From the Blog

Which Cooper Will You Be?

by Christina Horner 

Admittedly, I watched the infamous Amy Cooper video—now gone viral—numerous times. Like millions of others, I was outraged as I watched Amy Cooper take on the award-winning role of the “damsel in distress.” In her final hysterical plea for help, she knew her role was to convey the all-too-familiar stereotype that Christian Cooper, an African American male, posed a criminal threat. She knew that by strategically using the code words “African American male,” she would convey that there was a dangerous person who needed to be caught and punished.

We saw Amy Cooper skillfully and spontaneously channel her energy to portray herself as a defenseless woman alone with a super predator, who was threatening both her and her dog in the gentrified Ramble. They both needed to be rescued immediately and at any cost. The harsh reality is that despite Amy Cooper’s cries, she was not the one in danger on Memorial Day. There were two beings in imminent danger: the dog she was strangling right before our eyes and Christian Cooper, who was being set-up for another modern day lynching.

Amy Cooper, who is White, highly educated, and affluent was angry because an African American male dared to hold her accountable to the rules that all dog owners are expected to abide by. Rather than comply with the posted rules and simply leash her dog, the world witnessed another stellar performance of an angry White woman reaching out and within to exert the power that only White supremacy can: shamelessly and effortlessly bringing yet another Black man to his ultimate demise. Amy Cooper knew she was being filmed. She was so steeped in the power of her White privilege that she would ultimately put on a performance she had been preparing for most of her life. This was vice president Amy Cooper’s time to shine.

I thank God that both Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper were gone when the police arrived, because no matter what, structural racism has taught us that White lies trump Black lives.  

Millions of people have expressed their shock and disgust for what they saw on that video. I am also disgusted, but not at all shocked, because this country is full of Amy Coopers and always has been. This is not to say that every White woman is an Amy Cooper. That is not my message. I do, however, believe that the racist behavior of Amy Cooper is as common as the name Amy Cooper itself. Central Park’s Amy Cooper was not born into the racist role that she played so well. None of them are. Amy Coopers are not born as racists. I believe Amy Coopers are a product of racist practices and policies that have been ingrained in every aspect of all of our lives. For centuries, these practices and policies have conveyed the message that Black lives don’t matter.  

As a former teacher and administrator, I have observed, taught, and worked with many an Amy Cooper. I have observed second grade Amy Cooper working and playing with her beautiful Black and Brown peers without incident. I have also witnessed second grade Amy Cooper and her friends of color engage in off task and silly behaviors. That’s what second graders do. Sometimes the behaviors of second graders can be disruptive, while other times it can be a cry for help. But not all these behaviors are dealt with equitably. Data has proven time and time again that Black and Brown children, particularly males, will be suspended and possibly expelled as early as preschool and kindergarten for the same and lesser offenses of an Amy Cooper. Teacher Amy Coopers are often totally oblivious to their blindspots, and may even be unwilling to examine them even when confronted with the data. By second grade, teacher Amy Coopers have already conveyed to their students, particularly those who are also Amy Coopers, that the education of Black and Brown students, especially boys, does not matter.

By middle school, an Amy Cooper has watched and learned from the behaviors of teacher and principal Amy Coopers for years.  Every day since preschool she has seen disparities in discipline. Whenever she sees a human image—whether it’s in the books she has been read or reads, the displays on the bulletin boards, the special visitors to the school, or within the curriculum—she sees people who look like her. There’s always a mirror. She has never seen a teacher or administrator of color. Her classes are tracked and all of the students in her class look like her. More mirrors. Schools have groomed her since preschool, and unbeknownst to her, she has now internalized the racists attitudes and beliefs that our nation’s schools have upheld for centuries. Black lives don’t matter.

In middle school Amy Cooper is enamored with boys, but one particular week she is infatuated with a Black boy. He’s cute, smart, and, like many 7th grade boys, totally oblivious that he is the object of her affection. Middle school Amy Cooper will stop at nothing to get the attention she feels she is entitled to. She will harass, ridicule, and even humiliate the object of her affection to get her desired response. It eventually escalates to the point where it causes her to assault the boy in front of the entire class.

When called on her behavior, she does what she has been trained to do for years—become the victim. She puts on a tear-wrenching performance that even the brazen Carolyn Bryant Donham, Emmitt Till’s accuser, would marvel at. Principal Amy Cooper, a White progressive, highly educated, affluent woman well-aware of her privilege, identifies with middle school Amy Cooperanother mirror. She has played the same role time and time again. Rather than protect and advocate for the victim, the young Black male, principal Amy Cooper consoles middle school Amy Cooper. Once again, middle school Amy Cooper has learned that lives like hers are the only ones that matter.

It is a fact that Black and Brown students are punished, suspended, or even expelled for the same behaviors Amy Coopers exhibit.

What do these blatant discipline disparities teach young White Amy Coopers? This is the installation of White supremacy in our White students’ most formative years. It is during these moments when our White students acquire and learn racism, for they certainly aren’t born with it. This reality, scary as it might be, is not beyond changing. As educators, we can and must do better! Failure to do so will only continue to reinforce the legacy of structural racism now tearing our country apart.  Black lives do matter.

Possible resolutions or reforms could include rethinking discipline policies, for example. Or challenging white educators to ask of themselves and each other: When am I being an Amy Cooper? How can I not be an Amy Cooper? How can I help my colleagues not be an Amy Cooper?

Instead, let’s be Christian Cooper. There’s a model worth emulating.