Eighteen years ago, my family moved to a college town known for its progressive population. This illusion quickly fell apart when my kindergartener’s first school event was scheduled on a Jewish High Holiday. After trying the usual channels (teacher, the PTA) with no response, I contacted the school’s new principal, Mrs. Smith.
I came charging in like a Karen, and was met by Mrs. Smith’s cool demeanor and warm smile. She heard my frustration, then shared her story as the first African-American principal in the 96-year-old, predominately white school district.
“Keep speaking up,” she encouraged. “But just know, we have a long way to go.”
What do I mean when I say I was acting like a Karen? It’s basically shorthand for a pushy, entitled middle-aged white woman who runs the gamut from throwing fits at Starbucks when served a lukewarm latte to threatening a black man’s life over her own illegal activity. After all, I was bitching about my kid missing an ice cream social while Mrs. Smith was fielding death threats for breaking racial barriers by doing her job.
Cut to today, where regardless of gender (I’m talking to you, Chad’s dad), it’s time for white people to take sustained action in the fight against racial injustice.
What do you meme by that?
The Karen meme was initially inspired by Kate Gosselin’s “speak to the manager” spiky bob, but its pejorative sense stems from a Dane Cook rant about girls named Karen being “a bag of douche,” and a classic line from Mean Girls:
Oh my god, Karen, you can't just ask people why they're white.
Honestly, you can’t … and saying that “Karen” and her kissing cousin Becky are racial slurs against white women just adds to the cluelessness that sparks popular memes in the first place. While I don’t love the gender bias — or perpetuating the idea of women as nags — truthfully, we white women can be bossy AF. So, can we make some good come of it?
Be a Care-n
Systemic, institutionalized racism needs to be dismantled — now. And as a white woman, I know I want to do more than merely virtue signaling by hashtagging my “woke” social posts.
Dr. Tikia K. Hamilton has some straightforward advice:
Well, instead of demanding to see the store manager for trivial reasons, what if “Karen” demanded to see the store manager because one of their employees has been trailing Black people around the store? What if a latte-toting “Becky” (or “Chad”) stood up to the manager as he attempts to toss Black shoppers out on the pavement?
Sounds like a start to me. As Mrs. Smith reminded me 18 years ago, it’s not just about her or me; it’s we. So, wake up Karen and smell the latte. We’ve got work to do.