Social media is so weird. I often see posts from people expressing concern for other people, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Just now, I typed “suicide” into Facebook’s search bar. This was what was at the top of the page:
Most days, I see people posting and re-posting statuses indicating that they would be available to listen to someone who is on the verge of a crisis. I see plenty of folks sharing suicide hotline numbers or memes that indicate that they’re caring people who don’t want others to self-destruct.
And then yesterday, I read a news article about yet another middle-aged white woman behaving badly and many of the same people who regularly post about wanting people in crisis to “reach out”, are cheering when she gets called out and vilified on social media for what amounts to a few minutes of shameful behavior. I wonder if these folks, who seemingly care enough about the depressed, anxious, and suicidal to post their supportive memes, would like to see the next middle-aged white woman who gets publicly destroyed committing suicide.
Today, it’s Amy Cooper, a woman who, admittedly, acted very poorly on Memorial Day when she and her dog were confronted in Central Park by a black man who was birdwatching. Ms. Cooper had her dog off leash in a wild area of Central Park and the birdwatcher, Christian Cooper (no relation), had asked her to restrain the pooch. He was well within his rights to ask her to leash the dog, since dogs are supposed to be on leash in that part of the park. For whatever reason, Ms. Cooper refused to comply with Mr. Cooper’s polite request, and Mr. Cooper started filming her as she melted down. The two got into an altercation, which escalated when Ms. Cooper called the police and told the dispatcher that she was being filmed by an “African American” and insinuating that he was threatening her life.
Before I go any further with this, I want to state again that I understand that many black people have been killed when the police have been called. I do understand that a white woman calling the police on a black man could lead to deadly consequences. Amy Cooper was definitely wrong to behave the way she did. But I still wouldn’t want to see her lose everything, including her life, for behaving the way she did a couple of days ago, especially when I don’t know what led up to it.
Christian Cooper’s sister later put the video on Twitter. Within 24 hours, Amy Cooper had given up her dog, publicly apologized, and was fired from her job. Some people were positively gleeful about this turn of events. A few said she should also go to prison, for good measure. To his credit, Christian Cooper expressed regret that the public backlash had gone that far. The Times reports:
“Mr. Cooper said in the interview that he had been overwhelmed by the response to his video, but that the retribution against Ms. Cooper had taken him aback.”
“It’s a little bit of a frenzy, and I am uncomfortable with that,” he said. “If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal.”
But then he referred to Ms. Cooper as a “Karen”, which I felt really kind of cheapened the incident. I’ve known a lot of really nice people named Karen, and I don’t think it’s fair to lump all of them in with people who act entitled and rude. Why not address the behavior and have an honest discussion about it instead of resorting to a silly Internet hashtag?
I have mentioned before that I hate it when people use proper names as insults. I think it’s a stupid trend, and whenever I hear someone calling another person a “Karen”, “Becky”, “Patty”, or “Susan”, it automatically makes me think they aren’t very deep thinkers. Amy Cooper’s behavior is despicable in this incident, but that’s no reason to throw all of the legitimate Karens in the world under the bus. Why not just condemn her behavior instead of just labeling her as a “Karen” and laughing at her for getting fired? And why not stop and think about why this happened instead of just going into a frenzy and assuming that Amy Cooper is an awful person and saying she should go to prison?
I dared to express my opinion about this. As soon as I did that, I got attacked by a couple of people who don’t know me at all. Both of them– total strangers to me– made negative assumptions about my character simply because I viewed the situation differently than they did. Both of the prime offenders were other white women who became angry and borderline abusive simply because I dared to state that I don’t think people should be losing everything over these kinds of incidents. When a person becomes unemployed, particularly at a time like now, they can end up in a downward spiral that could legitimately lead to their end and will, no doubt, affect other people. While I don’t condone Amy Cooper’s actions two days ago, I do hope there are people in her life who can help her through this situation. I don’t want to see her life destroyed over what amounts to a couple of minutes of deplorable behavior caught on video. At the same time, I also don’t want to see people of color being killed because someone like Amy Cooper calls the cops on them.
I suspect those women felt compelled to attack me because they want to appear virtuous to others. I presented a different perspective that they didn’t appreciate. I have a feeling neither of them even stopped to think about my comments. I think they just decided to attack, much like the public attacks people who behave badly… especially when they are white women. I have noticed that the first name insults have all been coined in the wake of some middle aged white woman being a jerk in public. Someone out there in Internetland slaps a cute nickname on the woman and it becomes a slur that gets hurled at other similarly misbehaving white women. People make sweeping judgments about the women, even if they don’t know anything about her other than what’s in the media. A lot of times, their remarks include derogatory comments about the women’s looks, too. That shouldn’t have anything to do with a person’s decision to behave badly, but once someone goes down in Internet infamy, nothing is sacred.
I wonder what led up to Ms. Cooper’s decision not to cooperate with a polite request by a birdwatcher. Is she always that hostile and argumentative? Or did something happen recently to put her in a really bad mood? Maybe she was walking in the park to burn off stress. I noticed in the video that she had a mask around her neck. At least she was considerate enough to carry a face mask, right? And though she gave her dog, Henry, back to the rescue from which she had adopted him, the rescue did state that the dog was in good health. So that means she was taking care of him, even if I didn’t like the way she was jerking him around by the collar in the video. Chances are, most of the time, Amy Cooper doesn’t act like a “Karen”– as she’s now been labeled by supposedly respectable newspapers like The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
Is Amy Cooper really an absolutely horrible person who deserves to be publicly destroyed for exhibiting what many people are calling “white privilege”? Would people like to see her kill herself over this? I’m not saying that’s what she will do, or even that it’s crossed her mind. I just picture how I would feel if people around the nation suddenly started attacking me because I was caught on video being a jerk and it went viral. I can state with certainty that I might consider suicide in the wake of such visceral attacks.
A lot of us are under a great deal of stress right now. We’ve been locked down for weeks. Many of us are drinking too much and not exercising enough. People are feeling angry, scared, and hopeless. Depression and anxiety in the wake of the pandemic are rampant. New York City, where this incident took place, has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Many people have lost their social lives, their jobs, and many people have lost loved ones to the virus. It’s easy to understand why some people are lashing out, both online and in public. Moreover, a lot of people have more time on their hands, which probably makes their attention to this news story even more concentrated that it otherwise might have been. To be sure, this was a very unfortunate incident, and Amy Cooper behaved very offensively. But I’m not quite ready to label her as a terrible person simply because she got caught on video losing her shit. That being said, I commend Christian Cooper for trying to handle this with some class, at least initially. And I’m glad he realizes that destroying people isn’t the best way to handle these situations.