This week, many of us watched the cell phone footage of Amy Cooper telling Christian Cooper that she was going to call the cops and claim that an African-American man was threatening her life. She then changed her tone to hysterical and panicked while she spoke to a 911 dispatcher.
You and I both probably saw the story and flinched. For a moment, I thought: how horrible of her. Why would she do that?
But in the very next moment, I realized she is me. She is most of us.
It’s awkward and uncomfortable to acknowledge, but it’s far worse to ignore. Watching that video, I tried to search deeply within myself and see the ways that Amy Cooper did something I am very capable of doing.
In a bad moment, or when I’m frustrated, or when I’m losing my cool, or when I’m tired or stressed… I could easily call on my privilege and put someone in danger.
I experience the benefits of my privilege almost every day.
This weekend, I bought 10 bags of black mulch at Lowe’s. I drove to the back of the parking lot for it to be loaded, and when I got there I couldn’t find my receipt. The friendly Lowe’s workers smiled and said “it’s no problem ma’am, we believe you.“ And they loaded 10 bags of mulch into my trunk without any question. That’s my privilege.
I try to walk in my neighborhood most evenings listening to an audiobook to clear my head. Last week- an African-American man walked in the opposite direction 50 feet ahead of me and when he noticed me, he cross the street, hunched his shoulders, and nodded his head at me- trying to shrink himself and perhaps appear ‘less threatening’. That’s my privilege.
But what if Lowes wouldn’t have given me the mulch? Would I have been tempted to raise my voice and ask to speak with the manager? That’s also my privilege.
What if the man didn’t cross the street and kept walking towards me? Would I have tried to turn down a different street and hurry home? Or maybe watched him to see where he was going to go with my cell phone out? Just because he’s walking down the street? That’s also my privilege.
We are all a part of a structure where the news about an African Americans is mostly bad. Headlines are pictures featuring our dark skinned neighbors paint a picture that we should be scared, mistrusting, or suspicious.
Most of the movies I go to feature white heroes, white love interests. Most of my children’s toys and books feature white faces. All of this contributes to my privilege.
When the story broke about Amy Cooper, I saw myself. I experienced the familiarity and recognition of her, another middle-aged professional woman, who did something I’m capable of doing.
So what do I need to do to make sure it’s not me next? How do I keep learning and growing and fighting against the systemic racism of our culture? I don’t have all the answers. But I know I need to ask the questions.
I need to expand our children’s book collection. I need to forge more relationships with people who look different than me. I need to listen more to my African-American friends and ask more about their experiences. I need to check myself every day to make sure I’m not leaning on privilege to make my way in the world.
I write this blog post in the spirit of confession, reflection, and invitation. Perhaps we all need to see ourselves and Amy Cooper, and from there: how can we grow?