Karen here, the Official Karen©, Spokeskaren for Generation X, blonde, middle-class, middle-aged white lady living in the Midwest.
Every morning, after I hang up from my daily call with the manager, I like to peruse the headlines and see what sort of foul acts are committed in my name.
You probably heard about the Central Park ‘Karen’ — dog-walker and leash-hater Amy Cooper. Amy called the cops on an African American man who happened to be birding nearby after he requested she leash her dog (pursuant New York City Health Code §161.05).
On the heels of that transgression came an even more heinous one: the murder of George Floyd by arresting officer Derek Chauvin. Unlike so many of those black-man-meets-white-cop stories that end in tragedy, this one was captured on video. America saw it. And America was horrified, and not just black America who had been fully aware that blacks are twice as likely to get pulled over than whites, more likely to be arrested and convicted, and who ultimately receive longer sentences than whites for the same crime.
This time, well-intentioned white America saw it. It was undeniable. That ugly American secret that we hoped was behind us in 1865 and again in 1964 and as recently as 2008 when Barack Obama was elected.
This was racism. Confederate-flag-waving racism. Not-on-my-block racism. Racism slid up the sleeve and pulled out like a trump card racism. Not-just-in-the-White-House racism. Implicit and overt; institutional, systemic, and entrenched.
As Spokeskaren, I’ve been remiss in addressing this subject. Partly because I’m uncomfortable with the fact that such a thing even exists in 2020. I’ve been a member of diverse family for most of my life. I’ve lived in a bubble, naïve and oblivious.
My discomfort is not without guilt. Though I don’t consider myself racist, I’ve spent these past weeks harboring guilt at my privilege, like the favorite child at Christmas catching the expression on their siblings’ faces. I’ve been taking implicit bias tests, just to reassure myself. I’ve been fretting over small things, like the cadence of my pulse the other day when I ran into two unfamiliar black men while walking in the woods alone.
Amy Cooper insisted she wasn’t racist. Yet, when a black man confronted her about her unleashed dog, she did the thing white girls do. Certain white girls, the kind that are accustomed to having things go their way and not taking any blame for it when things don’t turn out like they planned.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she hissed as she dialed 911. She went on to do exactly that, wielding Christian Cooper’s race like a saber.
Did I mention that? They had the same last name, in a kind of karmic irony which underscores the fact that we are all one human family.
Since the death of George Floyd, more black men have died at the hands of police. Horrific stories have come to light.
I check the mirror. I realize. The racist is Us.
If not, how could we not see how bad this was? How could we stuff this in the closet over and over again, believe these were isolated incidents? How could we tolerate it?
These past few weeks, I’ve walked with my neighbors at local protests, I’ve watched statues topple in my newsfeed. I’ve seen the newly woke share inspiring videos, I’ve explained ‘Defund the Police’ to a friend, and I’ve watched Black Lives Matter signs bloom across the lawns of my neighborhood like tulips in spring.
I’ve heard the weariness in the voices of who’ve endured racism as they explained it to white audiences. I’ve heard moving and impassioned statements from Trevor Noah, Charlemagne tha God, and Amber Ruffin — whose personal accounts of police encounters will chill you if you’ve never been on the receiving end of racism.
All the while I wanted to do something, say something. I am, after all Karen — a name that’s become synonymous with racism. Shouldn’t I have done more, said more? After all, it’s about my family, my black-and-white-and-gay-all-over family. Why haven’t I done more?
And yet it’s not a thing that is fixed by clever catch phrases or moving blog posts or even marches or signs. It wasn’t fixed by electing Barack Obama and won’t be fixed by voting Donald Trump out of office.
The problem goes far deeper than that and we’re hundreds of years overdue to fix it. It demands changes large and small, from dismantling the for-profit prison system, to rescinding the drug laws engineered to funnel African Americans to them. It means paying people a living wage, funding inner city schools, and shoring up our social safety nets. It means teaching empathy and speaking out when Uncle Billy spouts his bile on Facebook.
Looking the other way has only made it worse. Our failure to act has allowed racism to grow like kudzu. We must champion justice and inform the ignorant. This is a fight that cannot be abandoned when the next news sensation comes along.
So come on, all you well-intentioned white people, let’s get busy making right — before any more people of color die. Let’s abolish racism with our voices, our votes, our dollars, and our attention.