I am afraid to speak up. I am a first generation immigrant, a racialized woman, with English not as my first language, and with an ancient fear passed down through generations before me of those who dared to speak up and were prosecuted for speaking up. My family left their country of origin, partially out of this fear. This fear lives within my veins.
And I have an enormous desire to talk. I was very talkative as a child and was encouraged to speak.
These two parts often clash with each other. The desire to keep my head down and the desire to speak up for what I think is the truth, often rage a battle inside me. So I come to the page carrying these two parts allowing both to rest on the page.
What am I afraid to write about?
I am afraid to write about conflict!
Isn’t that interesting? A person who is fascinated by conflictual stories, the person who believes that she has tools to help people with conflict is herself afraid of raising her voice, because she is afraid of the conflict that may arise out of her words.
And here is something I have wanted to write about for close to a year and been afraid to voice:
I don’t like the name “Karen” being used as a description of the privilege of white women. In fact I actually hate it.
This term has become so pervasive that it is almost impossible to read a news story about a white woman wielding their privilege without them being called a “Karen”. “Central Park Karen” , “Soho Karen”, “Courtside Karen”, are all used to talk about something very important that must be discussed, which is the privilege that whiteness and the proximity to whiteness carries.
To be clear, I am not excusing any of these women’s behaviours. There are no excuses and in every one of these cases one can point to the way white privilege rears its ugly head through this fundamental belief, a belief that exists in the body of the perpetrator, that ‘no matter what I do, not only I am safe from authority, prosecution, and judgment but I have the right to do as I do without any regards for the feelings of the other human being involved’. Involved in all those actions is a fundamental dehumanization of the other person.
I also I understand that calling someone a “Karen” comes out of a place of immense pain and grief. The pain and grief over how some white women wield their privilege to keep some members of our society, often black and brown men, disenfranchised. I understand the desire to use a word, to speak in a way, which encapsulates all that hurt and sadness that has been perpetuated over centuries.
Yet, calling a woman a “Karen” not only reduces the person to a single entity but it also reduces a very important conversation to a simple shame-inducing jeer.
The conversation is about intersections.
And here is the thing about the intersection of whiteness and patriarchy: although I do believe that some of these folks do want to keep other community members disenfranchised, the majority of these women whom are on the receiving end of patriarchal oppression themselves are attempting to reach up and out of the constraints of patriarchy. Calling someone a name reduces all the facets of their identity and all the myriad of ways that they experience oppression. I think calling someone a “Karen” is nothing short of a sexist and a misogynistic way of referring to a woman, which highlights their white privilege and their lack of understanding of it, but with the same single brush stroke, takes away all patriarchal oppression that the woman faces. The term “Karen” carries with it what appears to be a lack of consideration that all women have to deal with the patriarchal rules of order and their lives are dominated by such realities. It invibilizes the roles of men who perpetuate violence, often much more severely and brutally, both at an individual level and at the community level through legislation and policies. It erases the power of patriarchy, just like talking about race without class simplifies colonialism and slavery. The simplification of such conversations is painful to witness.
Someone is called a name and is asked to “do better”.
“Do better” is another one that I have problems with, as if the person who is being told to “do better” knows how to do things in a better way. All my life and professional experiences have taught me that if people knew how to unstuck themselves, how to get past a particular situation, how to “do better”, they would have done it. The fact is people don’t actually know how to do better, and although that has something to do with our formal education, it is not just about education either. I am an educator myself, and not a bad one if I may say so, and if only through lectures, statistics, myth-busting, analysis, and critical thinking I could undo the decades of learning that my students were taught, I would have solved many of these problems at least with my 30 students each year. It doesn’t happen like that. Something that is learned and acquired over decades, and passed down through generations before, will require decades if not centuries to undo.
This undoing starts by talking. I want to have a conversation rather than its dismissal, which comes inevitably through name-calling.