The Karen phenomenon has entered social media almost outdoing Becky With The Good Hair. There are entire Facebook groups dedicated to Karen and 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 who 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.
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 nonthreatening 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.
Karens are women such as 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 50 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.”
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, according to the sign it was OK to muzzle Black people? OK. 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 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.
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 so my focus of this 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 two sip wine on lazy Saturday afternoons. She teaches theater to your children for the town productions. She is your photographer who 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 who 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.
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.
Examine your heart.
You just may find, this woman is you…
Hannah L. Drake is an author, poet and spoken word artist. Follow her at writesomeshit.com and on Twitter at hannahdrake628.