This white woman’s 911 call shows that antiblack violence was not about fear, but skill.
**content warning: the n-word lurks below**
Amy Cooper doesn’t want us to think she made an attempt on a Black man’s life this week. “I’m not a racist,” she told CNN. “I did not mean to harm that man in any way."
The video footage of the encounter tells a different story.
Christian Cooper (a Black man of no relation) confronted Amy, who is white, for allowing her dog to go about unleashed in an area of New York City’s Central Park where leashes are required.
“I’m calling the cops,” Amy Cooper warns in response.
“Please call the cops,” Christian Cooper dares.
“I’m gonna’ tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” she says. In the video that captured this encounter, Amy can be seen going for the Oscar in her 911 call:
“There’s an African-American man, I’m in Central Park, he is recording me and threatening myself and my dog,” she tattles.
“I’m being threatened by a man in The Ramble [that’s the area of the park they were in] please send the cops immediately,” she insists in a distraught voice she keeps in the pocket of her hoodie — you know, just in case.
And today, Amy Cooper is trying to use that same voice on America. “My entire life is being destroyed right now,” she complains as #AmyCooperIsARacist trends on Twitter, her employer places her on administrative leave, and her dog is surrendered to a shelter.
She claims she doesn’t know why she acted the way she did. “I guess I was just scared,” she says. But the footage doesn’t support this claim. Amy Cooper didn’t call the cops out of fear. She called out of wisdom.
I mean “wisdom” in the way many ancient Near Eastern people thought of it. A person from that time and place might say a musician isn’t just talented, but wise because they understand the concepts of music and can put that knowledge to work by composing a concerto or playing the guitar solo from Michael Jackson’s Beat It. Wisdom is, simply put, “applied knowledge.”
Amy Cooper applied her knowledge of the matrix of violent antagonisms that scaffold our anti-Black society to her exchange with Christian. She wielded her position — and his — in America’s racial hierarchy with skill.
The first thing Amy Cooper seemed to know is that, as a white woman, she stands above Black people in the racial hierarchy. She knows she is the image of the slave master and he the image of the enslaved, the non-Human — which might explain why she seemed to exhibit offense that a Black man had the gall to hold her accountable to the leash policy of The Ramble. In her decision to call the police, she betrays that the Black man has made the true violation. It is, afterall, her prerogative as a white person to police non-white people, not the other way around.
She also seemed to know that, in America’s imagination, she’s the image of the pure, innocent damsel in the distress and that the Black man is perpetually the image of the dangerous criminal. It’s as simple as cat and mouse.
It’s been so since D.W. Griffith produced the film Birth of a Nation (1915), feeding the fiction that Black men have some untamable rapacious desire for white women and provoking the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. To be clear: this was an instance of white patriarchy justifying the use of anti-Black violence to bar both white women and Black men from equal standing with white men in society. While many white women might eschew being viewed through that patriarchal trope, white women have been able to weaponize it against Black men throughout American history.
We must never forget Emmett Till was lynched because a white woman claimed he flirted with her, or that Black Wall Street was bombed because a white woman said a Black man frightened her. In an instant, Amy Cooper became the white woman from Griffith’s film. Knowing that if she cried for help, some knight in shining armor was likely to appear, because the only thing white patriarchy hates more than a woman is a ‘nigger.’
To quote Frank Wilderson III, white women have “a regime of violence at their disposal, whether or not [they] tap into it.” The video of this exchange shows that Amy Cooper was well aware of this fact. The reprimand from Christian initiates a contest for power in which Amy knows that, while he may have the letter of the law on his side, she has three dragons.
If she were a slaveholder (or wife of a slaveholder), she might have Christian whipped in public for “disrespect,” but since we’ve ‘evolved’ since the 1800s, she called armed agents of the state, whose institutional roots are inseparable from the plantation, instead.
We all know that when a child on the playground says “I’m gonna’ go get my big brother,” the implication is that the party being summoned is going to beat you up — which is what Amy Cooper probably knew was likely, if she’d been paying attention the news at any point since the beating of Rodney King (1992) to the murder of George Floyd this week.
She knew that, had they stayed long enough for the cops to arrive, that Christian might not have survived that confrontation, and she called anyway. People who truly believe they are White give no thought to ruining our lives with a 911 call, because non-humans don’t have lives to ruin. Only Human lives matter.
All of this is what I mean when say I that she didn’t act out of fear. These were not the panicked actions of a woman in distress. This was the performance of a master guitarist, so familiar with their scales that they can riff through a face-melting solo. A rapper so rehearsed they can freestyle for fifteen minutes without stopping to say “ah! yeah!”
I’m not saying that Amy Cooper is a supervillain — that she deliberated within herself to intentionally expose a man to the police. I’m saying that white America is so thoroughly rehearsed in antiblackness that they often don’t have to think about it to perform it. But that is not the same as ignorance.
She will continue to use fear as an excuse, but all I see is a woman who knows how Negrophobia works.