As usual, Cathy Young makes the case that the viral “Karen” videos are often seized upon to prove something they don’t; that the entitled “Karens” are racist when because, in brief clips devoid of context, it’s a white woman against a person of color, and that’s quite enough to make Karen a racist.
A Twitter video clip that has been retweeted over 85,000 times shows a woman cowering, whimpering and shrieking in terror while a man taunts and berates her, apparently for cutting him off in traffic and flipping him the bird. And the man, who filmed the video and put it online, is meant to be the good guy.
This Karen cut me off, break checked some almost causing a accident flipped me off and called me out of my name. She didn’t know I had time today. #karenareyouokay #karen #blacktwitter pic.twitter.com/sQsKpLcE6D
— Karlos Dillard (@wypipo_h8) June 23, 2020
It’s an awful video in every respect, but one respect is that the guy who posted it was a grifter.
This repugnant incident highlights a few important things. First, that caught-on-camera episodes of alleged racism can be used for purposes of grift. Second, that the prospect of becoming the “star” of a viral racist video is genuinely terrifying. Leah’s hysterical reaction may have been over the top, but there is no doubt she could see herself becoming the next Amy Cooper, newly jobless and socially ruined.
This isn’t to say some “Karen” videos don’t present exactly what they purport to present, but that not all do, nor do all others like the Covington High School Maga Hat video. But people leap to the conclusions favoring the moment’s preferred victim and, more importantly, demand that sentence of social death be imposed immediately. As Cathy points out, it may not be deserved.
But what is happening as a result of the popularity of the Karen Videos, atop the current fashion trend to make everything black and white rather than shades of gray, is that people feel empowered to push their position well beyond its own breaking point. Is it “acceptable” for a white woman to stand behind the SUV of a black woman to prevent her from leaving because she demanded an apology and was dissatisfied with the degree of obsequiousness she received? Seems like a pretty good Karen setup.*
But what if the races were reversed? What role does the sex of the person involved play? Does this matter?
It’s not a new trick, but it’s one I try to play. Change the race. Change the gender. Change the politics. Does the outcome change with it? If the Karen were black and the victim white, would people still be outraged? If so, then race or gender is the distinguishing factor, and accordingly, the outcome isn’t so much dependent on conduct but on race or gender. Guess what that makes it?
Bad conduct is bad, but it’s not bad because of the race of the actor. If it is, then the problem isn’t the conduct but the racialized or gendered perspective. No one is any less dead when killed by a black person than a white person, a woman than a man. If the conduct, in light of all the facts, is wrong, then it should be condemned as wrong, not because of the race or gender of the perpetrator but because the person engaged in bad conduct toward another.
And one more unpleasant reminder: Before the “bad actor” is punished to social excommunication, they should be presumed innocent and given their trial, their due process. No matter what their race or gender, they deserve the chance to defend themselves before we impose social sentence. Even on Karen.
*When the video first hit the twitters, it started with the white woman pulling her gun on the black woman. When the full video emerged, it turned out that after some argument, the white couple was trying to leave when the black mother stood behind their car to block them from leaving and pounded on the back of the SUV. It may not justify pulling the gun, but changed the context of the interaction.