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August 3, 2020

We Need to Talk about Karen.

Editor’s note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the author, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? Share your experience too.
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Karen is trending and she knows it.

Everyone is talking about her; she is on everyone’s mind. She is getting a lot of attention, but for all the wrong reasons.

We need to talk about Karen.

Karen is a middle-aged white woman. She is angry but feels justified. She is raging inside and does not know how to contain it.

But what is Karen so mad about?

Is she raging at the system that no longer deems her attractive because she is now above reproductive age and has gained a little weight?

Is she raging because for every dollar her husband made, she could only get 65 cents, even if they had the same jobs?

Is she raging because she chose to pause her career because the system asked her to give up her ambitions and earning power so she could spend endless hours caring for small children with no formal recognition of her contribution to society?

Yes.

Yes, Karen is raging for all the above reasons and more.

And yes, Karen has a right to be pissed. But the problem is, Karen doesn’t want to look at it like that. Karen prefers to pretend all the above is okay.

Because for Karen, this is the correct order of things.

What is not okay for Karen, however, is insubordinate behaviour—especially from those who she thinks are there to serve her.

Just like the white mistresses of yore, who had no property nor rights of their own, and who, therefore, found solace only in the subjugation of others even further down the hierarchy, Karen needs a dog to kick.

She rarely takes up issue with her true oppressors, but instead, chooses to laud it over the check-out girl; the delivery guy; the Black father walking his dog on his own street, minding his own business; or the Trader Joe’s staff asking her to wear a mask.

Karen chooses to wield her power in the only way she knows how: by using her white privilege to its full extent.

Because Karen is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Karen has been married to white supremacy for so long, she believes she loves him and he loves her back. And just like a good wife should, she will defend him till the death, with her tiny little hand gun if she needs to.

You see, Karen doesn’t want to give up on everything she has invested.

A system she has paid into with tax dollars and emotions in equal measures.

A system that has allowed her to feel entitled, just as long as she doesn’t ask for equal pay. A system that protects her from the real threat—critical thinking.

So she clings on desperately while her makeup starts to run, as her face creases with fear and rage, just as an abused dog in a cage growls when, finally, the ASPCA approaches.

Because if she stopped for just a second and admitted that deep down she really hates her white supremacy, her captor, the thing that has kept her gaslighted for centuries, then she would have to admit that she was conned from the start and then face those sick, icky feelings inside. Those feelings of shame, guilt, and disgust.

So is it really any shock that Karen flaunts her white privilege? After all, it is the only thing she really has left. She plays the game of systemic racism to her full advantage. 

In fact, Karen will go out of her way to enable her oppressors. She will vote for Trump. Because she wants to be on the winning side and somehow thinks she will be thanked for her loyalty. Thanked how exactly? Well, that still remains a mystery.

But here’s the thing: Karen has choices. Karen has agency; she just hasn’t figured out how to use it productively.

White women in America have such an ambivalent relationship to agency. On the one hand, we have Karen, wielding it ferociously but to no useful end. And on the other, we have white tears and fragility—taking to Instagram, begging to be “educated” and coached in how to be “good white girls” (aka allies of Black, Indigenous, People of Color).

We seemingly act with no brains of our own to figure any of this out (“It’s so confusing”). Relying on our innate porcelain innocence to relieve us of the tricky, icky stuff called responsibility. Deliberately acting clueless in the hope we can bypass the actual work of engaging in a meaningful and authentic way.

So I am calling us out!

The white women of this world need to accept that while not wielding as much power and privilege as our sweetheart white husbands, fathers, or brothers do, we still as a group have immense capacity to make a difference. A difference that can sway an election. We just need to own it—authentically.

We need to stop, pause, and reflect.

The issue about Karen is not one about female voices being silenced. The issue with Karen is one of bullying. Bullies cannot be tolerated and two different issues cannot be confused.

Karen is not standing up in court against her attacker; this is not a “nevertheless she persisted” movement. This is about Karen being held to account for bad behaviour just like any other human should be.

The fact that she is white and female does not take away her responsibility to be a decent human being. Yes, Karen lives in a complicated weave of deceit and confusion, as do all of us.

Do we all have a secret Karen inside? Well, we should definitely look into that.

And we do that by knowing ourselves—the real me, the real you. Not the airbrushed, smooth-filtered, #justwokeuplikethis, avocado and pomegranate version. The real you, who eats junk food sometimes, not the disowned, angry spiteful shrew, who calls the cops just because she can. The real you, who is trying to figure this all out and who doesn’t have all the answers.

The real you with flaws and mistakes and regrets and, sometimes, really stupid ideas.

That you.

I know you don’t like her much yet, but you know, once you get to know her, you might just be surprised; she can actually be quite insightful, genuine, wickedly evil, and strong as an ox. When you get to know her.

Accept that we are human, not plastic Barbie dolls. We have feelings, and not just nice ones.

We won’t get there by trying to say the right words.

So if you feel triggered by being called a Karen, then the chances are you are acting like one.

If you don’t like that, then work to address these issues. If you feel you are being silenced because you are female or because you are white, then please ask yourself what it is you are trying to say. Words have power; use them wisely and sparingly. Think about your message, think about what you really want for yourself and your loved ones, and figure out if it really has to come at the expense of someone else’s dignity, someone else’s safety, someone else’s livelihood.

Will your argument with the cashier really achieve the recognition and emancipation you deserve?

And if people are calling you out for dropping your glass of milk and just standing there crying, rather than doing what is required—picking up a rag and cleaning up your mess—then I have to ask: how were you brought up?

Don’t get coy, don’t get mad, just stand up with dignity. You’ve got this. You are a grown-up. You can manage your own feelings and engage in meaningful conversations with people who don’t necessarily agree with you, who might have lived very different lives from you, and from whom you might learn something new.

We owe it to ourselves, the world, our ancestors, and our children.

So when I look at Karen and see her having a full-on breakdown, I think we are getting closer to where we want to be. Because with breakdowns come breakthroughs.

But it won’t be until Karen lets go of her preconceived ideals. Ideals that have been fed to us all on a drip for generations. And for whom detoxing, cold turkey, is going to be the worst ride of our lives.

Then, and only then, can we expect real change to happen.

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