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Lessons From Amy Cooper and Franklin Templeton

How "We Do Not Condone Racism" Became a Meaningless Refrain

Last night I started seeing posts pop up in my social media feed from a bird watcher who was accosted by a white woman while watching in Central Park. It absolutely broke my heart. Take a look at Amy Cooper’s shameful behavior:

The birdwatcher that posted the above video is a nature advocate, science editor, and board member of the New York Audobon Society. I got into birds years ago when I read Neena’s Schwartz’s autobiography A Lab of My Own. I love bird and wildlife spotting as an amateur and I would love the opportunity to learn from him. Look at how passionately he discusses birds.

The woman in the first video has her dog off-leash in a part of Central Park known as The Ramble. It’s a cool little oasis in the middle of urban sprawl. It’s full of beautiful, intentional plantings and is home to lots of wildlife.  The Ramble is one of my favorite New York City spots. It’s near where my brother works in the city (relatively) and I always try to find a reason to go peek. It’s amazing to me to see what thrives there, and it’s always a time to reflect on how our own tolerance has evolved, as a country. Part of why wildlife thrives there is because pets are required to be on their leash and people are supposed to walk on the trails. It’s the ultimate social contract. Wildlife and nature thrive in the city because people are expected to be decent.

Yesterday, Amy Cooper was breaking the law by having her dog off-leash in The Ramble, and allowing it to roam in the plantings. The bird watcher asked her to put her dog on a leash. When she refused, he offered the dog a treat with the hope it would encourage her to put her dog on a leash and stop breaking the damned law. She still refused and picked up her phone to drop the ultimate nuclear weapon. She told the man,

I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life

There’s nothing threatening about the birdwatcher, but she knows the power of the threat of police contact. She makes his race abundantly clear in the interaction, wielding it as a weapon against him. She calls the police and tells them, “There’s a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet. He is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” This man has broken no laws. He only had the audacity to point out that she is, in fact, breaking the law and shitting on the social contract that keeps The Ramble beautiful for everyone. She reminds him of his place in society by continually making an issue of his race. She is reminding him that white people have the privilege of deciding which laws are applicable to them and brown people are servants only to the whims of the white majority. I am glad he had his cell phone camera, for his own protection from people like Amy Cooper. Amy Cooper has since apologized, probably because of the public outcry, and I am having none of it. The way she uses “African American” as a swear word tells me that her entitlement runs deep down to her very core. She was willing to send an innocent man to jail so that her dog could get some exercise. Her dog’s freedom is more important to her than the freedom of the man who recorded the video.

She is disgusting. She apologized, using the most hollow of words. She’s not a racist, she was “just scared.” Sit down, Karen. You’ve learned nothing.

Because the internet is such a bounty of information, it took almost no time for people to figure out where she lived, who she knows, and where she works. She’s employed as a vice president by the financial institution Franklin Templeton. People began to wonder whether someone who behaves so unscrupulously around small matters like dog walking, would also have questionable ethics when it comes to bigger issues. This is particularly relevant given her leadership position in the company. People reached out to her employer. They later released the following laughable statement:

I was curious about this company, so I did a little web sleuthing to figure out who is on their board of directors. Hold on to your seats for the shocker of your life:

Directors and Executive Officers of Franklin Templeton, cultivated from a google image search.

I have a strong suspicion that no one in leadership at Franklin Templeton would be afraid to call the police. I think any of them would be shocked and outraged to find themself in the position the birdwatcher found himself in yesterday. I think they would be highly offended if a person of color had the audacity to point out that they were breaking the law and interfering with the rights and privileges of others, but that is speculation. Still, there’s a lot of that going around lately.

Saying “we do not condone racism” is the ultimate cop-out. Who, except the most degenerate among us, actively walks around espousing their hatred for people of color? Not “being racist,” whatever the hell that means, is not the same as being inclusive and non-discriminatory. Being “not racist” has become shorthand for not being vulgar. It’s not the same as creating a culture of diversity. It’s not the same as honoring differences in value, appearance, orientation, and background because that makes us all stronger. It’s not the same as putting in the real work to identify attitudes that lead you to treat people as less than human because they don’t look like you. It’s not the same as identifying and recognizing the privilege that allows people to behave like Amy Cooper did.

In many ways, their statement is as disgusting as what Amy Cooper did because it’s the same as saying “We’ve done enough. We’ve paid our lip service. Can we just sweep this under the rug now?” I cannot believe there are no successful black men and women in finance. I do believe that they are not welcome in leadership at Franklin Templeton and that this perpetuates a culture of white space and brown space, broadly. I do not believe that Franklin Templeton has any interest in evaluating a company culture that opened its doors to someone like Amy Cooper. I suspect they’ll quietly accept her resignation and go back to business as usual.

Finance is inherently discriminatory against people of color, from payday lending, to inequality in accessing investments, to discrimination in mortgage lending. To simply say, “We do not condone racism,” sweeps under the rug the reality that finance has reinforced white privilege and suppressed the advancement of brown Americans for generations.

I can appreciate that this incident really didn’t involve Franklin Templeton, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect and grow. When companies reply by simply saying “We do not condone racism,” they are communicating that they are too lazy to deeply ponder systemic inequalities that lead to the policing of brown bodies. It’s a deflection that communicates, “We acknowledge you’re pissed, but let’s all get back to normal.” There may be something about Franklin Templeton’s culture that allowed someone like Amy Cooper to be promoted into a leadership position. Their statement that they will look into the incident and that they put Amy Cooper on administrative leave is reasonable. Their statement that they don’t condone racism is ridiculous. It doesn’t mean anything and only serves to point the spotlight on their own unwillingness to accept that hostility against people of color is rampant in finance.

Granted, there are two separate incidents here – Amy Cooper’s assault of a man in Central Park, and Franklin Templeton’s lack of diversity that may contribute to the culture of inequity in finance. Franklin Templeton didn’t intend to be in the news, but this may be an opportunity for them to seriously reflect on who they are as a company and how their practices support discrimination toward people of color.

They have an opportunity to define serious steps toward welcoming more people like the brilliant birdwatcher and eliminating the entitlement and privilege to reinforces behavior like Amy Cooper’s. I hope they’ll take advantage of it.

Isis the Scientist

Professor, physiologist, mother of the iKids, stepmom to the Strange Tots, Strange’s wife, Iowan, bikes, shoes, debt-free zealot, post-stomach. Old crone of a blogger who just never learns. Not even close to affiliated with my employer.

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  1. >She is reminding him that white people have the privilege of deciding which laws are applicable to them

    To be fair, it isn’t ‘white people’ in this case, it’s ‘white women’. It’s probably best to be more specific if you’re ascribing fault to a collective numbering in hundreds of millions of people.

    Having said that, I too was shocked how casually this woman decided to lie (and employ hysterics for maximum emotional manipulation) to authorities and invoke her white-woman privilege to get a black man in trouble for NOTHING (actually worse than nothing because she was actually doing something wrong). What if there was no video and we just had her word against his? What would we do then? Doesn’t this reinforce the need for a due process anytime serious allegations are made against someone? Doesn’t this strongly suggest that, for example, Obama-era Title IX guidance which basically took due process away from accused students, are an injustice in itself?

    >I have a strong suspicion that no one in leadership at Franklin Templeton would be afraid to call the police.

    So you can just tell what people are and think and believe just by looking at their profile pictures? Is that a skill you learn or are born with?

    1. As a side note, have you looked at the staff here at skeptchick? I have a strong suspicion that no one in leadership at Skeptchick would be afraid to call the police either.

    2. Writing as a white man, you’re definitely wrong. We don’t even have to act out “hysterics for maximum emotional manipulation”, as you put it. We just ask.

      What you’re noticing there isn’t extra bonus free privilege white women get. It’s a reflection of the subservient role women are expected (by some) to play. It’s not enough to request, it has to be performed as a desperate plea for help from someone nominally expected to act too weak and helpless to defend themselves. It’s a bullshit dance demanded by those with the most power (us, I’m afraid), before help is bestowed.

      1. >Writing as a white man, you’re definitely wrong.

        Is that right? Have you been elected the spokesperson for white men?

        But I’m glad (really, I am) you had a very privileged life where everything was handed to you solely due to your gender and skin colour. But that’s not the experience of the vast majority of people – and perhaps you shouldn’t project your privilege on others. Try travelling through some of the poor rural or working-class communities and tell those people how much privilege they have. Life isn’t easy for anybody (white or black), and we’re all trying to do our best to make it through the week, and you’re purposely gaslighting when you say your skin color makes it easy.

        >What you’re noticing there isn’t extra bonus free privilege white women get. It’s a reflection of the subservient role women are expected (by some) to play. I

        Umm.. What? We have a video of a white woman lying to the police and purposely engaging in emotional manipulation… so what are you even talking about? She was lying, presumably because she was angry at the gentleman and wanted to get him in maximum trouble by invoking his race in the call. Women are people, and people lie if they can get away with it and if there’s an incentive to – there is a famous American novel that deals with this, perhaps you heard of “To Kill a Mockingbird”? … so how is that a “reflection of the subservient role women are expected (by some) to play”

        1. Kid, the very first thing you did here, your first line. was to put all the blame on white women, implicitly exonerating white men. That’s the bit you got wrong, and that’s the only part of your comment I was addressing.

  2. I don’t know about the company’s current policies. But the ‘Templeton’ in question is the Templeton investment empire; founded by Sir John Templeton of ‘Templeton Prize’ fame. A big fake sciency award given to religious apologists every year. Though they also managed to reward Mother Teresa (1973) and Billy Graham (1982)

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