Online in the perfume community there are literally thousands of people who love to walk up to you virtually and say metaphorically, “Look! I have ten pencils! TEN! And they’re all more amazing than your pencils. Therefore, I’m more amazing than you.” *sigh* “If only you had more pencils. Better pencils. I’d respect you more. Be nicer to you.” …But then if you do indeed buy ten excellent pencils they just hate you even more. Or they try to find something wrong with your pencils… You could have the most amazing pencils in the world and they’d still be infinitely condescending about your pencils.
To make those people angry (because they’re obnoxious) I decided years ago to give them a taste of their own medicine and point out that based on the social structure (of most modern societies) they were using to badger and bully people (including myself) I was a higher rank than them regardless of pencils. But a Karen and her pals (of all sorts of people) can’t believe a family descended from Norwegian immigrants and who owned (and still own) Upper Midwestern farms can be old money even though Hitler himself claimed Scandinavians were the ultimate race. *laugh* Karen and her pals only use historical references (or references in general) when it suits them not based on actual context or history. They don’t know that much about their own country and its variety among other things.
So, when I shared about my family to be irritating the dozens of Karens and their pals focused instead on the part of my mother’s father’s family who were Lords in England hundreds of years ago and eventually lived in the American South. I’ve written about them fairly recently. …I had originally only briefly mentioned that family because everyone other than them were my actual focus but people (Karens) zeroed in on the English side instead and thought they were my “claim to old money”.
In people’s passive aggressive attacks that’s the old money they felt the need to attack. My English ancestry… But again, that’s the only kind of “old money” or “blue blood” the Karens and their pals know about or can even slightly understand. …And, of course, the pencil game came into play and they had to pretend they had a similar background, better background or that there was something wrong with me, my account of things or that however amazingly fascinating and impressive the family of English origin is and was that it doesn’t matter anyway. Backgrounds of old money (at least three generations of a certain social status and amount of genuine affluence that is often inherited) became “stupid” in their perspective if they couldn’t win that way. …But also, Karens live in Karenworld where only what they saw on 90210 when they were 17 really matters.
These are the “Karens” though. And Karen’s pals, of course. Notoriously, if you’re black and well-off the best they can do is make a mental comparison to the The Cosby Show. Although…the overwhelming scandal with Bill Cosby ruined that cultural reference now too I guess. So…they think of Beyoncé and Oprah? But it’s easier to diminish entertainers in general or focus on Oprah’s weight than it was to diminish Dr. Cosby. He almost broke through to them and actually helped bring change. He understood them. He could explain who people actually were and are in a way that worked.
But I don’t want to ruin it. Calling people Karen only works in terms of the Karen’s perspective if it has a sort of humorous cachet. It has to seem cool to them and if I discuss the concept of a “Karen” too much it’ll seem questionable to those Karens reading this. Not because people discredit families with an individual who received the same award as Liv Ullmann (that’s the most obvious “impressive thing” to point out to Karens about my Norwegian background but they often have no idea who Liv Ullmann is to begin with or fully understand what you’re trying to describe regardless) but because they don’t want to comprehend. And I think that’s mostly because don’t like who they are.
I tend to think racism goes hand in hand with issues of class. And oftentimes when we think of “issues of class” we think of people who are middle class and struggling… Or people who are actually poor. But I think it goes beyond that. I think people discarded honest conversations about class decades ago almost everywhere and that in my country our whole identity rests on lies about class. We’ve spread those lies along with our honorable good intentions and brave freedoms around the world. Of course, I should hasten to clarify that the genuine truth we were trying to spread (and did) was…good. Oftentimes faith and reason based. Intellectually and fundamentally sound and decent. But you can’t ignore or pretend the problems of reality don’t exist and then expect the problems to go away if you “try hard enough”. Americans have always tried to do that and it doesn’t work for race and it doesn’t work for class.
Karen knows a lot. She knows that she’s an aging white woman with old pop cultural references she often finds occasion to use. That she’s overweight herself despite calling Michelle Obama a cow. That her hairstyle is outdated. That she’s a bully who tells everyone to turn down their music if it scares her or makes her feel insecure. A liar. A hateful person in general. A truly angry person. But…what is she really supposed to do about it?! Life is harsh. Often life is unfair for everyone.
A Karen will never be the cute, platinum blond Stacy or impossibly cool, raven haired Jennifer she grew up with who were popular in her high school class in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. Stacy was a Jenny Garth lookalike. But those days are over.
She can “hate on” privileged (but hard working) Norwegians because that seems more justified and excusable given our gifts and race. Or she can call pretty women in general ugly. Younger people losers. But that’s not satisfying enough. That’s a dead end. No, what feels better to a Karen is to take out her frustrations on black folk. Not her dark skinned “pals” who she may or may not be actual friends with but the others… And I think part of that is that they embody the perceived death, change and parts of herself a Karen fears most.
Again, Karen can never be the cute cheerleader with long blond hair and blue eyes named Stacy who was popular in her high school. A total Jenny Garth lookalike. All the guys wanted her. All the girls wanted to be her. BUT a Karen is often more privileged than a black person. And Karen wants to be cool. She wants acceptance. From society… And mostly from herself.
Should we feel empathy for Karen? Yes. But they can be genuinely evil too (often arrogant about their ignorance) and so one has to be aware. Careful not to become a Karen. Careful not to believe their lies. Careful to take their anger seriously but not personally. It’s never about anyone but them, although it’s important to objectively and honestly process what they’re saying without ego as much as possible to avoid being like them. (Although not to an unsafe degree) Careful to find ways to not let them attack the vulnerable, or those who they perceive as vulnerable. Some “Stacys” are actually black…