killed the same day Amy Cooper made her false accusations against Christian Cooper.
For black people, false accusations can lead to dangerous outcomes ending in emotional trauma, incarceration, severe injury or death. This incident occurred in New York and was perpetuated by a white liberal. What does this say about folks arguing that racism only exists in particular states where white supremacy is more overt? We cannot deny that racism exists in the streets, schools, corporations, government, academia — everywhere.
The Amy Cooper incident spread like wildfire on social media, inciting anger, disappointment, confirmation and disbelief. As a result, she was forced to apologize and surrender her dog. She lost her job at Franklin Templeton, her sense of anonymity has been shattered, and she forfeited her ability to be viewed as a liberal. Without the video recording, who knows how this story would have ended, although history shows that white women’s accusations end poorly for black men.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s idea of abstract liberalism, a frame used to perpetuate colorblind racist ideology, captures how whites can simultaneously adopt a liberal viewpoint while opposing practical methods of addressing racial inequalities. Amy Cooper wants us to believe that this was an unintentional act — a classic abstract liberal retort. Amy Cooper’s false accusations and the murder of black people are very much connected. It is a reflection of the devaluation of black lives and the perpetuation of white privilege.
This is all happening during a global pandemic, where COVID-19 has amplified the racial inequalities that disproportionately affect black communities. Even a deadly virus cannot quell the plague of racism that infects the daily lives of black people.
I urge anyone who perceives themselves to be a liberal to carefully examine whether they harbor racist beliefs that can creep up in moments where they feel emboldened to take risks with the lives of black people. This could be anything from making false accusations, questioning competence, denying access to jobs, advancement, housing opportunities, loans, imprisonment, political engagement and everything else mitigated by the racialized social and power structures that exists in America.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.