I never fully understood racism in the United States until May 25, 2020.
At least not from the point of view of an American Black person, maybe intellectually but certainly not viscerally. That happened just hours before I learned of George Floyd’s murder, when I watched the video of Amy Cooper in Central Park.
I watched the video soon after the incident occurred, before media picked it up and the narrative was shaped by the biases of each news outlet.
What I saw in that unfiltered video was two strangers in a heated argument where one called the police and used the other’s race as a threat, JUST to get her way.
What shocked me about this video were three things:
- Lying to the police was a “move” that woman had to win that argument.
- Saying her harasser was “African American” was a trump card in that play.
- And, BOTH of them knew EXACTLY what she was doing – which meant that this grotesquely racist and criminal behavior was part of the common cultural understanding of American society.
As a Canadian, no news articles I have read, videos I have seen or even movies I have watched about racism showed me what it means to be Black in the US than this casual exchange in Central Park over an off-leash dog.
I don’t know how it feels to have my skin colour be weaponized against me like this. (Actually, I can imagine a little, on behalf of the Muslim community, but only the Muslims who show their Muslim-ness too much are targeted. And it’s easy enough for a Muslim to blend). A Black man cannot hide his blackness while he argues with strangers about mundane every day things.
Before I saw Amy Cooper in Central Park, I naively thought racism was a product of ignorance and fear. I thought as people become more enlightened and their fears reduce, they can become less racist. Watching the Amy Cooper video I realized that while surely some racism do come from ignorance and fear, perhaps racism is really about power.
In part I of this series I wrote about my personal stories of overt racism in Canada. But I never felt powerless as a result of those incidents. Amy Cooper, in that heated moment, seemed to try and rob her opponent of his powers as a free citizen by wielding his race as a weapon. And she used that power callously, knowing the possible bad outcome, BECAUSE of the possible bad outcome for him, just because she could.