The Violent Politics Behind Karenism

Gun Karen & Central Park Karen. See my note below about the use of the term “Karen”

One of the most common forms of racism in our country is what’s called the short leash.

The short leash has to do with policing perceived faults of women or minorities, and it’s what you see in those viral videos of Karens calling the cops on black Americans for the heinous crimes of bird-watching or sitting on their own front porch.

The idea behind the short leash is essentially this: a member of a minority can be tolerated and ignored if they shut up and know their place. However, the moment a minority gets involved in any form of conflict, that underrepresented group gets the harshest treatment imaginable, regardless of whether they’re at fault.

The short leash is what a double standard looks like in the moment. It’s also what happens when you see people point to the potential criminal record of black Americans like George Floyd or Eric Garner to justify their murder. As if the correct punishment for selling cigarettes is that you’re allowed to get choked to death in broad daylight.

Karens use their level of privilege as a shield for their worst behavior, screaming for the social permission to harm others.

Here is the Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins pointing to the hypocrisy of a women who refused to wear a mask in a Trader Joe’s. Notice the special treatment that’s being asking for here. She doesn’t just want to not wear a mask, she wants everyone else to do the work of keeping people safe, so that she doesn’t have to.

District Attorney Rachael Rollins on a Karen in Trade Joe’s

But despite what social media might suggest, Karenism doesn’t just embody a semi-comedic, semi-annoying form of entitlement: there is deep strain of violence that comes with Karenism too.

Underneath each unwarranted 911 call is a threat. If you do not behave, live, or breathe how I want you to, I will call upon my (white) government to commit violence against you.

It’s the idea that this government and its policing force belong to white people and operate for the comfort of white people. And that black Americans need to learn their place or else they’ll be punished.

Side point: calling people “Karen” is not some sort of slur. It’s actually doing them the service of not repeatedly using their full name, which may permanently ruin their reputation.

As our country becomes more committed to racial equality, it naturally becomes harder and harder to get away with acts of blatant racism. But that doesn’t mean that racism goes away. The racism just transforms and changes into something latent. What we’re looking at with Karenism are acts of racism that at times may seem subtle. But when examined closely, they have the same oppressive force as “colored only” signs or burnt crosses.

Of course, this picture becomes even further complicated when we realize that white female Karens are, in fact, women. White women of wealth are privileged in America, certainly, but they don’t enjoy the same benefits, the same long leash to do whatever they want when compared to their male counterparts.

The Central Park Karen who called the cops on a black bird watcher lost her job for her actions. Yet I know of a different Central Park white man who did something similar. He didn’t just call the cops, but he called for the execution of five black and brown men who were falsely accused of murdering a woman.

This man suffered no consequences, social or legal, for continuing to use his privilege, resources, and ties to the government to ask for their deaths.

And today, this man happens to run the country.

Hi there. I write about public policy, politics, the presidency, and culture.

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