Don't be a Karen

mission & values

Over the past few months, a lot of people have offered condolences that my name has become a derisive term for entitled, middle-aged, racist, white women. What began as a loose association with a distinct "I want to speak to your manager" hair style (see Kate Gosselin circa 2008) has evolved into a racially-charged pejorative for women who make false and discriminatory calls to law enforcement.

Personally, I like to think that I'm not a 'Karen'. I shy away from speaking to the manager (unless it's to share positive feedback). I hate making a scene (except on the dance floor, of course). And I'm working on becoming a more thoughtful and effective anti-racist ally (a work in progress, for sure). 

But lately, I've been reading and thinking a lot about the consequences of labelling someone a "Karen", "Permit Patty" or "BBQ Becky". It's become our de factor response, an attempt to publicly shame. But in obscuring their names, are we actually minimizing their behavior?

We all remember Amy Cooper's name because her action against Chris Cooper was particularly abhorrent and captured on video. But do you remember the name of the woman who called the cops on a group of black men using a charcoal barbecue in a park? What about the woman who claimed a young black boy had groped her in a cornerstone after his backpack accidentally brushed against her? Or the woman who called 911 to report an 8-year black girl for selling water near AT&T Park without a permit?

Calling these women by meme-inspired names "grants them a level of anonymity and belittles what they've done," argues journalist David Dennis, Jr. In Cooper's case, she was fired from her job, temporarily lost custody of her dog and was recently charged with a misdemeanor for false incident reporting. But how many other bad actors aren't truly held accountable for their behavior beyond enduring a few days of embarrassing memes?

"There is a connection...between the racism of calling the police on a Black person and feeling as though you are there to be served...It ties into this audacity that white women are showing, especially now, that they're owed something by the world...especially when it comes to marginalized people or people who they feel are below them..."  Journalist David Dennis,

While it's infuriating and inexplicable that-- in 2020-- we have to pass laws against racially charged 911 calls, the fact is it's necessary. The recently introduced Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, or the CAREN Act, will make false and racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal in San Francisco. At the state level, an amendment to California Bill AB-1550 will charge those who knowingly make false calls and reports to the police with a hate crime, punishable by felony or misdemeanor. It will also create a legal pathway for victims to file a lawsuit and claim damages. Other cities and states have already passed or begun the process to pass similar legislation.

It goes without saying that I hope you never pull a "Karen". But the next time you hear about someone exerting his or her privilege in a dangerous and racially-motivated way, please don't trivialize it with a meme. Make it a point to learn the offender's name and commit it to memory. Mention it any time you're discussing the event with others. It might seem like a small thing, but it can make a big difference in terms of holding bad actors accountable.

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