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  • Carolyn L. Baker

Amy Cooper: Unmasked Racism

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

In a recent Huffpost article, “Amy Cooper Knew Exactly What She Was Doing,” Zeba Blay relates Carolyn Bryant’s 1955 false accusation of Emmett Till to Amy Cooper’s fraudulent 911 call falsely accusing Christopher Cooper. “There is, of course, a long history of white women in this country falsely accusing Black people, particularly Black men and boys, of crimes they did not commit. In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was beaten, tortured and killed because Carolyn Bryant claimed that Till grabbed her and made sexual advances towards her in a Mississippi grocery store. She later admitted it was not true.”

In my forthcoming book An Unintentional Accomplice: A Personal Perspective on White Responsibility, I recount how I, a blue eyed 60 year old white woman, hadn’t heard of the murder of Emmett Till. That I was unaware of the central role a white woman played in one of the most galvanizing events of the civil rights era made me review my entire life of whiteness. Till’s mother, Mamie, insisted there be an open casket and that photographs of Emmett’s brutalized face be published. She made the world bear witness to what racial hatred had done to her son. She made the world confront rather than withdraw from that reality.

From reading several books on the “Massive Resistance” of the 1950s, I learned the degree to which white women have long been at the center of anti-segregation activities. In the example of Carolyn Bryant, her fabricated story launched the events leading to Emmett Till’s brutal murder. And then Bryant lied on the stand, her false testimony maintaining the white narrative of the good white woman rather than someone responsible for the death of a black child.

When Amy Cooper called 911 to falsely accuse Christian Cooper, she wielded the same lethal white woman power as did Carolyn Bryant. Bryant and Cooper both summoned the same system of racism to bring harm to a black man. A difference today is that in Carolyn Bryant’s time, overt racist tropes were accepted. White’s Only. Today, coded racial speech - inner city, state’s rights, law and order – all normalize the separation of white and black spaces. In CNN polling, the divide between black women voters and white women voters is too deep to be ignored. White women actively participate in perpetuating whiteness.

It is fair enough that Cooper is now being forced to publicly bear witness to her own unmasked racism. Yet, it is all too convenient to make her a scapegoat. From the Old Testament book of Leviticus comes the story of two kid goats: one is sacrificed and one is sent into the desert to carry away the sins of the community. The living "scapegoat" takes away the impurities of a society. It’s a given that, as a blue-eyed white woman, I too have a racist worldview. Owning that reality is an important starting place in learning how to interrupt hateful racist patterns.

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