I’m Not “Woke”

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.”


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!”

“Your emotions, make you a monster…”

39 thoughts on “I’m Not “Woke”

  1. Thanks for writing about this incident,. It’s heartbreaking on several counts but the woman was so wrong. I taught at the local comm in retirement and also confronted by students over high standards. I didn’t back down and it worked out

  2. I’m not woke either. But that woman in that video is disgusting. We don’t need to be woke, we just need to be decent to each other. That woman did not treat that man with decency, and I’m so glad she got what she deserved.
    Also, that poor dog! 😦 She’s choking him and he’s yelping when she pulls on his collar like that.
    Why the hell is it always white woman who act like such fools in public? They’re really making us look bad :/ Can we call a meeting of all white woman and get these karens to stop embarrassing us? That would be cool.

    • I don’t get it, either. And one of my best friends is named Karen and she’s SO not a “Karen.” As for “woke” I agree with you. People don’t need to be “woke” to act like human beings unless that’s what “woke” means.

  3. I love this whole post. My understanding of white privilege crystallized the day I walked down the street and overheard three conversations involving people of color that focused on racism. I went home and asked Eddie how often he thinks about or is made aware that he is Puerto Rican. He said, “Almost every day.” As for me, I rarely think about being phenotypically white (I’ve got more going on, but I look like a white lady). And that’s white privilege.

    • I lived 17 years in a neighborhood in which I had to think about being white almost every day. That plus living in the People’s Republic of China in the 80s may have changed my perspective. I saw White Privilege in things my white friends did like “No, I’m not driving to your neighborhood. I’m not leaving my car there unless I can park it in your garage.” Fear of people BECAUSE of the color of their skin. When I left California after 30 years the only mom in the family of the ONLY friends I left behind didn’t speak English. She’s learning now because she got a friendly kind teacher and she wants to read my book about hiking with my dogs in California. How fucked up must a person be to want ONLY to live in a monochromatic, monolingual world?

  4. This post is SO much more powerful than any of the “sensitivity training” classes we had to take during the ’80[s and ’90’s! Thank you for the added perspective!

  5. Such a disgusting incident. Thank goodness for people like Christian Cooper.

    When I was teaching freshman composition, I assigned Robert A. Heinlien’s Tunnel in the Sky and Starship Troopers as 2 of my 5 books for required reading. I will never forget how much & varied the opposition to reading those books I got from my students and how so many of them failed to grasp anything about them. I loved those books when I was in 9th & 10th grade, and here these 19 & 20-year old adults were complaining about having to read them. I thought they’d be fun! It didn’t take me long to figure out that, in fact, I did NOT want to be a college professor!

    • I don’t know what years you were teaching, but I could make a chart of attitude changes over the 30 years I taught. I am pretty sure it would jibe with the changes in primary and secondary education to the test-based curriculum that de-inspired students and led them to mistrust teachers. Looking through all those journals, I saw the changes by what I wrote about teaching. I think my last really GREAT year in the classroom was 2005. After that, it was more and more a mixed bag and then very predictably a struggle.

      • I taught freshman comp at MTSU from Fall 2001 through Spring 2003 and was shocked at how ill-prepared and unmotivated so many freshmen were. Many of them seemed to be there simply because Mommy & Daddy were paying for it and wanted them to be there. Really sad.

        • I’m sorry you missed the goodle days. You did. Such a shame. You’d have been a GREAT teacher just a few years earlier. It would’ve warmed your heart forever. ❤

    • P.S. I want to contact Christian Cooper and invite him to come out here for the Crane Festival. He’d be in Nirvana. I really like that guy.

  6. I didn’t see the video…I keep my distance from such ‘news’ or media; having seen one black man beaten by 10 cops or one white woman ranting or one dog being beaten is more than my imagination needs to ‘see’ what’s out there, what people are doing. I will say though that I am glad that more and more people ‘capture’ these atrocities and post them where everyone can see – it’s unfortunate but that is the reason some people NOW understand that, yes, there is discrimination and things happen that are unreasonable, unjust and unfair. It’s as if without ‘proof’, it doesn’t exist.
    Thanks for this post.

  7. It is a sad state of affairs to say the least and this is jut one horrible example of someone believing they are different or better than someone else.

  8. Dogs need to be controlled around other people and creatures. Recently I was almost attacked by a big. The child managed to restrain the dog will I made a hasty escape.

    • I totally agree. Years ago, I got my ankle chewed by a small pack of dogs in Denver. A loose dog charged at me, Bear took him down and that’s why she’s not dog friendly any more.

        • Me too. I understood that both their and my liberty depended on me. I wouldn’t have been able to do half the stuff I’ve loved most in my life without a dog. 🙂

  9. Thank you for sharing, I’m not sure what woke means, but I think you are so right.
    I have been called a snowflake before now. I replied a Snowflake can turn into a blizzard and stop things happening. X

  10. It’s a mad mad world full of me , me, me.
    Unleashed dogs, unleashed attitudes, unleashed filth, unleashed racism, …it’s humiliating and embarrassing to me to witness this type of human behavior. I don’t know how much more awake I can stand…..but others drift around walking in their sleep wreaking havoc on humanity. It’s hard to love like I should when I see such hate. And the worst?….simple common sense. Some dogs just don’t deserve their owners.

  11. I love this post. I made the mistake of watching the video of the policeman kill the man by kneeling on his neck. It was more than I could bear. All of this has to stop. We need to be decent to each other without regard to race, creed, or color. The digital age has made the injustice much more visible. The next step is to do something about it! I believe we need a change in government starting with the current POTUS….

    • I just watched Biden’s little speech — a condolence speech — on the number of dead from C-19 having reached 100,000. It’s just a number, really, but a scary one. It was a beautiful, heart-felt, well-prepared, kind, sincere and thoughtful short speech. I hope and pray he wins and gets the right people around him.

    • In LA apparently there are weekly protests about the police killings of citizens. Tonight that moved from City Hall onto a freeway, in both directions. One person injured when a police cruiser tried to move away with 4 people on the hood — and two cruisers were damaged. It could have been much worse, but the leaders encouraged people to leave the freeway, and they did so peaceably! A change in government is the first thing that needs to happen — along with a national discourse about civility!

  12. I didn’t watch the video, the story was on my newsfeed yesterday but I didn’t follow it up. After reading your post I went and read a few articles about the incident. One of the things I noticed from them and from previous comments was the use of the words “Woke” and “Karen”. I barely knew what they meant but by coincidence had read an article about some of these new expressions yesterday by an (Australian) ABC staff writer.
    I really don’t like hearing people called “Karens” as a noun. I have a good friend named Karen and I feel it is insulting to her and the many other Karens who don’t behave like they believe they are entitled.

  13. White privilege is a thing that grows in the mind. It takes root because of what you’ve been told and come to expect. Puling that weed can be messy.

    This incident actually leaves me a bit of optimism. It is proof that times have changed. Not that long ago Christian Cooper would have suffered greatly for his temerity.

  14. I was humbled by that video Martha. I cringed at the woman, My anger rose, as she abused the man. Abused her dog. I too know my being white gives me privileges that my cousins who are half aboriginal do not get here. One of my cousins is more white looking then her sisters and she is treated quite differently when they are all out together in places where no one knows that they are sisters. I have had people tell me I know nothing about being Aboriginal, true I do not, though I have seen and heard things done to and said about my cousins. We are no less guilty in Australia for the way we treat our First people, or our immigrants with darker skins it shames me terribly.

    Yet I have white privilege. Just by being born this colour. I am so glad so many are seeing the reality and truth of what it really means!

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