NOTE: Language in this article might be unpleasant to some readers. Please be warned.
If you did not see or read about the altercation between Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper [not related] along with the subsequent fallout on Amy Cooper as a pivotal moment in time then you need to read this article. However, we need to first contextualize that incident by understanding the sordid past. It’s a story as old as American slavery itself. The licentious, immoral and repulsive black man lustfully stalking the pristine, immaculate and faultless white woman. The wretched and sinful animal wanting to assert its ugly sexual dominance on a faultless beauty.
Martha Hodes, in her seminal book, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century posits that in the slave South before black freedom, such sexual liaisons were not of great concern by the white people of the day. Using court testimony among a host of other sources, Hodes concludes that there was more concern about the legal and racial status of any resulting children. With ‘freedom’ however, many black men would suddenly find themselves on the business end of the hangman’s noose just for looking at a white woman. The period of black slavery was replaced by the age of white terrorism.
It is estimated that one-fourth of the deaths of black men at the hands of white men during the ensuing years of 1880 to 1930 were motivated by an accusation of rape. If you were black, being uppity, insolent or failing to give proper deference could be fatal. Ronald L. F. Davies in his paper titled Racial Etiquette: The Racial Customs and Rules of Racial Behaviour in Jim Crow America, notes that in the South, before 1954, blacks were expected to defer to whites. It was required that they would refer to white men as Boss or Cap’n. You would not be too off the mark if you thought these monikers were but sham replacements for Master or Massah. Blacks, however, were either called by their first names if it was known, or boy, or “nigger” or “nigger-fellow.” Ronald L. F. Davies notes that this practice or derogatory name-calling helped to reduce blacks to a non-person. Davies goes on to note that blacks and whites could meet and talk on the street. Almost always, however, the rules of racial etiquette required blacks to be agreeable and non-challenging, even when the white person was mistaken about something.
Fast forward to a chance encounter that happened on a warm day in Central Park over the 2020 Memorial Day weekend. Amy Cooper was walking her dog and although she was in an on-leash area chose to take her dog off-leash. There is an inherent impression of entitlement in that act. We can safely surmise that Amy Cooper was aware of the requirement, but was comfortable enough to ignore it. That all changed when Christian Cooper encountered Amy and her off-leash dog.
Whether subliminally or intentionally, Amy drew upon countless years of white privilege and entitlement when Christian challenged her about her off-leash dog. This black man had the audacity to confront her. The moment he opened his mouth, this stopped being about her dog and became an attack on her personal freedom and privilege. He was breaking the now-defunct rule for him, but utterly applicable to her, of failing to give proper deference. He failed to be agreeable. He was challenging and so Amy decided to call the cops.
According to Sociology Toolbox, blacks make up 12% of the population, however, from 2015 – 2019 they accounted for 26.4% of those that were killed by police under all circumstances. Bluntly stated, blacks were victims of lethal police force at nearly twice their rate in the general population. I don’t expect that Amy, or any other white person to know this. Why should they? It does not affect them. However, I strongly believe that Amy felt she knew “how the cops would react” when she called. In fact, she knew exactly what to say to get the reaction she needed from the police. She also, most probably knew what she was about to do could indeed result in Christian Cooper’s death.
That’s why she threatened him by saying
I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
In another time and another place, you could easily replace African American with its more derogatory label. If Christian had been a white man, and she felt threatened would she have threatened to call the police because a white Caucasian was threatening her?
Racism is systemic. It is baked into every aspect of our daily interactions. People of colour are intimately aware of this. This incident is not about Amy Cooper. She is ancillary to the evolution of the story. It’s about Christian Cooper. A black man, who was secure enough in his black identity to confront entitlement and privilege as it sought – as always – to belittle, demean and disparage him because of his colour. Christian Cooper did the unthinkable – he stood his ground. Historically, he would be hanging from a tree and communities of colour would mourn. Today as his accuser loses her job, her dog and her integrity, Christian Cooper pushed even further. He is magnanimous in asking society to forgive but learn from what happened.
What you need to remember is that you cannot ship us back to 'where we came from!' What you need to accept is that you must learn to live with us. People of colour don’t want violence. We want equity. We don’t want meaningless platitudes and banal clichés. We want justice. These things are only possible when society recognizes the inequity that exists in the system and instead of belittling us when we speak about those inequities, it
works with us to remedy them.
That is why Black Lives Matter.