Transition–A Time to Own Our Responsibility–A Time for Peace and Healing
This week, I’m veering away from my scheduled blog post. Usually on the third Monday of the month, you’d see an interview on these pages. And I have a really terrific interview ready to go! Yet, given the horrifying events of the last two weeks, I feel the need to share my feelings about where we are and where I am in all this.
I’m terribly sad. There’s some anger and some fear, but sadness is at the forefront. The rage we’ve all witnessed. The hatred. The confederate flag in the capitol building. The chants calling for the hanging of our Vice President, for the death of our House Speaker. The murder of Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer. The sweatshirt that read Camp Auschwitz, the shirt exclaiming that six million were not enough. How do people get to this point?
What we saw on Wednesday, January 6, was not a protest, nor a constitutionally supported exercise in free speech. It was white male entitlement, victim mentality, and conspiracy thinking turned terribly violent. And while the overwhelming majority of people living in our country don’t share a desire to overthrow our democracy, many more of us share some culpability for hatred’s rise and expression.
Recently, I wrote an article about the Karen meme that was published in The Manifest Station. I’m including it below because I believe it speaks to the critical need for more of us to own our part.
I am praying for a peaceful transition of power on Wednesday and for true healing to begin.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or send me an email.
Stay safe, everyone, and my interview with the fabulous Nancy Branka will post on February 1st.
PUT KAREN TO BED
No one likes Karen. She’s loud and obnoxious. Entitled with a capital E. When she was just an annoying Soccer Mom, we could roll our eyes and move on. But now that racism has been added to the mix, the stakes are much higher—sometimes life-and-death high. So, white women who don’t want to be identified as Karen have upped our game too — we’ve moved from eye rolls to spewing outrage on social media.
Instagram posts call Karen out. There are several Facebook groups set up specifically to bring her public shame. One Twitter account @KarensGoneWild has just under 40,000 followers and new videos posted daily—a modern version of flogging in the public square.
But the biggest problem with Karen is that she lets me off the hook. Labeling someone Karen immediately makes her the other. I hold her at a distance, express fury at her behavior — while breathing sighs of relief that she is not me.
Maybe I Have More in Common with Karen Than I Think
I harbor a fantasy of wearing a sign exclaiming, I AM NOT KAREN. But this fantasy is just another flag of privilege, the right to claim my individuality without repercussion. Maybe I have more in common with Karen than I think.
Still, my feminist brain rails against the fact that Ken, Kyle, or whatever social media has named Karen’s male counterpart, has dodged the spotlight. But my heart aches when I witness the ways Karens use their perceived gender weakness to their advantage regarding race. Karen plays the 21st century damsel in distress, calling on her new knight in shining armor—the man in blue—to come to her aid against people of color, simply because she can.
Take the San Francisco Karen, aka Lisa Alexander. She accused James Juanillo, a Filipino homeowner, of defacing another person’s property because he’d written Black Lives Matter in chalk on a retaining wall in front of a home. Alexander didn’t believe Juanillo when he told her it was his home. She called the police. Then there’s the North Carolina Karen, an employee at Hampton Inn, who called the police on Missy Williams-Wright, a Black woman with her two young children, for trespassing at the hotel pool. Williams-Wright and her children were guests staying at the hotel.
And, no one can forget the poster child for Karen—New York’s Amy Cooper. When Christian Cooper, a Black man birdwatching in Central Park, asked her to leash her dog (dogs are required to be on-leash in that section of the park), Amy pulled a no-holds-barred Karen: “I’m going to call the cops and tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” She did. Luckily, Christian videoed the whole interaction.
Doesn’t Some Aspect of Karen Live in Every White Woman in Our Country?
Karen memes that go viral often lead to serious consequences. All three offenders–Alexander, Ms. Hampton Inn, and Cooper were fired. (Cooper was also charged with filing a false police report.)
It’s not the distressing amount of public shaming that I object to in the Karen meme. Attention must be drawn to those who use their power to harm others.
But when white women use the meme Karen, it’s as if they’re wearing my sign, telling the world She is Not Me. That’s not exactly true. Doesn’t some aspect of Karen live in every white woman in our country? Given our socialization, can any white woman claim she’s totally escaped Karen’s insidious grasp?
There have been many times I’ve heard racist jokes and kept quiet. I wanted to avoid being dismissed as a killjoy, judgmental, or holier-than-thou. I’ve told myself, at least you didn’t laugh, and patted myself on the back for distancing myself from those friends and family. But that’s walking the coward’s path, evading confrontation or even a dialogue.
If I’m too afraid to call someone out at dinner, then directing my rage at Karen is ridiculous. I can retweet all I want from the comfort of my home, but had I been in Central Park during the infamous Karen episode, would I have seen the encounter for what it was? And if I had, would I have viewed the conflict as my problem too? I hope that because the stakes were so high, I would have stepped in, stood up for Christian and stood up to Amy, but I’m not sure I would have seen the injustice as my fight.
That’s what happens when we make Karen the other. It relieves the self-identified non-Karens among us from taking responsibility.
“Some Are Guilty. All Are Responsible”
“Some are guilty. All are responsible.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said in 1963 at a conference where he met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unfortunately, we have not learned the lesson of his words. While most white women are not personally guilty of explicit racist actions, our indifference and/or unconsciousness to how our whiteness benefits us on a daily basis is a responsibility we all must bear.
The last time I was in Florida, I shopped in Walmart on several occasions. Each time, I passed employees posted at the exits, who checked customer receipts, making sure no one walked out with unpaid merchandise. I had my receipt in hand but was waved off with a smile and a “have a nice day.” I noticed, however, that every person of color I saw leaving the store got no such pass. Their receipts were examined.
Karens have long been denigrated for their entitlement, for their demands to “speak with the manager.” My Walmart experiences presented me the perfect opportunity to talk to store managers about racial profiling. I should have used my privilege to stand up for what’s right. But I did nothing. Maybe there should have been a video uploaded on Twitter of me.
Racism and injustice can only thrive in the soil of indifference and inaction. It’s time for white women to consider our actions—and inactions—and make changes. It’s time to put our own Karen to bed.
Thank you, Diane, for addressing the violent, deadly, democracy-shaking insurrection we witnessed at Capitol Hill on January 6. Like many others (including now President Biden), I could see that it was a clear example of white privilege, because had this group of treasonous individuals resembled the crowds at a Black Lives Matter protest, they would have been viciously physically attacked by law enforcement officers before they even got close to their destination. Michelle Obama was berated for baring her arms as First Lady, but Trump was able to incite people who look like him to bear arms in an attempted coup- with impunity. And then remain in office until his last official day.
I re-read your article published in The Manifest Station, & my respect & admiration for you have not diminished since my first reading; it’s a call to action, & you lead by example, in questioning your own complicity in the proliferation of white privilege.
I understand the resistance to self-examination, the avoidance of feelings of discomfort this can engender. During the pandemic I’m in the relatively privileged position of being able to stay safe in my comfortable suburban home while many people do not have this luxury, because they cannot work from home, they cannot afford to stay at home, etc. And I have the experience of trying to manage with very little money at various times in my life. As a woman of color, I’ve also experienced racism: direct & institutionalized. Research shows that people in positions of power in the workplace tend to hire people who look like them. Historically, in the West, these people have been White. This is one of the reasons why it took a while to secure employment at different times in my life. Research shows that White workers are more likely to have good jobs than their People of Color counterparts, even when they’re equally qualified.
Anecdotes do not provide a complete picture of the lived experiences of anyone-People of Color or White people- whereas extensive research highlights common disparities in a range of areas.
White privilege is not a denial of white poverty or other struggles, but more the conclusion of deep examinations into the cumulative barriers to racial equity when it comes to well-being, opportunity, wealth, security, etc.
Similar to the rise of men’s rights groups in response to the gains of the feminist movement (against male privilege), the backlash to charges of white privilege has morphed into White victimhood. It is this sentiment that authoritarian leaders around the globe have tapped into & dangerously stoked with fear and anger; it culminated in the attack on January 6 in our own country.
Having a blog that examines important issues is a brave undertaking because of the range of responses that will sometimes be elicited. I appreciate that here, we can express diverging views/opinions, while still acknowledging everything that unites us, that we all hold dear, together.
Thank you for the community you’ve created, Diane.
Sarita–what a thoughtful, measured, respectful response. Thank you for taking the time to so eloquently express your views and share your experiences. I am grateful that you are part of the community.
Sorry Diane. I’m not buying it.
I’m not a racist, and I’m not privileged because I’m white.
I know many white people who are struggling in life.
I know many people of color who are excelling in life.
Thanks, Denise, for sharing your perspective. I am so glad you did.
I’m not trying to sell anything or calling people the “R” word. There certainly are individuals of all colors who are struggling and others who are excelling. I’m just offering my view and asking white people to entertain the possibility that being born white gives one a certain leg up in our society that is not as readily available to people of color and that when white people don’t act to eliminate this longstanding advantage, they are, in effect, reinforcing it. I am not holding myself up as an example of”wokeness.” I have a lot to learn. I appreciate these conversations. They are not easy but necessary and I appreciate your taking part.
I concur with you Denise, the woke buzz word “white privilege” “Karen “ is insidious and further divides this country. In my humble opinion, since the horrific tragedy of George Floyd death the country endured 275 violent riots massive arson, looting, violence and murder. The rioting attack on the capital was a sad sight and totally wrong however not a insurrection by any serious definition. Now a month later and it’s still used as a political tool to bludgeon conservatives as white supremacists. It’s infuriating and manipulative, rhetoric will only forge a further divided America. Our nation’s capital has been turned into a political football locked up with huge gates & barbed wire! Our military used as pawns to create the illusion that your fellow Americans are insurrectionists worse than the terrorist organization that attacked on 9-11 the whole thing is being used as a cudgel. It was a riot, that shouldn’t have happened let’s not overreact. We can agree that racism does exist & fringe lunatics have always existed on both sides. I do agree with Diane on the agenda for personal responsibility however, that is for one to discern on a personal basis not a Twitter censor or consensus of political nature.
Thank you, Dorothy, for expressing your views. I appreciate that this feels like a safe space to do that–even when there is disagreement. I hope you keep reading–and commenting!
You’re welcome 🎼 I am woman hear me roar 😉
I hear you!!
This is such a necessary and powerful column, Diane. Thank you so much for writing it. Love you.
Thank you, Alison. Love you too.
Good column, Diane.
I’ve terminated a lot of white friends due to their indifference to racism. Many lived entire lives in the white suburbs, and I lived in the ghetto of my community, where racism and its repercussions were up close and personal and where I made friends with and campaigned with through the Rainbow Coalition, people of color. I also was a Big Sister for a young woman of color and became extremely aware of racially inclusive environments we needed to seek to keep her comfortable.
In fact because I grew up in Hawaii as a minority “haole,” I feel more comfortable generally around people of color than I do around white people. There seems to be more tolerance and quiet wisdom in people of color. I’ve been ostracized in white groups due to vague reasons, and believe that, though I look like other whites, they sense something different about me.
My only pregnancy, terminated in 1970, would have produced a bi-racial child. I never forgot and never wanted another pregnancy after that.
Have a background somewhat similar to that of Barack Obama in which I belong everywhere and nowhere, sort of rootless. African Americans and whites and Asians and Hispanics pick up on this, to my advantage and disadvantage, depending upon the group. It can be both lonely and rewarding.
Very good blog, requiring serious self-reflection.
Even though the USA has moved on from the Civil War, the Civil War still tragically lives within the USA, just like “You can take the woman out of the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of the woman!”
Thank you for sharing your experiences, Diana, and for your commitment to self-reflection and justice.
In the ’60s, I marched in the Civil Rights movement and later spent my career working in communities where I was the minority. In spite of that, I’ve had moments where I felt nervous passing a group of young black men hanging out on the street in a “bad” neighborhood or feeling frustrated and angry about things I observed while working in the ghetto. There are so many memes we subconsciously accept about the character of the “others” in our society. As both a woman and a Jew I, too have been the victim of such bigotry. Instead of judging, we should examine our own hearts to see whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution. Before we can heal the nation we must first heal ourselves, recognizing and acknowledging our own pre-programmed prejudices. Today I reflect on the behavior of white supremacists, both those rioting in the streets and those serving in our nation’s Capitol. Those in the streets fear a loss of status due to the increase in people of color in America, our once proud melting pot. Some elected officials, exhibit this same fear, loss of control. Those in positions of authority have every obligation to do their best for their constituents, instead, many are displaying racism, greed, and cynicism, ripping off both their government and fellow Americans thinking only of how much they can increase their personal wealth, lying, cheating, stealing, and bullying to maintain their corrupt positions. It agonizes me to see how far we have fallen as a nation. It’s time to right the wrongs in our system. Our very survival as a democracy depends on it. I pray our current president will be held fully accountable for his treasonous deeds and that our incoming president and Congress will do all they can to redeem the honor of this potentially great nation.
Thank you, Marjorie, for you honesty and thoughtful, impassioned comment. “Before we can heal the nation we must first heal ourselves, recognizing and acknowledging our own pre-programmed prejudices… I pray our current president will be held fully accountable for his treasonous deeds and that our incoming president and Congress will do all they can to redeem the honor of this potentially great nation.” May your prayers be heard!
“I should have used my privilege to stand up for what’s right. But I did nothing. Maybe there should have been a video uploaded on Twitter of me.”
Diane, your acceptance of personal accountability is so much more powerful than posting a meme that points a blaming finger outward. I feel a level of discomfort in your words that is undeniable. Truth. Thank you.
Let’s hear it for truth! Let’s speak it and live it and share it!
great read Diane! Thanks~ Love & miss you guys! xo~
Thank you, Lisa! Love and miss you too! XOXO
I join you in sadness and I pray with you for healing. Xoxo
I know you’re joining me. There’s power in our number too. XO