Karen has been cancelled!
All of us have probably seen the two videos that have spread rapidly across social media and further accentuated the ‘race wars’. First, the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where an officer crushed his windpipe by kneeling on his neck as he lay on the ground, his face firmly kissing the concrete, despite his desperate cries: “I cannot breathe…don’t kill me”. Second, Amy Cooper, acting like a ‘Karen’, a term denoting an uptight, bossypants white woman who is a stickler for enforcing every petty rule and regulation upon everybody else, attempting to call the police on Christian Cooper (no relation), a black pedestrian and bird watcher, in New York’s Central Park, while she was walking her dog. The dog wasn’t on a leash, which isn’t allowed in that particular area of the park. According to his account of the interaction on Instagram, Christian Cooper called her out on it and asked her to follow the rules. Amy Cooper refused. Christian replies: “Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it.” Amy felt threatened, Christian decided to start filming the encounter on his iPhone.
In the video Christian Cooper posted, Amy Cooper told him she was going to call the police and tell them that there was an “African American man threatening my life”, which she proceeded to do rather hysterically. After the social media storm, Amy Cooper was, I suppose inevitably, sacked from her investment banking position with Franklin Templeton, shortly after being placed on ‘administrative leave’.
It may be customary among commentators to remind people of the ‘complexity’ of social and political issues, persistently stressing not to ‘simplify’, ‘don’t make it black and white’. While in many cases this is perfectly true, there comes a point where invocations of ‘complexity’ turn into obfuscation. Simplification has its uses. And in the case of George Floyd, it is black and white (no pun intended obviously), there is no ‘complexity’. Anyone who isn’t blind can plainly see that murder was what took place. There is no wiggle room. The officers involved (including the spineless bystanders who could have intervened to prevent his death when it was clear Floyd was being hurt) have been sacked, but they should be facing charges. Too many times in these types of ‘incidents’, there is the surreptitious smuggling of the irrelevant, the non-sequitur and the smear to creepily insinuate that maybe, just maybe, the suspect got what was coming to them. It has barely been a few weeks since Ahmed Aubrey was murdered by vigilante thugs, where pseudo-journalists and serial fabricators such as Andy Ngo attempted to excavate dirt on him, as if one needs to be squeaky clean goody two shoes not to be murdered in cold blood.
If it wasn’t for the fact of smartphones and social media then few would know about it and it would seem ‘unbelievable’ to naive and obstinate folks. Yet, we have seen so many other examples in the past few years of police brutality, especially against black Americans, that it’s lost its ‘shock value’. Nothing will change until we get to the root of this question, which is how mainly working class communities, particularly working class black communities, across the United States are policed in such a way that normalises this casual brutality, and following corruption to cover it up.
But it was the encounter between the Coopers that generated the most ‘controversy’. Some have attempted to mount a ‘defence’ of Amy Cooper by claiming she was merely being ‘descriptive’ when she used the phrase “African American man” on her with 9–11. Except this omits her literally saying to Christian before she called the police that she was going to call the police and tell them “an African American man is threatening me”. She is the one who ‘pulled the race card’, to use a popular vulgarism. In what sense was his ‘race’ relevant? It was totally cynical and reprehensible. She knew what she was doing.
A few others tried another form of rationalisation. She is a lone woman, a larger, more imposing man confronted her. He said he’s going to do “what he wants”. He filmed her ‘without her consent’. One could understand her being trepidatious. After all, men do bad things to women. Yet, one could reverse this intersectional equation. Christian, as a black man, had every right to film the encounter, just in case. Blacks fear whites as much as vice versa. Haven’t black men historically been demonised and persecuted for supposedly threatening white women? So one can have this both ways if you wish.
One of the peculiar aspects of this whole episode has been the pointing out of Christian Cooper’s Harvard educated background and his former employment as a Marvel Comics editor. People have emphasised how well spoken and refined he is. Why would you call the police on him? But then ask yourself, what if he wasn’t such a cultivated person? What if he was a bit ‘rough around the edges’? What if he looked ‘creepy’? What if it was George Floyd? Would that make Amy Cooper’s sense of dread any more ‘understandable’ or even justified? I hope not. It certainly doesn’t for me.
I’ll cut to the chase. Amy Cooper was in the wrong and clearly a fool. Her actions were racist and odious and quite possibly could have produced ugly consequences. There was no need to call the police at all. Yet, I don’t think the social media hurricanes, or her losing her job was necessary (not that anybody will be particularly sympathetic to an upper class investment banker in Central New York, nor should you. She’s hardly a working class single mum barely surviving on two jobs). The point has been made. It’s not always necessary to stick the knife in and twist it. Even Christian Cooper has expressed his distaste for the death threats she has received.
Ultimately, this isn’t healthy or sustainable, if one is serious about uprooting racism and improving interpersonal interactions between ‘the races’. This should have been a petty and trivial dispute between two upper class New Yorkers. But it became a viral national and international story and endemic of the sordid nature of the question of race in America. Above all, this fact remains that hasn’t sunk in yet: cancelling the Amy Coopers of this world will not help the future George Floyds.