Saturday, July 11, 2020

Texas notes: Karen

    The latest report from Caren Jeskey, EGD's Austin Bureau Chief.

     "Marsha Marsha Marsha!" You may recall these three words yelled by Jan Brady when she felt that her taller, prettier older sister came out ahead and Jan, the middle child, was left in the shadows. 

      Today the Urban Dictionary defines this phrase as “a whiny dramatic response by someone who is jealous of another person.” 
     Enter Karen stage right, originally typecast in social media as a whiny, overbearing, entitled white lady behaving very badly by acting in an entitled, unreasonably controlling manner: “Get me the manager! My soup is lukewarm!” “I am NOT tipping you! You don’t deserve it even if you crawled to work today!” “Tsk tsk tsk! You are NOT in your place in line, now get back there.” 
     They don’t have an off-switch for their lack of ability to read a room and realize that the world does not revolve around them. Karens seem to take great pleasure in micromanaging the world to suit their version of how things should be. Karen has now morphed into the word used to describe anyone leaning on their privilege and calling the police on or falsely accusing non-white people of imagined bad behavior.
     For example, there is the intrusive white lady in the exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco threatening to call the police last week on a non-white man. James Juanillo was stenciling the words Black Lives Matter in chalk on his own property when Lisa Alexander and her husband Robert Larkins walked by and decided Mr. Juanillo was up to no-good. Not only did she assume he was creating an act of vandalism, she lied to him and said she knew the “true” owner of the property, even though he’d been the homeowner for nearly 20 years. This woman lost a big contract for her skin care line, and Mr. Larkins, the male Karen with her, lost his job at Raymond James according to several news reports.
     If this makes you uncomfortable it should. Non-white people are harassed constantly in the land of the free, and have been since their tenure on this land. I wrote a bit about it in my EGD post Searched a few weeks back. I'm thrilled that these incidents are now recorded for all to see, and can no longer be denied. 

     “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr Martin Luther King Jr

     I've been taught to call out racist behavior in real-time every time, and am starting to feel safer to do so. I wish I’d recorded these: a few years ago while working at a hospital in Texas a nurse told me that “black people need to get over slavery! That was 400 years ago,” when I provided an impoverished black man with a bus pass. As a hospital social worker it was my job to create safe and expedient discharges. That $2.50 bus pass may have saved the hospital thousands of dollars that would have been spent if this patient had no way to get home and had to spend another night or two. The nurse saw it as me enabling a black person to milk the system.
     A colleague once told me that he calls his pastor “Pastor Black, because he's from Africa. Get it?”
     A doctor in a rural hospital confronted me on an elevator where I was trapped with him and a high-level nurse: “oh look it’s Caren the socialist worker.” They laughed at me. “Hey dumb ass. Getting these patients you hate and disrespect out of here is my job. Would you rather cough up ten thousand dollars out of your inflated pocketbook to put them up another few nights in the hospital? Didn’t think so. How about thanking me for my diligent efforts to plan a safe discharge?” I said. Well OK, I did not say anything. The nurse, however, took it as a chance to jump into the harassment. “Caren you know what we should do with all of those [non-white non-English speaking homeless traumatized sometimes veterans of our great country] patients you help? Put them on an island somewhere so they can stop taking advantage of you. Then you can focus on [white] patients who deserve your time. “Thanks Karens, good talk,” I imagined myself saying as I pressed myself against the elevator doors, frantically pressing the button for the next possible stop and way out of this clown parade.
     I first started hearing people say “don’t be such a Karen” before Karen became the descriptor for the embodiment of white privilege she is today. Prior to a few weeks ago, the meme was simply unpleasant background noise. I’d cringe a little when someone asked me my name, since I knew what they might think when I said it. I live in a young town and many people I came across in my daily travels would stifle a laugh or even laugh aloud when they’d hear me admit I was, in fact, a real live Karen.
     In a moment of feeling sorry for myself, I posted on Facebook that some Karens out there feel bullied and teased by the use of the meme. Friends responded with acronyms for my name “Caring, Altruistic, Rad, Excellent, Neighborly,” and sentiments such as “you are the anti-Karen.” What I found more interesting was the friend who said “don’t take it personally,” and pointed out how effective this one word has become for naming very bad behavior and waking us up. I realized that by taking it personally I was closing my mind to learning about why it has taken such hold. The Karen meme is not going anywhere and will affect me for years to come. You can’t fight popular culture any more than you can fight city hall, so I decided to dig deeply into what being a Karen means, and why it’s important for us to take a look, and seek to understand.
     Thankfully I have never been a cop-calling against non-white people Karen, but I have been a let-me-talk-to-the-manager type. I am now seeing how tiring that is and I want to cut it out. I have so much to be grateful for and will be happier when I can let go of perfectionist tendencies and be more flexible— to enjoy life more and be a better member of a tough society rather than one who makes things more difficult.
     Here is where it got really exciting for me this week. A friend posted this on my Facebook page: The "CAREN Act" (Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies) was introduced on Tuesday at a San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting by Supervisor Shamann Walton. 
 This ordinance would make calls to 911 that are deemed to be discriminatory and racially biased illegal and the offender, if found guilty, would face fines, sensitivity training, and even possibly jail time. There is already a bill in California, AB-1550, that prohibits “Discriminatory Emergency Calls,” but the CAREN Act has been getting more attention this past week.
     The friend who pointed out this act suggested that "Carens with C should call the cops on Karens with K for calling the cops on non-white folks. I love it.” I love it too.


  1. Thanks - I've been looking forward to you addressing your namesake meme.

  2. As one of the multitudinous "johns" in my age cohort, I'm guessing that pejorative "Karen" won't last long.


  3. You write squarely, looking at the issue of the “Karen” and yourself straight in the eye. Thank you for sharing yourself and your writing! I learn so much.

  4. Brothers on the west side been calling all white guys Joe for some time. It took me a while to get hip to it being a minor pejorative . Pretty harmless in the grand scheme of things considering slurs overall.

    1. I've never heard that one, interesting. I wonder where it came from?

    2. Years ago (Eighties), I briefly was a scalper of bleacher tickets at Wrigley. After the game started, some punk kid confronted me and was enraged because he hadn't been able to find a seat. He began yelling: "Where's my seat, Izzy? Where's my seat, Moe?" I grabbed him, while saying:"I could easily kick your ass, but I really want to see this game."

      Years later, somebody called me a "Jewboy" and I went for his throat, even though he was younger than me, and a lot bigger. "Izzy" and "Moe" I could let slide. The J-word, not so much. Security grabbed me and roughed me up and threw me out, my only ejection from a ballgame, ever.

    3. Lord. Folks can be so mean and bullying! What a world.

  5. First encountered the Karen meme reading redit, the male counterpart being refereed to as a Kevin. Never heard anyone actually call someone a Karen.
    My Dad often worked double shifts, and Mom didn't like to drag around five kids on a bus trip. As the oldest starting at fourth grade, I had the job of going to downtown department stores and purchase items on sale. My parents were frugal which meant our cloths at times were somewhat worn. In addition to racism there used to be (still is?) whites who looked down on lower class people and take every opportunity to disrespect them. Dropped kids fare into the fare box, at times white bus drivers would demand adult fare from a scrawny little kid, or get of the bus. Clerks would follow you, then ignore you waiting at the register. Make a show of glaring at you snapping a twenty then holding it up to the light. Eventually noticed African American clerks treated me with respect. In high school it gave me a tendency to disdain the racist attitude of some of my peers. The epitaph I was most familiar with was being called an n-word lover.

    1. Sounds like you have been through the ringer yourself, and thus can empathize with other disenfranchised folks. Thank you for your comment.

  6. Caren, why did you ever move to Texas at all? It seems like such a mean, nasty, racist place. I've been there. It has a great deal of natural beauty, but I did not enjoy being among Texans very much.

    Back in the day, it was neither safe nor acceptable to call out racism, anywhere, but especially down there. Very uncool. As a low-ranking social worker, you'd have probably been reprimanded or fired for confronting hospital staff. Doctors and high-ranking nurses were once regarded as being just below God. You didn't challenge them in any way, or you were toast. A lot like our Dear Orange Leader, and his cult.

    But in 2020, it's far less risky to challenge racists and their inexcusable and boorish behavior. Would speaking out now, in similar situations, still cost you dearly? Or are even doctors and nurses no longer immune? More importantly, would you do it? I hope so. They deserved a good chewing-out.

    It must be tough to be a Karen these days. Or even a Caren. It used to be tough being a Barbie. I knew one, years ago, long before women kept their own names. She rejected her boyfriend's proposal because she didn't want to become Barbie Dahl. Even though she was short and dark-haired and overweight and looked nothing at all like know.

    Names carry such power. They always have...and they probably always will.

    1. Oh that poor Barbie Dahl. She could have kept her last name like Elisabet Ney did! (I speak of her in an earlier post).

      Good question. I moved to Texas to be close to my sister and nephew. I am glad I did for many reasons- mostly the landscape you mentioned but a few other reasons too. I agree, I've met many folks down here who I can relate to at all. On that elevator I did say a thing or two but it fell on deaf ears. My boss was a very mean person who did not listen to any of her staff when we tried to stand up for ourselves and liked to remind us, as we were abused and harassed, that the doctors and nurses were our customers. I did call the Mr. Black person out, and the nurse who yelled about slavery being over? My push back caused her to become hysterical and scream at me. I'd have spent time I did not have trying to dig deeper with these people, they'd come out of the woodwork when they saw me coming. Sometimes I was hated upon sight as soon as they realized I was not "from here."

    2. Wow...calling you a "socialist worker" and thinking a free bus pass for a black man enables him to "milk the system." Texans certainly have no love for "Yankees"...

      As for Barbie, she stayed single and kept her long Polish maiden name. Maybe she just didn't want to keep on hearing: "Really? You don't look at all like a Barbie doll." That would get old pretty fast. We hung out for a while, and had a few laughs, but she had substance abuse problems.

      Years later, I bumped into her at a restaurant. She had gotten clean and sober, found another boyfriend, and seemed to be quite happy.

    3. Ah, corrections: I've met many folks down here who I can't relate to. Also, not sure what I meant to say about the woodwork, but think it was that they'd gang up on me if they could, since the gossip around town was that the Yankee social worker was on her high horse again.

    4. I’m so glad to hear some good news tonight & hope Barbie has stayed well. I’ll just pretend she has.

  7. Great to be reading this blog Karen. I'll browse alot more.
    Hugs Robert K (


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