Are You an Amy Cooper Parent?
Amy Cooper is the woman who recently called the police in New York City to report that an “African-American man” was threatening her, when in fact, he was birdwatching, concerned that her unleashed dog was aggravating wildlife. Amy Cooper was blatantly caught violating a posted park regulation and her reaction was to try to summon state power to harm an innocent man. An innocent Black man.
People began digging through her past, surprised to find that she considers herself liberal, and has donated to Democrats. And when I say, “people were surprised,” I mean, white people were surprised. Many folks were certain that Amy Cooper must be MAGA, but in fact, she’s one of us.
One of Us. A white liberal. Like Amy Cooper, a lot of us are just moving through life, ready to call upon our skin privilege to protect ourselves and whatever it is we feel entitled to. In the wake of the Amy Cooper scandal, a lot of us white people have been asking: How can I be less Amy Cooper and more white ally? A lot of long lists have circulated, recommending excellent books and movies, organizations we can join, places we can donate to. Doing those things makes us feel so good. So NOT Amy Cooper. But I bet Amy Cooper read Ta-Nehisi Coates and saw 12 Years a Slave. Here’s the problem: She didn’t know she was Amy Cooper, and neither do we.
I’m the President of the PTA at my sons’ school. PTAs are notoriously white and even historically segregationist. But as president, I’m in a position to call out problems and offer solutions. Right now, I’m just trying to name the problem, and I’ve decided to name it Amy Cooper Parenting. I wrote up a helpful quiz for people to figure out if they are an Amy Cooper Parent at their school. Give yourself one point for each of these.
1. You gladly give to the school fundraisers as long as the money mostly goes to the activities your child does.
2. When you meet a black parent or other POC, you congratulate them on winning the lottery to get into your school.
3. Or maybe you congratulate them on finding a place to rent in your neighborhood.
4. You refer to Black, Latinx, or Asian kids as “diverse,” as in “It’s so nice to have a diverse kid in my son’s class, I really think my son will learn a lot about other cultures from him.”
5. You go to school meetings and explain (or rather, white-splain) how equity and diversity work, advocate for more processes, and propose to hire a (white) education consultant to make proposals for improving equity next year. Always next year.
6. You let it be known that you don’t want to, but you might look at private schools for next year.
7. You oppose new housing construction in your neighborhood. You get an extra point if you think new housing will a) ruin the character of the neighborhood; b) be an environmental problem; or c) increase crime.
8. You have explicitly said you hate charter schools but don’t actually have to worry that a charter school might be your child’s best option.
9. You spread rumors about the school, even posting rumors on the parents’ listserv. Rumors about fights are your favorite and you always want all the details. “Was the bully diverse?” you wonder.
10. You demand that the school be shut down at the slightest provocation without learning what processes the school or district has in place for addressing the problem. And I say this after two years in which school has been shut down for wildfires, a teachers’ strike, and a global pandemic. That’s only about a third of the reasons Amy Cooper parents thought it should be shut down.
11. You want to know how someone was punished even if (in the unlikely event) your school has a restorative justice program. Also, you think RJ is for “those” kids, you know “the diverse ones.”
12. You say you or your child don’t feel safe around certain other kids or their parents.
13. You think that Black, Latinx, or Asian parents either don’t care about their kids’ education or that they “work too much” to show up for school events. You believe this but are either a stay-at-home parent, self-employed, or otherwise employed in a flexible workplace.
14. You fight for AP and Honors classes and swoop into the counselor’s office when your child isn’t placed in every class you want for them. You agitate against school site leaders who have taken responsibility for making decisions about classes they have cut or desegregated.
15. Advocate for surveillance equipment to be placed in private areas of the school like bathrooms and locker rooms.
16. You want to know why your broke-as-hell District in your broke-as-hell state doesn’t buy every last thing for your school, which is the highest achieving school in that district.
How many points did you get? If you got between 1 and 16 points, you have some or a lot of Amy Cooper in you. It isn’t other white liberals who need to examine their assumptions and their language, it’s me, it’s you, it’s us. If you recognize yourself in one of these statements, don’t take it personally. I probably didn’t hear it from you. I’ve heard each of these things from multiple white liberals, and as PTA president, they expect that I will agree, and take up their cause. I won’t. What I will do, over my next year as PTA President, is be vigilant for this language, and engage parents who are outside the usual and customary group to give input on matters that count, like our budget process and our grant-giving. Ultimately, I will look to site leadership and let them know I want to enact their equity platform, not the ideas of the donor parents. I’m looking for other ideas. Let me know if you have any.