Let’s Acknowledge that Karen Lives in Us, Too
Dear fellow White women,
By now I’m sure many of us are aware of the White women who are known as “Karen” in our society. The White women who call the police on children of color selling lemonade without a permit or on children of color playing basketball joyfully in cult-a-sac though the “neighborhood” prefers it to be unattended. The women who call police on black men minding their own business sitting in their cars during lunch breaks, or the White women going “bananas” when they are told they must wear a mask at the grocery store or coffee shop. The White women who villainize women of color for challenging their emotional equilibrium - women who can’t seem to realize everything in life isn’t about them. The Karen figure we all despise, though, lives in each of us or at least has the capacity to live in us if we don’t keep her in check.
You know that part of us who felt unnerved when we were challenged in a meeting for our White ways of being or the part of our psyche that held palpable fear when we drove our car down a street where no one “looked like us.” Or, that time when we had a fun dinner date with friends and decided to call an Uber. When the Uber driver arrived, we immediately felt nervous for our 9pm ride home because our driver was not a woman or White man. We might re-remember the time(s) our nerves were unsettled when we crossed paths with a group of young men of color who were laughing and being kids.
The world is catered to and for us as White women. Every other racial group/person is expected to make us feel safe, protect us – to believe our well-being is the paramount concern. Might I invite you into undoing our White women’s socialization by reflecting on our own lived experiences and all of the times we expected our safety and emotions to be everyone’s responsibility. The narrative we tell ourselves and our White daughters - stories implied through the news, our parents’ racial experiences and our lived socialization.
You see the reality is this - if we go missing, they are going to look for us; if we are harmed, the system will work for us and we trust, believe and expect the police will protect us. Black Indigenous women of color (BIWOC) do not have the luxury and are often silenced from the police brutality conversation. There is a long history of BIWOC being murdered and harmed by police without cause or restitution (think…Breonna Taylor, Mya Hall, Alexia Christian, Gabriella Nevarez, Shantel Davis, Miriam Carey, Malissa Williams, Sharmel Edwards, LaTanya Haggerty, Kenra James, Sandra Bland, Shelly Frey, Margaret LaVerne Mitchell, Eleanor Bumpurs, Kathryn Johnston, Dannette Daniels, Frankie Ann Perkins, Alberta Spruill, Tanisha Anderson, Michelle Cusseaux, Pearlie Golden, Shereese Francis, Kayla Moore, Tyisha Miller, Natasha McKenna, Sheneque Proctor, Kyam Livingston, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tarika Williams, Meagan Hockaday, Janisha Fonville, Aura Rosser, Yvette Smith, Duanna Johnson, Nizah Morris, Denise Stewart, Alesia Thomas, Rosann Miller, Sonji Taylor and others).
I, too, have had to examine my own biases. In honesty, it was not until 2010 when I worked and lived in Queens, New York City when I was the only White person in spaces I found myself in that I reckoned with my deceptive socialization. My daily social, professional and personal worlds were such that I was the racial minority the vast majority of the time. I grappled with the narrative I thought I had undone (I now realized I had only intellectually up to that point) but it wasn’t embodied in the fiber of my being. It was also at this time that I realized how protected I was.
As an example, on a weekend road trip to upstate New York with two of my woman friends White people asked me “if I was alright?!” or as one White man asked, “have you been kidnapped?” My woman friends are both Black women and I was not only alright but having the time of my life – far from kidnapped. I was surrounded in love, support and joy that I had thought would have been palpable in our smiles and presence. The thought that White strangers would make assumptions that my safety was being jeopardized enraged me – though, I have since learned I should have expected as much.
We live in a racialized world that we benefit from every day. Everyone tenderly holds us, keeping us comfortable so that our self-righteous and entitled “Karen” doesn’t come out. People of color navigating their lives around us to keep our fears and emotions to a minimal knowing the violence and harm we are capable of at any moment.
We are not innocent and our ignorance is not an excuse for how we weaponize our White skin
against people of color. We need to challenge ourselves and one another and reflect on the times and ways we have benefitted from the protective patriarchal hold society has over us; the hold that keeps us from questioning the violence committed to people of color all around us. The violence and harm we have a part in co-creating in society when we do not disrupt or stand against it. We are not the most vulnerable even though dominant society has led us to believe as such. We are defensive when we continue in our fragility. We do violence by going along with how society has taught us to be Karen.
Let’s commit to unlearning and wrestling our inner Karen so we are not complicit or intentional oppressors. Let’s become White women who commit to ending and disrupting racism everywhere we see it and let’s start by disrupting racism living inside ourselves.
Dr. Tanya Raquel