Tiffany Cooper

Miami native Tiffany Cooper is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied film, animation, and video. She now works as an Associate Producer/ Editor specializing in animation, video, and photography while working as a freelance artist, videographer, and editor in her spare time.

work Artist location_on New York, NY
Respectability politics Allyship Social media Stereotyping Protest tactics Civil Rights Movement

Do you wanna just tell me a little about yourself and what you do?

I’m originally from Miami, Florida. I grew up there, and went to school at Rhode Island School of Design, and moved here afterwards. I studied film, animation and video in school. I kind of do a mix of those things in my free time as a freelancer. But I also work as an animation teacher right now for after school, for this program called Xposure. And I have projects on the side as well. Music videos. I also do painting and drawing, but that’s been the hardest to do. But I’m trying to do more of that too. Tryna do it all.

You know I want to talk about the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement over the past year and stuff, but my first question is: have you in your personal life had experiences with anti-blackness?

Growing up in Miami, the community is more Hispanic…there’s also Haitians, and then there’s Black and white. I’ve always been the type of person who has different races of friends. It wasn’t something I was consciously doing, it just happened the way it happened. But then I would notice things while being friends with them. You know, just general prejudices or stereotypes that people would expect me to be.

Growing up, the first thing that people always said to me or my mother after they talked to me as a kid was, “she speaks so proper!” Or, from other Black peers, I’ve gotten, “you speak like a white person!” And I’d be like, “um, I’m just me? I don’t wanna act?” I’ve never been the type to act. I’m also kind of shy, so I might not wanna talk to anyone, first of all. That’s always been my experience—when people meet me, they’re like “whoa…” I’m like, “what do you expect me to do, start rappin’?” I mean I could rap too, but that’s not how I talk. I’m just being myself…

Growing up, the first thing that people always said to me or my mother after they talked to me as a kid was, “she speaks so proper!” That’s just me. I don’t wanna act.

I feel like that’s been the biggest thing I’ve been fighting with my whole life. But besides that, There are the subtle things that people don’t think they give off, but I notice. Like sometimes I’m walking down the street in New York, and sometimes I wear a hat, and I have kind of short hair, and I kinda look more like a dude at night, you know. I’m more aware of that, so I try, if I see a person—anyone really, but specifically I tend to do this more with white folks. If I see them coming towards me, or I walk behind them, I kinda try not to startle them. I’m just like, I don’t want no police called on me, I try to avoid all that. I’ve never had that type of treatment, for myself. My sisters have been in a situation with police before.

My mother and sisters were moving to Florida from Atlanta. They drove their car—it was a road trip. And they stopped off somewhere to get gas or something. And my sisters wanted to stretch their legs, so they went for a walk. They had our pets with them, our dogs, so they took the dogs for a walk. And then, all of a sudden, the police roll up on them for no reason, and they’re like, “what? We didn’t do anything wrong!” It didn’t go bad, and I’m thankful they’re still here, thinking about everything that has been happening. But yeah, they were questioned, like “why are you walking around here?” I don’t know what the area looked like, my mom said it was kind of residential type. Or had houses. And they kind of walked a little bit. She was a little upset at them, but I was like, how can you be upset at them for wanting to—I’m sure they weren’t climbing the fences. I know my sisters.

Did you get more concerned about those kind of incidents after the past year, with Ferguson and Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland?

I did. I marched in Millions March. I participated in a couple of other marches. I didn’t do the first Grand Central die-in, but I did one of them. That was an experience. There was one guy who was standing there to try to aggravate us. He was saying the rudest things; he brought security over and was like “are you allowed to do this?!” And then, the thing that got me, was that he sat right by me and kind of walked over my foot. And kind of kicked it. And posed for a picture.

It was like, “oh my god.” But that’s what he wanted. He wanted people to react to him in a negative way so he causes a stirrup, and it’s no longer a peaceful protest. So I knew that, and I wasn’t gonna let him have that. I didn’t say anything. And I’m normally not the person to say anything, unless someone touches me—I’m not gonna go start a fight with someone.

Were you working at your afterschool program at the time a lot of the unrest was happening in November?

This was a new position. I started in August. During that time I was just freelancing, doing my own projects, or working with companies, doing video editing.

The biggest thing, for me, because I was mostly on the computer, was Facebook, and the ignorant people on there. It’s not even about not understanding someone’s view. It’s like they don’t even want to listen. And it’s like, I read your view, and I try to sympathize. I understand what you’re saying, so why can’t you understand, or at least try to understand, what I’m saying?

It feels so overwhelming trying to talk to so many people that way. But I kind of felt like it was my duty to at least keep posting these things for my friends. Because most of my friends aren’t Black. I wanted to start this conversation that needs to be started.

Amongst my really close friends, they get it. I do wish they would’ve joined me a little bit more in doing these things. But I just expected them to just join. I could’ve also asked. So there’s a two-way thing to that. Asking for support versus expecting it…

I actually met my boyfriend around that time. We were both passionate about it. We were both like “yeah, we gotta do stuff!’ He’s a photographer, so he went to the march, and he found himself not able to take photos because he was so into it! That was amazing because—it just shows how passionate you are about it, because you’re like “oh wait, I’m forgetting to take photos!”

So when you went to the protest, what did you think of the movement at the time?

To tell you the truth, I was just in the moment, like “I’m gonna go to these marches, I’m gonna try to do as much as I can!” While being there, I was like, “this is great, I really wish this could last a while longer.” Looking around, and seeing allies there. It was great, it was powerful. But I just wish that it could last longer. Just the feeling of unity.

Untitled, Tiffany Cooper.

Do you think it has staying power after this year? What do you think the future is, if you had to make a guess?

From the way things look now, I feel like…if there was another shooting right after that march, it would’ve been horrible. It would’ve been hell. But now, I’m just hoping that Bernie Sanders is elected. And I’m gonna do everything in my power—which is, you know, voting—to make that happen. That’s what I’m looking forward to now. Because I feel like that’s a very progressive time. Four years of his term. And probably eight, if he does great.

At first I was kind of like, “is this gonna be it?” And I was hoping that there would be another march. There were a few more. I couldn’t make them all. But I dunno, I was just wishing there was more. I do wanna keep the conversation going. I just wish the conversation could keep going, but without another person being killed for it to happen.

For the conversation to be self-sustaining.

Yeah. I think I was like, “is this gonna happen every time another Black person dies?” And are Black people just gonna keep getting killed or mistreated by the police, and stuff? That’s what I was thinking.

What do you think about the tactics of the various parts of the movement? I know there were shut-downs and closings of highways, and interrupting the candidates, and stuff like that. What do you think of all of that?

I think that, I like Bernie Sanders, so I was a little upset with that one. But I understood it. I still wish they chose another candidate, but I feel like the interrupting and shutdowns and all that is important, because it gets people to notice the movement. It’s like, people just come in and have signs and stuff, and you’re going to pay attention to it. Because it’s a surprise…And I kind of like that we were using some of the stuff from back in the day, you know?

But it kind of saddens me, in a way, that we still have to do this kind of stuff in the first place. We’re reverting back, but why? It’s because nothing has changed, or it hasn’t changed as much as we think it has… I think it’s sad, that there has to be a new one. In a way I’m happy about it, because it means change is gonna come. And it means that we collectively see that things need to change. And whether or not they do faster or slower, they’re gonna change.

Some people have been comparing it to a new Civil Rights Movement. What do you think of that?

I think it’s sad, that there has to be a new one. In a way I’m happy about it, because it means change is gonna come. And it means that we collectively see that things need to change. And whether or not they do faster or slower, they’re gonna change. And it’s better to be on the right side of history.

What do you see as the goals of the movement, right now?

I think it’s just, for us to be treated like humans with the police, and not be discriminated against…being treated fairly in the justice system. Better education and jobs, better healthcare, better neighborhoods as well, resources for our neighborhoods that are predominantly Black…

I feel like this movement itself is just Black voices screaming for love. To be loved…I try to really think about how I present myself to other people, and what type of energy I give out to other people. I want to be friendly, you know? I want people to know I love them even if I haven’t met them yet… Knowing that you can have something in common with everyone on this planet, no matter if you think so or not, you have something in common with everyone—so are you going to take the time out to find it?

That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is about: just being human.

And I feel like that’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is about. It’s about letting people know we matter…It’s just about being a human…I want, one day, for everyone to be able to just feel love. The homeless person down the street, to just feel love. Everybody. You kind of have to start with yourself, and showing that to others. Realizing that you can show that to someone else, share that with someone else, make someone else’s day, you know.