I know you, Karen. You resonate. Not just because you’re loud, obnoxious, and sometimes inexplicably hysterical. But because of what you represent: the worst of us white women. The most caustic, hateful, dangerous example of thoughtless white privilege. It’s not a good look.
Some of us have had the misfortune of catching you in the act. A few might even consider you—on your less-Karen days—a friend. Some have you as members of the family. We’ve seen the ubiquitous videos of you shrieking in checkout lines, accosting people in parking lots, hysterically demanding one thing or another from someone you don’t know. And certainly we’re aware of you calling the cops on persons of color for, say, the audacity of requesting you comply with the leash law in a public park.
You are definitely making a name for yourself, Karen, a cacophonous, insufferable, cringe-worthy, life-threatening (others), reputation-threatening (you) name. And given how frequently you seem to pop up these days, I think it’s time to talk, white woman to white woman.
Side-bar for those uninitiated:
“Karen” is the derisive moniker bestowed upon a white woman who’s taken it upon herself to be a loud, aggressive, sometimes frenzied, always uninvited purveyor of “culture policing.” Or, as a less PC friend of mine put it, “Making a public ass of herself.”
She comes in a gamut of types. Sometimes young, average-looking, maybe out dog-walking, doing some shopping. Other times she’s middle-aged: chubbier, Walmart-attired, patrolling a neighborhood, perusing a park. There are the older versions, cantankerous, caterwauling grandmas pointing fingers at someone for doing something that “damn well pissed me off.” I recently saw a video of one resisting police to the point of actually getting tazed for refusing to exit a vehicle. Tough broads, these Karens.
One thing they all have in common? They’re white. And they’re makin’ a scene because they can. They’re entitled. They got privilege. They’re white women, dammit!
Here’s the thing, Karen: I get losing your shit. We’ve all gone off at one time or another on a mumbling, unhelpful customer service representative after being left on hold for forty minutes. We’ve snapped at our insurance carrier for nickel and diming our reimbursement, demanded Cinemax be put back in our cable line-up, and gotten really annoyed at the neighbor who keeps parking half-a-foot into our driveway. There’s a reason anger-management classes are pervasive, meditation is all the rage, and astonishing numbers of Americans are on psych meds.
But despite the triggers, despite the burden of modern life, despite our level maturity/immaturity, grown people are obligated to take responsibility for their actions, their emotions, the way they respond to the world. And at a time when thoughtful adults should be able to see that this caustic, politically fomented moment is rife with anger and aggression, bound by “fear of other,” lack of empathy, and racist/xenophobic bullying tactics, WHY WOULD YOU ADD TO THAT MALIGNANT STEW WITH YOUR PETTY, PUNITIVE HYSTERIA?
Sorry, I snapped a little there.
But seriously, Karen, haven’t you been paying attention? Haven’t you noticed that being an angry, bitter, assaultive white women is no longer something tolerated by the ever-more-diverse population of our country? You may live in a cultural cul-de-sac that leads you to believe your corrosive behavior is applauded, at least endured—and it very well may be in your neighborhood—but it’s repellant elsewhere. And if integrity and decency can’t inspire you to modify the tantrumming, at least remember that people have cameras in their hands. “Karens Caught On Tape” flood social media daily, and once that happens, depending on content, the very active, impassioned crowd of Twitter and Facebook detectives makes it their business to identify, pillory, notify employers, even dox whatever Karen has been filmed in the act of hissy fitting.
And that’s embarrassing, Karen, embarrassing for you. Several of your coven have even lost jobs, lost clients, been publicly shamed, had to give up pets, been hounded out of a neighborhood. Some have been mortified to the point of posting social media apologies… which seldom work because, really, isn’t that just about having been caught, not that you’re really sorry about your behavior?
And before anyone gets all Karen on me: YES, I know people of all races, creeds, colors, ethnicities, orientations, ages, genders, etc., have behaved badly in public. Such behavior is not only in the purview of angry white women. But the trend of angry white women in public carries weight, particularly when — as a white woman named Amy Cooper did yesterday in Central Park — an Act of Karen involves making a false police report against a black man. That act can get a man killed. That act can ruin a man’s life. That act has particular historical and cultural toxicity. On the same day Amy Cooper made her manic, hysterical call to 911, another black man in Minneapolis died when the knee of an arresting officer cut-off his airflow for nine minutes.
That’s what can happen when police get involved in interactions with black men and women. Anyone paying attention to the news can cite many such examples: Rodney King, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Antwon Rose II, O’Shae Terry… and so on.
Maybe you’re too caught up in the fog-of-white-privilege to know, but given America’s dense history of racial inequality, documented bias, disproportionate justice in both law enforcement and the legal system, and the subsequent distrust engendered between persons of color and cops, the act of summoning police not only for petty, non-criminal acts but with lies and assertions of “threat” is undeniably dangerous and life-threatening to the person, Karen, you are verbally assaulting.
Which makes those particular acts less about “out-of-control, entitled white woman behaving badly,” and more about “privileged white woman commits act of aggression that’s endangering and potentially deadly.”
That’s not quaint. That’s not, “Oh, isn’t she a character!” That’s not, “I think I was just scared.” Sorry, sister; no go. Imagine how scared the black guy feels when you, a white woman, calls the cops claiming he threatened you.
Amy Cooper issued an apology today for her actions in Central Park, which doesn’t seem to be assuaging public outrage much. While people can parse the “he say she say” element of what’s not on tape, her decision to lie to the police is the part that, as she’s stated, is now turning her life upside down.
You don’t want that, Karen. Nobody wants to be publicly shamed. Nobody wants to lose their job, their business, their good-standing, their reputation. But we do live in viral times, and these days the public square is fairly unforgiving. One gaffe and all hell breaks loose. One misplaced word, misguided comment, miscalculated share, and the Ratio Gang hits hard. That’s the kind of pushback, Karen, that comes with what you do.
I’d like to hope people can learn and grow from these events, evolve and open minds; embrace and engage with America’s growing diversity and our shared community. I’d like to believe, despite political differences, differences of any kind, that we can find a default level of civility and graciousness that pre-empts the urge to abuse and assault in response to one’s biases, fears, and perceptions of entitlement. I’d like to think white people can look beyond their cultural myopia to perceive at least some measure of the world lived by our black brethren, at least enough to quell those irrational impulses to dial 911.
I’d like to think all that… but I know the world we live in. Karens abound. As do Chads and BBQ Beckies. So until some cosmic shift alters the inanities of humanity, please remember this, Karen, Chad, and Becky: if you can’t learn to control your damn self for the sake of mankind and all that’s holy, at least learn to control your damn self for the sake of yourself… and your mortified family and friends. That may not be the most noble of motivators, but we gotta start somewhere.
Lives are at stake, Karen.
Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.