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The death of the Karen

There are two types of “Karens” in this world. The first is the Karen that stands with her hands on her hips, chin jutting, asking–demanding!–to “speak to your manager.” The second, and more harmful, is the Karen that calls the police on Black men in the park. While there are clear differences between the two varieties of Karen, it is their similarities that define them: both are white, and both are women. 

The second type of Karen draws attention to a form of white privilege which has long been ignored. The whiteness of the Karen furthers a conversation about the ways in which white Americans continue to foster a culture of discrimination against people of color. And yet, the most obvious feature of the Karen is not her whiteness, but her gender. Hers. Karen, a distinctly feminine name. 

White women are not exempt from accepting responsibility for the harm that Black Americans have experienced. They, like white men, are capable of racism, even when the manifestation of their racism is different. Womens’ racism, however, is not a function of their gender, but their whiteness. So it is a little baffling that the monolithic Karen primarily draws attention to her femininity–as if the Karen is racist simply because she is a woman. 

When we call out white women for acts of racism, the way we do it matters. When a white woman uses her tears to condemn a Black man, we shouldn’t use her gender as a straw man. We should call her out for what she is: a racist, one who is using the tools she has to further her ideology. These tools that are indicative of internalized misogyny, these tears that mark women as fragile, emotional, vulnerable. That marks them as weak. 

But there seems to be a troubling trend in which white women are called out in ways that directly invoke their femininity. We joke about the Basic White Woman, fabled drinker of pumpkin spice lattes. We stereotype the White SAHM, demanding managerial intervention after Sunday supermarket mishaps. We reprimand the vocal White Feminist who needs to “shut up and sit down.” And so on and so forth. 

Which leads us to the issues with the first type of Karen. The Karen that isn’t associated with being racist, so much as just bossy or entitled. Let’s talk about that first adjective, bossy. There’s a reason why it’s no longer acceptable to call women “bossy.” It’s dismissive and insulting, often reserved for women who are simply speaking up. As for that second adjective, entitled–can women be entitled? Absolutely. But, as is the case with racist women, they’re not entitled because they’re women; no one is walking around talking about female privilege.

This is exactly the problem with denigrating white women for traits related to gender as opposed to race. White privilege is alive and well; female privilege is… not a thing. White women still deal with a culture of sexism that no man will ever understand or experience. So to weaponize aspects of the female identity, white or not, to define an entire gender–it’s not a great look. 

To be clear, any discrimination that white women face cannot take precedence over that experienced by women of color, whose identities subject them to far greater challenges. As such, white women need to do our part in amplifying the voices and experiences of women of color. Still, all women should experience empowerment and encouragement. No woman, even when she’s wrong, should ever be told to just “shut up and sit down,” the same mentality that has created adversity for women for, like, ever. 

The Karen only perpetuates stereotypes that have long forced women into a position inferior to men. We are bossy, we are entitled, we are vain, and we are loud, and so we should sit down, and so we should be silent. And the worst part? The Karen brand of misogyny is so subtle, so sneaky, that women have played an active role in the branding of the Karen. The Scarlet K. This facilitation of peace requires the loss of one life alone: that of the Karen.

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