Current Events

Karen Is You.

The Karen phenomenon has entered social media almost outdoing Becky With The Good Hair.  There are entire Facebook groups dedicated to Karen, t-shirts made about Karen, and daily I read a post or blog about Karen.

So who is Karen? Karen is defined by Slang Dictionary as a mocking term for an entitled, obnoxious, middle-aged white woman.

Don’t be confused. Karen is not Becky. Becky is Karen’s offspring. Becky wears Fenty foundation shades that are too dark for her. Becky co-opts TikTok dances created by Black youth. Becky wears cornrows, says the n-word, and has adapted an accent as if she has been around Black people her entire life. Becky attempts to emulate everything Black women do for her gain. Becky loves Black culture but not anything to do with the day to day struggles of Black people. Becky is the type of woman that likes to dance in the rain but not get wet.  Becky loves Black rhythm but wants nothing to do with our blues. Becky is very different from Karen.

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Karen believes she has clout, prestige, and status. Karen’s entire life is centered around her feelings of entitlement. Karen believes that the world should bend to her whim any time she says so. Karen hates to be inconvenienced by Black people doing simple things walking in her neighborhood, bringing packages to her door, following the rules about social distancing in restaurants. Karen is always allowed to be the victim and plays the part with Oscar-worthy expertise.

Just looking at  Karen, she seems harmless.  She is often very unassuming and is non-threatening in appearance. Still, women like Karen have not only supported racism but have instituted and upheld racism throughout history. While the Karen memes are sweeping across the internet and becoming a part of our lexicon, it is important to note women like Karen are dangerous women.

Emmett Till and Carolyn Bryant Donham

Karens are women like  Carolyn Bryant Donham. Carolyn falsely claimed that 14-year-old Emmett Till whistled at her, which resulted in her husband and brother killing him. They made Emmett carry a 75-pound cotton-gin fan to the Tallahatchie Riverbank and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, and then threw his body, tied to the cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, into the river. It was not until 2008, over fifty years later, that Carolyn admitted that she lied, stating that Emmett Till never touched, threatened, or harassed her, stating, “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”   White women are not innocent bystanders when it comes to racism; in fact, they are co-conspirators- historically and currently. That is the dangerous reality of Karens.

After witnessing video after video of White women being labeled Karen for their outrageous behavior, it was not until I saw these pictures come across my social media feed that I knew now was the time for me to address “Karen.”

Gretha Stenger

 

Larkin Small

These two women have been identified as Gretha Stenger and Larkin Small. Both women were attending a  gathering to protest stay at home orders due to the coronavirus.  (Before I continue, let me be clear: I believe that their protest is ridiculous; however, I believe in everyone’s right to protest. ) The women being outside practicing their constitutional rights are of no concern to me. In fact, I find it downright hilarious that many White people, who love to dictate how Black people should navigate spaces, are having a full-blown tantrum because they can’t sit somewhere in a restaurant. Not because of their race but simply because governors are trying to keep them healthy. (Oh the oppression.)

What did get my attention is the sign they are each holding that states, “Muzzles are for dogs and slaves. I am a free human being.”   (So let me be clear, accordingly to the sign it was okay to muzzle Black people? Okay. Interesting,)

The sign also has a picture of Escrava Anastacia, an enslaved woman of African descent who lived in Brazil sometime during the 19th century who wears a scold’s bridle on her face. Stories vary as to why Escrava Anastacia was placed in the mask; some say it was jealousy due to her beauty. Some say it is because she refused the sexual advances of her owner. However, we know that the general construction of the mask works by either compressing the wearer’s tongue flat or to the roof of their mouth, rendering them unable to speak. Escrava was permitted to remove the mask off once a day to eat. In the article, The Girl In The Iron Mask, it is stated “After being forced to wear this collar continuously, over time the iron that it was made out of is believed to have essentially poisoned her. So not only was she working in sugar cane fields all day while wearing this mask, only being fed once a day, it turns out she was slowly being poisoned to death as well.” Escrava Anastacia eventually died of tetanus after suffering physically, locked behind an iron mask.

Escrava Anastacia

What Escrava Anastacia faced is the reality and horror of slavery. It in no way compares to Larkin and Gretha being asked to stay home for their own personal health and the health and well-being of others. It is no way like wearing a mask in public to run errands. I have previously  addressed this issue here so my focus of this blog is the women with the sign.

Pictured in the black dress, is Gretha.  She is dressed nicely, has on a cute denim jacket, a red scarf around her neck, and sunglasses. When I shared this photo online, a few people said they do not know this woman. But in fact, you do. You just don’t think you do. If you look at her closely,  you know this woman. You know her well.

She is the type of woman you would see every day in your grocery store, in the coffee shop, perhaps even walking in the neighborhood. This woman bakes the cute cookies for your  PTA meetings. She attends yoga class with you. You have met this woman for coffee. You and her sip wine on lazy Saturday afternoons. She teaches theater to your children for the town productions. She is your photographer that takes cute pictures of your children. Sometimes you trade recipes with her. You and this woman go on walks together. Your kids hang out with her kids. You invite her to Sunday brunch, where you laugh over avocado toast topped with sprouts. She is your child’s teacher, your college professor, your doctor, your nurse, or your mail carrier. She is your neighbor that organizes the Fourth of July block party. She is your church member or Sunday School teacher. She is your cousin, your aunt, your sister, or even your mom. She speaks to you about the weather and hopes it doesn’t get too much colder during May so her flowers can blossom. She is a liberal. She even voted for Hillary Clinton. She wouldn’t dare be in the 53%, and in fact, if she could vote for former President Barack Obama a third time, she would. She has Black friends, so she couldn’t dare be racist.

Many people believe that when they encounter racists, they will be adorned in a Klu Klux Klan hood or a White man with a shaved head and swastikas all over his body.   The truth is many of the racists you encounter will look just like Karen. As Dr. King said, “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

So look closely at this woman.

See her.

Perhaps go stand in front of a mirror.

And don’t just look at your outer appearance that blends in with day to day life.

Look inwardly.

Examine your heart.

You just may find, this woman is you…

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Additional Readings:

Dear White Women Its Not You, Its Me. I’m Breaking Up With You.

White Women Are Always Allowed To Be The Victim. 

Dear White People: The Bell Is Tolling For You. 

12 replies »

  1. Marie, if you take time to think about what the picture on that sign represents and where it comes from, it should be shocking and saddening to a degree that overshadows all other discussions. I could try to say “what if there was a sign saying women should be muzzled” but that still wouldn’t be adequate to relate to the dehumanization and torture done to black people in slavery. No, most white women who voted for Obama wouldn’t hold up a sign like that (hopefully) but it’s the normalization of these things that Hannah is talking about. The fact that today, people would still hold up a sign like that. Also that domestic terrorist groups like the kkk still legally exist and aren’t talked about as such. They believe in the death and/or subjugation of US Citizens.

    It’s not our (white peoples) fault that we were born into a world where these things were already normalized to the degree that they are, but it’s absolutely unacceptable. It’s natural to get defensive especially when messages have a harsh/accusatory and/or condescending tone. And it’s hard and painful to learn about how deep the injustices and suffering run. But when you begin to… harsh tones begin to make sense. This is all really awful and disgusting and there should be a huge sense of urgency in changing people’s perspectives and protecting our citizens that have dealt with this type of abuse for way too long.

    • Thank you, Trent. I didn’t have the energy. Also it is very, very possible to have voted for President Obama and STILL hold racist views. Very possible. Voting for Obama wasn’t a get out of racism free card. They made a WHOLE movie about this called Get Out. It won an Oscar. We could relate to that line being in the movie because people who believe they aren’t racist have said it repeatedly.

      • Look I thought it was a good article and appreciated learning where the image on the sign came from. And yes I agree that there are liberals out there with racist views. But that one statement was a stretch. These protesters are unlikely to be self-described liberals.

  2. This is right up there with my feelings about fake environmentalists who put their garbage in other people’s communities while screaming about how people shouldn’t have kids.

  3. That’s good point Hannah, and a finer one than I was mentioning about normalization. Marie I can empathize with you in the sense that I too will often notice and pick out little details that don’t seem quite right to me while agreeing with the rest of what someone’s saying. I’ve noticed a trend however that I will always be periodically shocked to find more hidden racism than I previously thought was there. With individuals, places, systems; no matter how much I learn it seems there’s something new that will come along and shock me and show me that I was yet still oblivious. So as I’m thinking about it… yes I can see how Obama voting white women holding those signs seems like a stretch (I said a similar thing in my previous comment) But now thinking about my pattern of being shocked, I think there probably are Obama voters who would hold those signs or at the very least not think it was a big deal. Also racism is complicated, on a spectrum (or a few) and manifests in surprising ways.
    I appreciated learning about the sign too (even though it’s extremely depressing) and Get Out is such a great movie and does a very good job of showing some of the complexities of racism.

    That’s something else I often forget about. The comments like “I voted for Obama I’m not racist” or “I have a black friend I can’t be racist” I’ve seen a wonderful explanation ( I wish I could remember who to give credit…) stating that everybody is racist in some way and that the goal isn’t as much about trying to directly not be racist as it is about trying to recognize the ways in which you are racist. I love this because it adds nuance and makes it more of a continual practice of awareness.

    I’m glad this feels helpful Hannah, you’re more than welcome. Funny how different things can feel easier or more draining for different people at different times. This doesn’t take much energy for me right now (probably sooo many reasons for the difference there) while everyday basic stuff has been extremely draining lately. We’re all such funny critters…

  4. This is a new interpretation of the Karen phenomena for me. Previously, I have seen it slung at almost any middle-aged educated white woman who refused to bow her head to some man’s opinion; I have no experience with seeing used to suggest the Karen is a racist.

    • There are Facebook pages and blogs, t-shirts and hashtags. It just really started picking up this year.

  5. Informative post and good read! The outlandish (but not so outlandish because I don’t put anything past “them”) thing to me is, the poster makes a statement that not only is she equating melanated people that were enslaved to dogs, but it is written in present tense, so she is making it apparent that slavery is still relevant to this day and still exists.

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