by Valerie Morales
When I first saw the video of Ann Cooper acting a racist fool in Central Park, I thought about an encounter I had in a grocery store. I had just arrived in New Orleans for a murder trial and my kindergartner was hungry so we detoured to a local market. It was a welcomed distraction. Jury selection was the following morning and I didn’t want to think about being in a courtroom facing Martha’s killer. And so there we were going up and down the food aisles, me and a precocious five year old. I hadn’t wanted to bring him to the trial but the prosecutor insisted. “The jury needs to know what was taken from you. They need to see the absence in your life.”
So there we were, Chase and I, a little bit ragged from the plane ride but cheerfully sorting through chips and pop-tarts. In the line, I noticed a young mother and her son. He was nearly the same age as Chase. Chase noticed them too and asked if he could go talk to the little boy. It was a bargain we had created when he was three. Because he was friendly and precocious and because stranger danger just didn’t work with him, he had to ask me if he wanted to approach a stranger. I gave my okay and he was off.
About five minutes into the conversation with Chase chatting away and making the other boy giggle and laugh- did I mention the stranger was white?- the mother turned and looked at me and then back at Chase. And then at me again. I braced myself because I knew something was coming.
She said in her Cajun drawl while popping a wad of gum, “y’all ain’t from around here are you?” Because Chase was sweet and innocent, he didn’t understand her get off my lawn subtlety. I did but refused to participate.
Suddenly and without prompting, Chase turned and said to her with the most tender smile and pride, “I’m from California.” He was a precious child with impeccable diction and a sterling vocabulary. He waited for her to compliment him, something most adults did. But she just rolled her eyes, and said, “figures.”
Later that night, after I retold the story to my relatives who were also in town for the murder trial, we passed vodka shots and laughed at the imagery, pathetic Karen in the grocery store with her lips in a knot because black children are smarter than she is. And then we were quiet. It hit us simultaneously, how public spaces are used to remind us we don’t belong. But even that’s not enough. There has to be a humiliation to complete the racial fetish of black submission. There has to be destruction.
That was my first thought when I saw the video of Ann Cooper calling the police on a black man who asked her to leash her dog. I instantly thought of that woman in the grocery store saying, “you’re not from around here are you?” Because that is what Ann Cooper was implying to Christian Cooper after he asked her to respect his space.
Because her shrillness was unable to accomplish her intentions, Ann Cooper went to her bag of tricks. Restore power by triggering racial anxiety. Call the cops to finish the job she couldn’t.
“I wasn’t going to participate in my own dehumanization and feed that, so I just kept recording” was how Christian Cooper reflected on the experience.
There are so many ironies, where to begin? First, the victim in this case is a man named Christian. I’ve known a few Christians in my day and they were anything but.
Christian Cooper lived up to his name by politely asking Ann Cooper to obey the park rules and when she began objectifying and dehumanizing him, he began recording. He had a social responsibility to introduce her behavior to a world that was already familiar with her behavior.
There’s also a lot of chatter about Ann Cooper’s politics and it’s a separate story apart from her racism. We anoint liberals with a set of characteristics because we romanticize their whiteness and their ability to love us. However, when it comes to unpacking the multifaceted conversation that anchors race and privilege, white liberals feign a headache like white conservatives feign a headache.
While everyone expected Central Park racist to be MAGA through and through, once I found out she worked for an investment firm I figured she was a white liberal privileged enough to donate to candidates whose platforms she agreed with which is what the reporting suggests. That’s fluff though. Here’s the real. White supremacists are happy to let you know how much they despise you and think you are inferior. However, white liberals are the ones who weaponize tolerance and homogenize race equality into their own hypocritic brand.
It occurred to me, and to many others, that if this had happened twenty years ago, Christian Cooper wouldn’t have had a phone at his disposal to document Ann Cooper’s savagery. She may have yelled out to the Central Park public that he was raping her and then it would have been her word against his aka Emmett Till.
Our postracial world- enter laughter- has never been so fragile with white people using every trick in the book to get black people arrested or killed. You can’t go into Starbucks. You can’t mow your own lawn. You can’t sleep in the dorms common rooms. You can’t smoke a cigarette during a traffic stop. You can’t jog because black people don’t jog. You can’t watch birds in the park. The police are coming. A lot of those horrified white people on speed dial with the police are liberals who are wasting valuable moments as they usher in deathly punishments.
Another way of digesting it is to blame Donald Trump who has incentivized ordinary cruelty upon people of color. He beams when whiteness is gleeful and blackness is punished. It is chilling how his sycophants are stand-ins for his absence. But Trump didn’t start this. Black folks bodies have a historical precedent of rent while white folks bodies have a historical precedent of ownership. As long as white women are nurtured, and not challenged, black punishment is an idea floating in space. Otherwise, there is hell to pay.
But of course, those who cling to an All Lives Matter framework and a Love Sees No Color trope and a post-racialized world fantasy will use Ann Cooper as an outlier, one woman on a spring day who did something stupid, instead of one woman on a spring day who did something despicable.
Those who have to endure this cruelty day in and day out know you can’t put kittens in the oven and call them biscuits.
Now that it’s all said and done, now that a white woman has been publicly humiliated and has lost her job, we can curate the details. On a sunny day a black man was supposed to be silent. A white woman was supposed to be powerful. Black obedience was the flashpoint but it failed drastically, Christian Cooper refused to participate. White ecstasy was supposed to be the conclusion but Ann Cooper was mostly disheveled and erratic and now she’s unemployed.
It came down to what it always comes down to in race theology, what has been around since slavery when white women passively allowed their husbands to rape slave girls, the inheritance of our ancestor’s trauma, and its correlating response is bewildering.
Sadly, not much has changed over the centuries, certainly not intragenerational empathy, compassion, self-awareness, and mercy for black people. But in this century we are not cleaning up the mess of racism’s wayward daughters. We are documenting their ugliness and letting the results speak for themselves.