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The Dangerous And Problematic Nature Of ‘Karens’

A while back, one of my coworkers made a joke about how some people perceived her as a Karen. And though she thought what she said was funny, as a young Black woman, I found her statement foolish, ignorant, and reckless. I would later learn that her “joke” proved to be true after she let herself into my classroom one day as I was teaching and sent an email to another department about her issue with where one of my students she’d previously worked with was seated. The student was seated exactly two seats away from the front row, but because the student wasn’t seated directly in the front row, this was a concern that she felt needed to be addressed in an email sent to another department above me instead speaking directly with me in the first place.

Nothing major happened as a result. But in true Karen fashion, she used her position to get what she wanted, and, per the directives from the email sent my way, the student’s seat was moved even closer to the front of the classroom. And while this incident was minor, it’s just one of many examples of the dangerous and problematic nature of women who are Karens.

They create climates of distrust and hostility in everyday workplaces.

They call the police on innocent Black people who haven’t committed a crime.

They harass and villainize others who have done nothing to them (often based on suspicions rooted in hate and prejudice).

They feel like they can say and do whatever they want, whenever they want.

And in some cases, they put the lives of innocent and sometimes unsuspecting groups in harm’s way when they insert themselves in situations that are none of their business.

And some could argue and agree that they are a growing, dangerous, and problematic force in this world, especially towards those of us who are Black.

Now as a young Black woman, I’m certainly no stranger to combating racism, prejudice, and blatant disrespect and hatred from non-minority groups who either don’t or would rather prefer not to work with, befriend, or acknowledge the presence of people who look like me. But whenever I’ve found myself dealing with a woman who’s a Karen (most often within the workplace), I’ve experienced a range of mixed emotions. Including but not limited to: Confusion. Fear. Anger. Sadness. And at times bafflement.

But as a Black woman, I’m fully aware that I must temper and manage these emotions, as I don’t have the privilege to express them as openly as non-Black women do sometimes. All the times my emotions have been invalidated and dismissed have been a warning to me to feel the feels in private and to toughen up in public, lest I risk being perceived as weak, or worse, an angry Black woman.

I’ve often wondered how someone could foolishly, unremorsefully, unapologetically, and boldly use their privilege, entitlement, and microaggressions to bully and weaponize others as if there’s nothing wrong with carrying on in those ways. Surely underneath all those things, there’s got to be a decent human being beneath the surface, right?

What’s most dangerous about women who are Karens is that many don’t seem to truly see themselves, think before they speak, or even care about their general behavior and actions. I’ve worked with some who have tried asserting their power by sending reckless emails about colleagues they didn’t like, others who insisted that the Black coworkers in the room weren’t as smart or as qualified to be in the positions they hold, and more who have walked into rooms and praised themselves for being perceived as “well off women who are sweet and innocent,” while making claims that their privilege didn’t land them in the rooms they’re in too. Even if and when there was never a mention of their “privilege” vocalized by others. And don’t even get me started on the ways many of them stereotype different marginalized groups. Some of what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced has been deeply unsettling and discouraging.

And beyond the danger these behaviors can bring, when left unchecked, there are the problems that present themselves as a result.

Lies, false accusations, destroyed reputations, miscommunications, burned bridges, and in some cases, death, are just a handful of the consequences Karens bring into play when they escalate situations that otherwise could have been minimized if they took a moment to pause and chill.

Do you always have to speak with a manager just because you didn’t get your way? Do you really think there’s a certain machine at the gym that belongs only to you that no one else can use? Is it absolutely necessary for you to call the police on a group of Black teenagers heading home to be with their families after playing basketball when they get home from school? And do you always have to be dismissive of your minority coworkers who just want to create and contribute as much as you are freely afforded to do without having your every move or decision questioned? And would it really hurt you to get to know someone whose race and culture differ from yours?

I imagine not.

So where do we go from here? More specifically, I often wonder where do I go from here?

Do I continue to try and extend the olive branch to the Karens of the world who see no issues with their behavior? Or do I shift my focus and try to help other women who look like me by doing what I can to make sure that they won’t have to deal with some of what I deal with regularly? Because those women deserve to walk into work and feel comfortable and at peace in their workplaces, and they deserve to be able to take a stroll in their neighborhood without wondering if the neighbor they pass by will speak back to them or not when they say, “hello,” and they deserve the right to be seen, heard, and respected in this world without being attacked for doing absolutely nothing or being disrespected and dismissed for merely existing in the skin they’re in.

I intend to lead by example and forge a path and create a climate that is safe, efficient, and effective for these women. Because I’m weary with a lot of what I’ve been seeing and experiencing. And it’s time for some changes.