In the last few weeks a number of liberal anti-wokists, most prominently Bari Weiss, have taken a second look at the Central Park incident in which a bird watcher and a woman walking her dog collided in a viral video. Namely the Amy Cooper case.
For the most part they’re saying the same things that the handful of sensible voices were saying at the time, which is that a viral video takes things out of context, and that rightly or wrongly, Cooper felt threatened and called the police, for reasons having nothing to do with race.
(I do call it a handful of voices because far too many people who play for the conservative side of the theme were happy to jump on board. This neatly matched the use of ‘Karen’, a woke racial slur aimed at white women, has become routine among conservatives who claim to be fighting culture wars, while adopting the language of the enemy.)
The fundamental thing wrong with the Amy Cooper case, the George Floyd case and the many moral race panics since then is that incidents that weren’t racial were viewed through the lens of race, or identity politics.
Take this particular reevaluation from Ian Leslie’s Substack.
In fact, this wasn’t the first time Christian had used such a tactic. Amy had accidentally walked into the middle of a polarised battle between dog walkers and birdwatchers that has been rumbling on for years in Central Park, and indeed other city parks across the country. In New York, Christian was known by locals as one of its most energetic combatants. Foster tracks down other dogwalkers, including a black man, who got almost exactly the same treatment from Christian, right down to the gripping of the bike helmet, and who found it intimidating for the same reasons.
Of course, for a woman alone there is an extra dimension of peril. Amy, who was a victim of a sexual assault while at college, was not “performing” distress. She was absolutely terrified. She was by herself in a secluded place with a hostile man who was acting erratically and threatening her. Put yourself in her position – how would you feel?
That second paragraph is where things go wrong.
What if we stop applying the distorting lenses of race and gender to an argument between two people?
As a former New Yorker, living in a crowded city with lots of shared space and a need for personal space, where people who use it in very different ways abound, clashes are routine, sometimes dangerous and sometimes comical.
I’ve had plenty of them myself.
In the viral video age, a stupid confrontation (and most of them are) can spin out of control into a moral panic when the participants are yoked to identity politics.
The damage in the Amy Cooper story didn’t come from her actions, it came from Christian’s sister uploading the video to Twitter. No one was hurt and no one had their lives ruined until she did that and the media gleefully pounced on it. That’s often the case with stories documented in viral videos.
At least 8 people are dead and hundreds injured because the George Floyd video was uploaded and then promoted to push race riots, and yet even the kangaroo court in the Floyd case couldn’t charge, find, or prove a racial motive.
The combination of viral videos and identity politics can be toxic and deadly. That’s the real lesson here.
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