When I read Amy Cooper’s apology to Christian Cooper after calling the cops on him for asking her to put a leash on her dog — specifically referring to him as an African American man in order to get a faster response from the police — I was appalled. How could she possibly think that her apology was enough?
On Monday, July 6th, Ms. Cooper was officially charged with filing a false report. While I am in support of her being held accountable for her actions, a charge and possible conviction do nothing to address the myriad underlying issues surrounding this horrible incident. To complicate matters, as recently as yesterday, the move to convict has been criticized because of the lack of participation and/or consent from Mr. Cooper. Without his participation, the chance for truly repairing the harm and contributing to transformational change in relationships or communities is lost.
Nevertheless, with millions of eyes on this case, many of us — particularly White women like me —are grappling with the question: what would I have done?
This is the apology I wish Amy Cooper had written, and that I would hope I would find the resolve to write myself when I am confronted by the blindness that White privilege creates in me. This letter would not replace a criminal conviction but takes an approach that I believe contributes to healing and which is rooted in principles of restorative justice.
Dear Mr. Cooper:
I humbly offer this letter of acknowledgment, accountability, and apology to you and to the millions of people who are paying attention right now. Given this incredible platform of focus, I have the unique opportunity to publicly practice what it means to do repair as a White woman with a Black man, in the hopes that White people collectively develop this practice. And while this started between you and I, this letter is really intended to bring more White people (and White women in particular) into an examination of our privilege and place in history and to acknowledge the centuries of harm White people, police, and other institutions have inflicted on People of Color.
First, I would like to acknowledge that what I did was wrong. I knew that by identifying you as an African American man in my call to police, it was more likely to receive their immediate attention. This was an explicit use of my privilege as a White person to try and sway people in positions of power, the police, to listen to me and come to my aide. This was wrong. In the moment, I didn’t think about the consequences this would have for you in the future. This is not an excuse — it is another demonstration of my privilege.
I don’t regularly think about all of the African American men who have been accused of violence, who haven’t been given a fair trial or a trial at all, and the millions who have lost their lives, because of their race. I don’t regularly think about all the African American men who have been killed because of a split second assumption of guilt by the police. Even if I was feeling threatened, it was reckless and complicit of me to involve the police in such a mundane exchange — an exchange that could have literally cost you your life. I don’t have close relationships with very many People of Color, and I am realizing now what an incredible gap this is in my ability to empathize.
I would like to apologize, not for my lack of awareness, but for my knowing use of my power and for putting you in grave danger. I am deeply sorry for what I have done. I would also like to apologize for the many years of my life that I have simply accepted my privilege as “the way things are” and not having taken steps to deepen my empathy for People of Color, to understand the full history of racial injustice in this country, or to take any action related to the many atrocities that are currently being committed by police against African American men in particular.
I would like to commit to taking action to become more aware of the ways systems of oppression work through me, and actively dismantle those. With this in mind, Mr. Cooper, I pledge to you and commit myself to the following:
- Making an annual financial contribution to African American led efforts to end police violence,
- Volunteering at a local public school in which the majority of the population is African American. My approach would be to offer my support and willingness to do whatever work is needed at the time (not what feels “good” to me), including behind the scenes busywork, paperwork and other less “feel good” things,
- Enrolling in a self-defense or martial arts class for women to develop my own sense of agency and strength, rather than playing into the socialization of White women as meek and helpless,
- Attending to the wounds I have as a result of sexism through individual and group support, so I can show up more readily around issues of race
- Studying the history of White women accusing African American men (often based on lies) of violence so I can understand the legacy that I was born into and take initiative to change this tide.
If you, Mr. Cooper, have any thoughts or suggestions about how I can account for the harm I have caused you, please let me know. Above all, I want my action steps to be meaningful to you.
While I know these efforts are not commensurate with the generations of harm African American men have had to endure at the hands of police and often at the instigation of White women, my hope is that these practices set me on a path towards stronger partnership with People of Color and other White women who may find themselves in a similar position of me of waking up to the realities of our participation in systems of racism.
[My Imagined] Amy Cooper