Coronaviruses Can’t Kill Casual Racism
A few years ago, it was my turn to get my department’s Friday bagels. I parked next to a pickup truck that was well over the line. I could still get in and out of my car, so I didn’t really care. As I went to enter the bagel shop, the owner of said pickup blocked my way and demanded I move my car, or else he’d somehow drag my car out of the way while he backed out of the spot. I told him that if he couldn’t get into his vehicle via the driver’s side door (the side facing my car), he could easily just climb over from his passenger side. He then said he was sick of “my kind” and threatened to call the police.
That is when I decided to record the incident. I took video of his license plate, a wide shot of how our cars were positioned, and an image of the man’s back as he told the dispatcher that I was “threatening” him. I wasn’t sure if he was just miming a call or truly calling the police, so I decided that I should go ahead and get my bagels before any police came. As I exited the bagel shop, sure enough, at the end of the parking lot was the guy talking to a uniformed officer in front of his sheriff’s patrol car. They were on the other end of the parking lot, slightly out of earshot. I yelled, “I got my bagels!”, got in my car and pulled up to the two in case I needed to defend my name. The officer just said, “You can go, sir. Have a nice day”, with a very tired, disappointed face. I gather he was very annoyed with the pickup truck driver wasting his time over a parking space dispute. I also gather, by the pickup truck driver’s astonished look, that nothing was going to be done to me. He also never told me what “my kind” is.
After posting the video, some friends figured out where he worked and contacted his employer. I received an apology from the business owner and a subsequent “apology” from the pickup truck owner, begging me to take down the video from social media. Because I couldn’t be bothered, and I left without being harmed, I did so to save his embarrassment. Today, I don’t think I would be so lenient. I wholeheartedly believe that had I not taken the time to video tape this incident that it would have gone south within minutes, and I might be another hashtag. All over parking at a bagel shop.
Seeing what Amy Cooper tried to make happen to black bird watcher Christian Cooper, all while she was flouting the rules of the area she was in, brought back this bagel parking lot memory. She was deliberately letting her dog loose in a leash zone in Central Park because it was inconvenient for her to let him loose in a leash-free zone. When Christian reminded her of the leash rule, she got in his face and threatened to lie to the police to get him in trouble. She even went as far as to say that he was belligerent from the start. Given Christian Cooper’s tone even as she put her finger and the leash in his face, I doubt her account greatly. Had Cooper not had the sense to start recording, he could have been put in jail or worse. Since the quarantine of New York City, Black and Brown residents have been way over-policed for minor violations while droves of white people have been seen crowding parks and public places. It is as if the mass shut-in has made the racism stew and concentrate more. Police in New York already don’t have a stellar reputation interacting with minority residents. I remember being pulled over once for missing a NO TURN sign, and the first thing the cop asked me is if I stole the car. That is getting off light.
Amy Cooper made an “apology”, but it was as hollow as I figured it would be. Even before the apology, people speculated on her mental health, whether we “got the whole story” from the video, what Christian Cooper “did” to provoke such a response, and showed more concern for the dog’s welfare that the man she was trying to lynch-by-cop. She knew exactly what she was doing when she threatened to call the police and demonize Christian Cooper. Everyone who calls the police on Black people for doing mundane things knows what they are doing. Part of the reason there is a distrust of police is because white citizens weaponize the police against us. If you use them as a tool to harm us, of course we will be wary of them. When people do this without any consequences, there is no incentive for them to stop.
During this quarantine, I have seen a lot of people go above and beyond to help others, but I have seen a lot of people show how intensely toxic they are, too. The rate racist attacks on Southwest Asian people by citizens has to be the highest it has been since the 1871 Los Angeles ChinaTown massacre. As those attacks are catching the public eye, attacks on Black and Brown folks have continued. And why would they stop? Terrorizing black folks in the Americas the second oldest tradition of the land (terrorizing Indigenous people is the oldest). The fact that Amy and Christian are unrelated but share the same surname shows that Amy’s ancestors have a long history of terrorizing Black folks. It is disheartening to know that the one thing this virus won’t kill is America’s casual racism.
To their credit, the dog rescue program from whence she got her dog took him back (she was choking him, after all). The financial firm for which she works fired her after a swift internal investigation. I honestly don’t care if she loses her job or not. I do care that she receives some sort of legal repercussion for perpetuating her ancestral tradition of demonizing Black folks in order to hurt them.
About Chris Thompson
(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog he currently writes the Chronicles of Nonsense segment for the Almost Tuesday show on WAYO-FM 104.3, and regularly posts and writes on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon.Additionally , Chris is a Food Writer for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is http://www.chroniclesofnonesense.com
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2 thoughts on “Coronaviruses Can’t Kill Casual Racism”
This is excellent, Chris. Thank you (and Calvin) for tirelessly helping educate us white Karens. Time was, I would have been quick to call the police if kids were playing basketball in the “closed” park opposite my house, and maybe quicker if they were Black. I’m so sorry I ever held that attitude, and I frequently tell my white about my change of heart re: casual racism. My Fairport neighborhood has become much more integrated in recent years, and schoolkids walk by my house every day (before Covid, anyway). Where I used to be on the lookout for signs of “bad” behavior, I now make it a point to be as friendly and welcoming as possible.
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Thanks for telling us about these issues. I was torn between disappointment and shock for what that lady with the dog did–the disappointment that some people haven’t learned a damn thing about being fellow members of the human race. The shock at how how her casual racism just came out. When she said that sentence,” I’m going to tell them an African American man is threatening my life.” she buried herself with those words. But she says she’s not racist? Um… nobody’s gonna believe that. She was in the wrong all the way and lashed out at somebody who rightly called her out on her rule-breaking. And you can tell she was hoping to cow him with that statement so she could do whatever she wanted like before. What a selfish witch.
I’m afraid you’re right and this isolation’s gonna let old behaviors and thoughts stew, and then comes the entitlement and regression to worse “us vs. them” mentality. Add in more strain when you have a multi-generational family in one residence and are gonna keep hearing racist jokes and comments by elders around the TV… which will seep into the kids who don’t have many options for escaping it (or arguing with it).
I’m glad it’s just me and the pets where I’m at after my dad died. I’d already lived with decades of his and his family’s casual to blatant racism, and they almost came to live with me after he was gone. Nope–I’d rather burn my own house down than live with folks whose idea of humor is racist jokes and idea of news comes from a network called FOX. I think I saved my sanity keeping them out, and had a chance to see people of all stripes away from family lenses (and began to lose my fear, and met some nice folks in the process). When people are poison–even when they’re family–you’ve gotta let them go.
Sorry so long–this issue gets me worked up. Be well and virtual hugs to all.
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