Amy Cooper is a mirror all white women need to look at and grow from.We must not turn away and pretend we didn’t see her, nor pretend she doesn’t live inside of us.
Our transformation is long overdue. It begins by seeing ourselves clearly, the way others do.
If white women don’t want to be held to account for white women’s behavior, we must change our behavior. Those of us who are not the white women raising monsters, voting for monsters, and behaving like monsters have a responsibility to reach and teach those who are. We must become role models to other white women and our children of how to be white women without causing harm.
In 2014, watching #BlackLivesMatter activists stand up to tear gas in Ferguson inspired me to stand up for Black lives, and for myself. I began changing my beliefs and behaviors, and left my husband. My shock when Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted for killing Mike Brown coupled with listening to Black women’s stories of the nonstop abuse they received at work, a lot of it coming from women who look like me, made me begin educating white people how to change.
It hasn’t been easy- I was fired, my income plummeted, and I lost some relationships. But the more I work to heal myself, unlearn my racism, slay my inner patriarch, heal my relationships with people of color, follow women of color, and engage in activism, the better I feel.
You may be thinking: “I’m not Amy Cooper. I don’t have any part in this.” Part of white privilege is feeling entitled to be perceived as an individual and not as a representative of our entire race. Another part of white privilege is not to feel responsible for the behavior of other white people.
People of color never get those privileges. They are always perceived as representatives of their entire group. Many of them feel responsible for the behavior of other people of their race.
I grew up learning to perform white womanhood the way the patriarchy likes it, rewarded with tiny amounts of power for policing others’ behavior, pleasing the powerful, and not stepping out of line. I believed my family had what we had because we worked hard and if others would only choose to work hard, they would also be fine. I worked hard, every day of my life. But no matter how hard I ran in the wheel, success always remained out of reach in a system designed by powerful wealthy white men to accumulate more wealth and power. Many of us are still trying, that’s why we’re so exhausted, angry, and looking for someone to blame.
White women, we may not realize it, but, as Torraine Walker said, we “have more privilege than any other group in America.” Black and Indigenous People of Color carry intergenerational trauma about catering to us, because an upset white woman caused their families’ death and devastation.
Yet wherever we go, we are perceived as innocent and harmless. When I get pulled over, the officer says “ma’am your taillight is broken, you need to get that fixed.” I never fear for my life. I don’t have to explain to my children how to best protect themselves from police.
I do have to explain to my children how best to protect themselves from violent white men who shoot up schools, music festivals, churches. Who rape women with impunity.
Who raised these men? We did.
White women, particularly those of us who are mothers, have been the glue holding violent white men in power since 1619, when the first ship of tobacco brides arrived at Jamestown.
White women, we may not recognize it, but we have tremendous power. In 2016 we made up the largest group in the electorate, more than white men (33%) and Black and Latinx women and men combined (20%). Yet 53% of us chose pussygrabber in chief over one of our own.
White women, are we going to be Amy Cooper and her sister Karen?
Or are we going to find our courage, transform ourselves, and stop upholding those who harm us and everyone else?
Who we choose to be is a matter of life and death for millions of people who don’t have the power and privilege we do — including our own children.
I hope we choose wisely.
Karen Fleshman, Esq. She/ Her founded Racy Conversations in 2014 to inspire the antiracist generation. She is the author of White Women We Need to Talk: Doing Our Part to End Racism to be published by Sounds True in 2021 and of a 2018 open letter to white women, “No More Permit Patties.”