Today I realize that I am part of a religious tradition that has passed on a faith…a faith filled with mystery and awe in our God. There is a “consensus of our ancestors” that harbors “revealed truths” that are essentials of our faith that will always lie just beyond our capacity to fully understand. The Holy Spirit has been sent into our hearts to lead us headlong into the Mystery…to live out in concrete terms what we say we believe even though we do not fully understand. Our lack of understanding has no impact on the Mystery itself… the Mystery desires us and loves us just as we are…conflicted and wrestling with our faith. One of the most important realities is that we remain engaged…wrestling with our faith…engaged with God!
But when all is said and done what is most important is that we remain engaged in the struggle for understanding…and we open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit, the bringer of wisdom. And what wisdom and understanding is the Holy Spirit trying to bring us today in the midst of the light that is being shined on the darkness, of the SIN of the systemic racism and bigotry that is woven into the very fabric of our nation?
Fr. Bryan N. Massingale, PhD, is the James and Nancy Buckman Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University in New York. He is also the Senior Ethics Fellow in Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education. Massingale is a past convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He is the author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church.
He recently wrote an article for National Catholic Reporter entitled “Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing. We all do. And that's the problem.” :
“In short, she decided to call the police on a black man for nothing more than politely asking her to obey the park's rules. And made up a lie to put him in danger.
He knew what she was doing. And so do we. The situation is completely "legible" as my academic colleagues would say. What did she and rest of us know? Why did she act as she did?
She assumed that her lies would be more credible than his truth.
She assumed that she would have the presumption of innocence.
She assumed that he, the black man, would have a presumption of guilt.
She assumed that the police would back her up.
She assumed that her race would be an advantage, that she would be believed because she is white. (By the way, this is what we mean by white privilege).
She assumed that his race would be a burden, even an insurmountable one.
She assumed that the world should work for her and against him.
She assumed that she had the upper hand in this situation.
She assumed that she could exploit deeply ingrained white fears of black men.
She assumed that she could use these deeply ingrained white fears to keep a black man in his place.
She assumed that if he protested his innocence against her, he would be seen as "playing the race card."
She assumed that no one would accuse her of "playing the race card," because no one accuses white people of playing the race card when using race to their advantage.
She assumed that he knew that any confrontation with the police would not go well for him.
She assumed that the frame of "black rapist" versus "white damsel in distress" would be clearly understood by everyone: the police, the press and the public.
She assumed that the racial formation of white people would work in her favor.
She assumed that her knowledge of how white people view the world, and especially black men, would help her.
She assumed that a black man had no right to tell her what to do.
She assumed that the police officers would agree.
She assumed that even if the police made no arrest, that a lot of white people would take her side and believe her anyway.
She assumed that Christian Cooper could and would understand all of the above.
(And she was right. He clearly knew what was at stake, which is why he had the presence of mind to record what happened).
I am not a mind reader. I have no access to Amy Cooper's inner thoughts. But I know, and we all know, that without these assumptions, her words and actions — her lies — make no sense. We also have to admit that her assumptions are not unreasonable. In fact, we have to admit that they are well-founded. They match what we know to be true about how the country works and about how too many white people think.
All of this was the almost instantaneous reasoning behind her actions. By her own admission, she acted out of reflex. No one taught Amy Cooper all of this. Likely, no one gave her an explicit class on how whiteness works in America. But she knew what she was doing.
And so do we. We understand her behavior. We know how our culture frames whiteness and folks of color. We know how race works in America.
The fundamental assumption behind all the others is that white people matter, or should matter, more than people of color. Certainly more than black people. That black lives don't matter, or at least not as much as white lives. That's the basic assumption behind Amy Cooper's decisions, actions and words. That's the basic assumption that links Christian Cooper with COVID-19, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Omar Jimenez.
Amy Cooper knew that. We all know that. So who taught her? Who taught us?” Now what are you and I going to do about it? That is my question!”