Home · Op-Ed

Amy Cooper And Protecting White Spaces

Amy Cooper weaponized her whiteness and put a Black man's life in danger. 

Twitter user @maplecocaine once tweeted a hilariously accurate statement: “Every day on twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it.” 

Well, this morning Amy Cooper—a white woman who called the police on a Black man, intentionally and repeatedly stressing that an “African American man was threatening” her by asking her to put a leash on her dog—is the main character on social media.

Amy Cooper’s target, a Black birder named Christian Cooper, says he saw Amy Cooper walk her dog unleashed at around 8 a.m. in the Ramble, a protected nature reserve in New York City’s Central Park. In the park, according to Newsweek, all dogs must be leashed between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., but in the Ramble they must be leashed at all times. 

After the video, recorded by Christian Cooper (considering how chattel slavery worked, it’s dark that they have the same last name), went viral, Amy Cooper was placed on administrative leave by her employer, investment management company Franklin Templeton. The company’s statement regarding the incident says it does not “condone racism of any kind.” Amy Cooper also (horror of horrors for white women) had her dog taken away by the rescue agency she’d gotten the pet from. 

The intentionality and cold calculation behind Amy’s threats — her specific and repeated declarations that an “African-American” man was threatening her — made it clear to most that at the very least, she wanted to invoke fear in Christian Cooper; wanted him to recall graphic videos of Black people being executed by police; wanted him to imagine his own mangled body on the trail. 

At worst, it suggests that Amy Cooper actually desired for Christian Copper to lose his life at the hands of the police. Why? Because Amy Cooper was infuriated by the idea that Christian Cooper felt he had an equal right to this public, outdoor space. 

White people seem to think every corner of this Earth belongs to them; and that Black people and other people of color have no business being there. They’ve been known to accost us at Starbucks, at banks, at drugstores, at delis, in our own apartments, in university common rooms, and in countless other seemingly innocuous places. But there seems to be no space that white defend and police as fiercely and viciously as the outdoors. 

De jure segregation may be (partially) illegal following the Civil Rights movement, but de facto segregation is roaring and spitting in our faces, impacting almost every facet of how Black people move — especially in spaces deemed to be solely white territory, like the outdoors.

In Yale professor Elijah Anderson’s 2015 paper “The White Space,” published by the American Sociological Association, he writes that such spaces reinforce “a normative sensibility in settings in which black people are typically absent, not expected, or marginalized when present. In turn, blacks often refer to such settings colloquially as ‘the white space’ — a perceptual category — and they typically approach that space with care.” 

This is why Black people are often on high alert in outdoor spaces: because those spaces are so widely accepted to “belong” to white people. We have had the police called on us and our lives threatened while barbequing at parks, swimming at pools, playing golf, and staying on campgrounds. In response, entire organizations have been built to guide children of color (most often described as under-resourced, although this is not merely a class issue) to outdoor activities.

In Colorado, an organization called Black Girls Hike was founded simply to help Black women feel safer and less alone as they took advantage of all the beautiful outdoor activities the state has to offer. In picturesque and “progressive” Oregon, Black joggers are also frequently harassed and threatened. 

If you reflect on it, it’s sickly ironic. These beautiful, life-sustaining, awe-inspiring places that everyone should have access to for their mental and physical health are often sites of racial violence — to the point where many Black people feel uncomfortable entering parks, forests, lakes, and beaches, even in their own neighborhoods. 

It is almost impossible for Amy Cooper to have felt as though her actual life — her beating heart, her lack of rigor mortis, her brain activity, her body unmolested by maggots — was endangered by Christian Cooper, a birder who simply asked her to abide by New York City’s reasonable leashing laws. 

But because Christian was a Black man who dared to assert himself in what she considered her space, she felt he was threatening the life she imagines herself to deserve — a life where she can dictate who enters and what goes on in white spaces. 

Christian Cooper was threatening her life spent as a fragile white woman who desires dominion over Black people. He was threatening her sense of supremacy. And for that, Amy Cooper decided, Christian Cooper deserved to lose his actual life, his actual beating heart. 

Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing, attempting to ignite a lynching of a Black man. In fact, as I write this, I am learning of another one of my people who was killed by a cop in Minneapolis, as the cop kneeled on the unidentified Black man’s neck, the man struggling to breathe. Amy Cooper knew that her phone, her white femininity, and even her fucking dog were all weapons she could use against Christian Cooper, to police her precious space. 

White people will use every resource at their disposal to protect their spaces: their gated neighborhoods, their universities, their coffee shops, their clothing boutiques, their concerts, their football games. And when it comes to outdoors, they are particularly feral.