Yesterday I imagine most people saw the video of the woman in Central Park who refused to leash her dog even though it was clearly posted that, entering that area, an area called “The Ramble,” dogs must be leashed.
And why? A little research showed me why. It’s a refuge. In that immense and convoluted canyon of humanity there is a bird refuge. According to the guy who made the video, Christian Cooper, one of the most elegantly articulate people I’ve ever heard (he used the word “scofflaw”. Who uses that? The English teacher heart in me soared a little), 230 different bird species have been seen in that part of Central Park. When the event happened Cooper was birdwatching. It was 7:30ish in the morning.
Personally, I couldn’t spend more than 24 hours in New York City without feeling claustrophobic. I’ve tried. It’s the opposite of “my” landscape. It’s the “Big Filled.” So, my heart reached out in sympathy for the 230 bird species and the man who was there to see them. First point.
Second point. I believe in leashing dogs where there is signage. I walk my dogs in a bird refuge. I don’t want them going after the birds (and they would. They’re dogs). I don’t want them defecating there, either, so I carry poop bags. Dog poop is NOT the same to the natural environment as wild animal poop. There’s a reason the fox population has suffered from dog Parvo leading to an overpopulation of rabbits, etc… Nature knows how to work. We don’t.
When I go to my places and a person has an unleashed dog I’m furious. Bear is a power, a force of nature, and she doesn’t like other dogs. By keeping her leashed, I am protecting other dogs. She won’t hurt them, but I still don’t want her to chase them and throw them down. I also want to be responsible for my dog’s behavior where other animals live. Dogs are predators. I’ve had dogs who stayed with me on a trail, but neither Bear nor Teddy will. I’ve also let my dogs run where there is nothing at stake.
So, here’s this selfish woman letting her dog run in one of the only places in NYC where there are birds and birders and the whole nature thing that sustains life and the human soul. Grrrrrrrrr…..
Then the man, whom I couldn’t see but who was taking video, asked her to stay back from him. C-19 right? She kept approaching, yelling at him, spraying (through her mask) particles and rage. As she screamed, she held her little dog by the collar, choking him until he cried out in pain.
Still she did not leash him. Instead she called the police on 911 (the emergency number) and demanded (yes) they come and rescue her from an African American man who was attacking her.
That was it. I suddenly understood something I’ve never understood before. She actually BELIEVED that the cops would come and save her from the African American man. She said nothing about what was going on, only that an African American man was after her. She BELIEVED that was enough to summon the cops.
And that, I saw, clearly and sorrowfully, is White Privilege.
Why didn’t I see it before?
I never taught a class that was predominantly white. Most of my classes were Latino, white and African American — literally AFRICAN American very often. What I HAVE seen in my own life are African American students believing that when I asked them to do something difficult I was setting them up for failure because of White Privilege. That was never the case. Yesterday I understood the angry and paranoid assumptions many of these students brought with them to my classes, their inability to look at a white teacher as an individual person.
How did that all work out back in the day? Well, invariably I stood my ground. I knew where those students wanted to go and I knew my job was to get them there, even if I had to fight with them. It always worked out but it was never easy. They stood in their own way most of the time. I think I was terrifying to them.
A few years after teaching one particularly challenging community college class with a student who would angrily disrupt a lecture or discussion every single class period, until the other students were fed up with HER, I was sitting outside my office at San Diego State in a plaza area with picnic tables. I saw that student at another table tutoring (Equal Opportunity Tutoring) another African American student. I was happy to see that she’d succeeded in transferring (in spite of herself) and that she was helping someone else.
Later, immersed in grading papers, I felt a tap on my shoulder, “Professor?” said a meek voice. I turned around and it was that girl. “Can I sit with you a minute?”
“Sure,” I said. “I saw you tutoring over there. Awesome.”
“I owe you a big apology. You weren’t trying to make me fail back there in that class. You knew what was ahead of me because you teach here, too. You knew what I’d be expected to do. That wasn’t no ‘Whiteman’s book’ either.”
She was speaking of Brave New World. “No, it’s everybody’s book.”
“I get that now. Anyway, I’m sorry and thank you for teaching me.” She gave me a hug and went away.
I saw that whole experience watching that video yesterday. The African American man in the video was pure class and intelligence. The woman was hysterical way beyond the scope of the situation. I don’t know what was going on in her head but it seems to have had little or nothing to do with reality. In many ways it reminded me of the tirades this particular student had leveled at me during class time. Accusations of racism, threats to report me to the department (that she carried out, resulting in my being observed a couple of times that semester and leading to my being asked not to teach Brave New World any longer as it was too difficult for the students [fucking college juniors for the love of God]), and attempts to create “sides” among the students. That didn’t work. That student assumed that the leadership of the college would agree with her. I don’t know if they did or not, but she was right in the bias; they expected a white teacher to be unable to relate to students of color. I was lectured about this. Students in the class were interviewed, too, resulting in the administration deciding that I was fine, the class was fine, it was that this student just had a problem with me. They offered to put her in another class, but she didn’t want to go.
SO…the woman in the video lost her job, had her dog taken from her and can no longer go to Central Park. The man in question said in an interview,
“It’s a little bit of a frenzy, and I am uncomfortable with that,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal.”https://www.cbsnews.com/news/christian-cooper-amy-cooper-central-park-video-uncomfortable-hate-received/
I wrote something on Twitter yesterday in response to a comment made by a friend. I got this this morning.
I am not “woke.” I’m the same person I have always been. I was disgusted by more things in that encounter than the racism. The woman in the video demonstrated the lack of respect for nature I abhor. She mistreated her animal. She acted as if she was above the law. All those things disgust me. That she believed the cops would come to her aid “against” an African American man was just the cherry on the sundae.
I believe that as human beings we need to respect our world and all that is in it. What IF she’d leashed her dog? What IF she’d asked the man what he was doing there so early? What IF he’d introduced her to the idea of birding? What if she had been stunned to learn that there are 230 different species of birds frequenting that area? What if she had an inkling of life beyond herself, some curiosity, some optimism? She’s (to me) the same person demonstrating because the governor says the County of Alamosa has to wait 10 more days to open because it’s had a sudden up-tick in C-19 cases and it’s a good idea to wait and see. She’s the person that made me leave the classroom. “You can’t give me a B! I’ve never had a grade lower than an A!”