You’ve probably heard about the story of Amy Cooper, a white woman in Central Park. She could not be bothered to leash her dog, specifically required in the Ramble, a secluded section of the park popular with bird-watchers. Christian Cooper (no relation), a black man, and an avid birder pointed out the signage.
The now-famous video, viewed more than 40 million times. Amy approaches Christian and asks him to stop filming her, threatening to call the police. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she says. Her multitasking of dialing the police while holding her dog halfway off the ground went awry as the cocker spaniel thrashed around, trying to break free.
Amy Cooper lost her job at investment firm Franklin Templeton. She relinquished ownership of the dog as well.
A couple of things about this story really bug me. One, obviously, involves the facts of the case. The other, though, is the reductivist moniker of Amy Cooper being labeled a Karen.
For those of you not in the know, a Karen is “a mocking slang term for an entitled, obnoxious, middle-aged white woman. Especially as featured in memes, Karen is generally stereotyped as having a blonde bob haircut, asking to speak to retail and restaurant managers to voice complaints or make demands, and being a nagging, often divorced mother from Generation X.”
It was Melody Cooper, Christian’s sister who first labeled her. “Oh, when Karens take a walk with their dogs off-leash in the famous Bramble in NY’s Central Park, where it is clearly posted on signs that dogs MUST be leashed at all times, and someone like my brother (an avid birder) politely asks her to put her dog on the leash.”
These labels seem to be directed far more at women than men. My daughter notes that a Karen is called different things, depending on her age; Kayleigh, Becky, Karen (roughly 35-44), Susan, and Gertrude. I don’t know a Kayleigh, but I’ve known women with the other names, and I find the designations demeaning.
More than a complaint to the manager
In any case, the actions of Amy Cooper were far more dangerous than the flippant designation. As the Boston Globe noted, “When [she] charged Christian and yelled, ‘I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,’ she knew the gravity of her words. Amy, not Christian, was the real danger, as she wielded the kind of weaponry that led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that same night.”
CNN’s John Blake notes, “There’s one epidemic we may never find a vaccine for: fear of black men in public spaces.” Specifically, “Why are black men still so feared in 2020? And what will it take for it to stop?”
Blake believes that “until more white people actually live among and befriend black people, that fear will persist. We have stories of white people who learned how to see the full humanity of black people after being forced into environments where they were ‘the only white person in the room.’
“Some were white jazz musicians or athletes who learned what it was like to share rooms, meals, and private lives with black men. One was Bill Bradley, the former Rhodes Scholar, NBA player, and US Senator… He talked about how he changed after becoming one of the few whites on the New York Knicks in the 1970s.
“‘I better understand distrust and suspicion [and] the meaning of certain looks and certain codes… What it is to be in racial situations for which you have no frame of reference,’ Bradley said in a 1991 speech to the National Press Club. ‘I understand the tension of always being on guard, of never totally relaxing.'”
As good as his name
Meanwhile, Christian Cooper is asking people to stop making death threats against the woman who called the cops on him
“‘That action was racist. Does that make [Amy Cooper] a racist? I can’t answer that. Only she can with what she does going forward,’ the former Marvel Comics editor, Harvard graduate and board member of the New York City Audubon Society said. He believed her actions went to a “racist place,” but wasn’t happy she lost her livelihood.