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Amy Cooper, White Spaces and The Political Project of Whiteness

Amy Cooper, like most white people, is invested in maintaining white supremacy at all costs because it guarantees her power at the expense of BIPOC. 

TW: discussions of anti-Blackness, police violence, incarceration, murder, and white supremacy.

“I’m going to tell them that there is an African-American man threatening my life,” says the woman identified as Amy Cooper in a now widely-circulated video captured on Monday morning by Christian Cooper, an avid birdwatcher who was in The Ramble—a well-known spot for birders in Central Park, NY. 

“There is an African-American man. I am in Central Park. He is recording me and threatening myself and my dog,” Amy falsely states several times on the 911 dispatch call. 

According to Christian, he asked Cooper to put a leash on her dog, which is required in the park, and he began filming shortly after that interaction. 

“Please don’t come close to me,” Christian tells Amy who approaches him as she struggles to hold her dog by his collar while he flails about.

According to NBC News, since the posting of the video Cooper has been placed on administrative leave by her employer, The Central Park Civic association has called for her to be banned from the park, and the dog rescue she adopted her spaniel from says Amy surrendered him to the non-profit until the matter is addressed, and he is now “safe and in good care”. 

But for one Amy Cooper, there are thousands of whites who call the police on Black people without being filmed. There are thousands of Black people who are incarcerated and often killed at the hands of (state-sanctioned) white supremacist violence—on camera and in darkness.

Of course, this is rooted in a long, terrifying history of chattel slavery, anti-Black racism, settler-colonialism, red-lining, segregation, the inherent violence of whiteness, and white femininity at the expense of Black lives. It is also placed within the idea of “white spaces” where white people occupy spaces of the settler-colonial nation-state without conditions, while Black people move through them conditionally because they are not seen as citizens or even worthy of humanity. 

This is aptly described in Elijah Anderson’s, “The White Space” where they state: “While white people usually avoid black space, black people are required to navigate the white space as a condition of their existence.” 

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Black lives are conditional on how white people are feeling. Their whiteness guarantees that they can summarily have Black people executed or incarcerated for thwarting how white people move through spaces. That is the pay-off, amongst many others, of their investment in white supremacy and the political project of whiteness. State-sanctioned murder or incarceration is at the beck and call of any white person who (falsely) deems Black persons a threat. 

The nation-state reinforces the maintenance of white space where public parks, sidewalks, stores, schools—everything but what whites deem as undesirable until the tides of gentrification gradually descend—are controlled through policing. Police forces and policing is used to maintain the settler-colonial project; it is used as a response to whiteness being “threatened” by the presence of Blackness, which is viewed as transgressive of the structures nation-state’s inherent and foundational white supremacy. Iterations of this fascistic control remind us that only whites are granted a semblance of autonomy. 

This is true of all settlers within a settler-colonial state and we’ve witnessed this recently during the COVID-19 pandemic with how state and police forces have (not) responded to anti-lockdown, white nationalist/supremacist protests across the nation. The nature of whiteness as a political project guarantees that whites can move through spaces (even state capitol steps and within state buildings), with rifles and an array of weaponry and be met with little to no resistance, even afforded police assistance and protection. When we contrast this with how heavily militarized police forces exert their brutality against Black protestors fighting for basic rights and autonomy, it is clear that freedom to whites is that all space belongs to them. 

“I’m going to tell them that there is an African-American man threatening my life,” said Amy Cooper. That simple utterance was an exertion of white power, a reminder that Amy could decide whether Christian would live or die. A reminder that at any moment she could wield her whiteness against him. It was a reminder that her white femininity is defined by anti-Blackness, and that it is protected by the state because the very idea of white femininity is inherently sacred within the framework of the united states.

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White women have long participated in the maintenance of white supremacy. It’s an investment, one which guarantees them at least some form of participation in a primarily patriarchal society. They may not earn as much as their white male counterparts, they may not have access to all the benefits of a white, androcentric nation-state, but what they do have is whiteness. And, Amy Cooper, like most white people, is invested in maintaining white supremacy at all costs because it at least guarantees her some power. Power at the expense of BIPOC. 

And while many, many white people will be quick to condemn the actions of Amy Cooper, it is easy for them to differentiate and distance themselves from that kind of white person. Because they would (probably, maybe) never do such a thing. They are quick to distance themselves by calling her a “Karen” and pointing this out as “Karen behavior”, but what are they doing to ensure that this never happens again? How many of them have committed themselves to dismantling white supremacy and betraying the construct of whiteness? How many will “legally, familially, and politically” divest from white kinship

White people move through this world without ever confronting white supremacy all the while extracting power from it. They are not willing to risk losing their white power because it would result in not only discomfort but a loss of political identity where they are human and BIPOC are the “other”. 

We will see many more Amy Coopers in the future because I don’t believe that white people will ever divest from whiteness. But we can be grateful that Christian Cooper is here because millions of others no longer are.

Editor’s note: as of 2:24pm ET, Amy Cooper has been fired from her position at Franklin Templeton.

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Lara Witt is an award-winning feminist writer who primarily writes about feminism, racism, pop-culture, mental health, and politics. Witt received her BA in Journalism from Temple University and interned for Philadelphia CityPaper’s arts and entertainment section and the Philadelphia Daily News covering local news, court stories, and crime. Following her graduation, she became increasingly committed to writing about gender, race, and queer identity by using Black and brown feminist theory to analyze current news and politics. Witt freelanced for national and local publications, which led to her working with Wear Your Voice Magazine eventually becoming their EIC and rebranding the site to focus primarily on using the analytical framework of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality. Witt’s goal is to provide platforms for marginalized voices with a focus on having other Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) writers tell their own stories and explore their own narratives. Witt has spoken at local Philadelphia events, such as the March to End Rape Culture (2017) and curated a yearly series of events called The Electric Lady Series. These events highlight women of color in Philadelphia by exploring gender, rape culture, entrepreneurship, art, self-care, sex, and culture.

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