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I'm Gene Demby. I'm Shereen Marisol Marjie, and this is Code Switch from NPR.
Tonight, a woman from New York City who has seen on camera angrily confronting a black man in Central Park was hit with a criminal charge today that could send her to jail for up to a year as serious as RCR.
Remember, Amy Cooper from a few weeks ago was only a few weeks ago. How could we forget? If you're difficult. She was a white woman who called the police on black men in New York City Central Park. She said that black man was threatening her. He was not.
He was asking her to put a leash on her dog. And as we all should know by now, calling the cops on a black man can have serious, sometimes deadly consequences. Recognizing just how big a problem this can be. Shamoun Woolton, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, introduced a new ordinance that would fine people who called the police for help in situations like Amy Cooper's.
And just because we are, there should be some sort of. We saw and leading to the. It's called the Keran Act. Caution against racially exploitive non emergencies. It's Keryn with a C because they couldn't find the right word to sync with the K. You look you can't see Kosen with a K. And because politicians like rappers in the 90s love them smack. So it's official, Jeanne.
Amy Cooper is a Keran, right? You know, Karen, she wants to speak to your manager. She swears to you if you ask her to wear a mask in public, she tells you to go back to where you came from. She calls the police on you for just about anything.
Now you dial nine police on the eight year old little girl. You get illegally selling water without a permit.
Yeah, I'd like her report on the legality of using a charcoal trail. I need a description of the African American.
So as you might surmise, this week we took my parents in to do so. We're bringing on our very own Karen. Karen Grigsby Bates. Karen, explain your people.
Shereen. Hey, Jean. And let's be really clear. They are not my people. But as a Karen, but not that kind of Karen, I felt it was my civic duty to get us all some answers. Hashtag Nadol Karen.
So we know that Karen's our thing, obviously. But is there a Proteau, Karen?
Actually, there is. In fact, Karen's are part of a lineage of entitled white women going back a couple centuries in this country before Karen was Karen. There was a forerunner in the 90s, Becky.
Oh my God, Becky. Look at her. But it is so big. So she must be one of those rap guys, girlfriends, girlfriends, who obviously, for those of you who are very familiar with hip hop from the 90s, that was the beginning of Sir Mix.
A Lot's baby got back. Yep.
But long before, Becky, there was another category of woman and original Karen. And to lay out her history, I called in a little bit of help from someone who has deep knowledge of Karen and her ancestors.
My name's Meredith Clark. Tam Karen. I was really hoping her name was also Karen.
Yeah, that would've been too much. I'm an assistant professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Meredith says Karen is part of a continuum that before there were Karen's and Becky's, there was Mishan.
But all of those names go back to, as far as I can tell, Jim Crow era times and even earlier.
Right. But specifically in Jim Crow, black folks were not permitted to respond or to talk to white men and white women by their first names. They had to give them an honorific. And the same privilege was not afforded to black men and black women. And so you would often hear about black folks talking about white folks with this honorific and referring to the things that they experience with them. Like I remember my mother, whose mother was a domestic, talking about Miss and and Mr.
Charlie. So a white man and a white woman and using those to refer to these people without directly referring to them, kind of when black folks are talking about one thing but saying another.
Mesan was a kind of cheeky ingroup shorthand amongst black people. You might say something like, oh, you do not want a Christmas. And today she is in a mood. Yeah, it's like when you call any annoying white guy, Chad.
There you go. Meredith says the exact names might change over the decades, but there's a consistent line that runs from Mishan to Becky to Karen.
The thing that makes me say I miss Ann is that she recognizes her privilege and she uses it almost as a cudgel or weapon to keep certain folks in their place, to keep black people in particular in their, quote unquote place. And as we even saw with someone like Amy Cooper, Miss. And knows what her places in society today, and she uses it to her advantage.
So, I mean, a lot of our listeners are white women. And any time we talk about white women and the particular ways that they benefit from white supremacy, the ways they engage in white supremacy, we get e-mails. They point out that white men actually hold the levers of power and that they've been marginalized.
And it is a lot easier to beat up on women. You see that on the podcast a lot.
Right. And look, Kerans are a menace at the risk of sounding like I'm keeping for Kerans. We also have a lot more practice, just being dismissive of opinionated women in public spaces, period. To your point.
And I'm sure Meredith would agree with both of you. But she says people need to remember that racial hierarchies and gender hierarchies are all intersecting in different ways.
So in our household, a white woman might be, you know, second, maybe third, depending on what her family owned and what sort of property they had. So second or third in charge in her household. And one of the ways to reinforce that hierarchy was to remind people constantly and consistently exactly where she was and what her privilege was.
And a crucial part of upholding those systems is that when things aren't working the way she thinks they ought miss, and we'll call on a man to try to carry out her will. Whether it's a husband, a brother or a security guard, even a police officer.
So even if MS and doesn't have all the power, she definitely has the ear of the people who do people who have a lot of practice in protecting white womanhood, oftentimes with deadly violence.
Right. Like, think of Emmett Till or Claude New Cherine.
You reported on both of whom were lynched because of alleged transgressions against white women or the Central Park five case, which ignited anger all across the country. Safeguarding the virtue of white women has always been a central plank of white supremacy in the U.S..
Exactly. And while a lot of the basic characteristics of Miss Sands and Becky's and currents are the same, Meredith says some of the power dynamics have started to change, in large part because of how social media amplifies black conversations. Twitter, Facebook and so on, allowed Karen, like so much other black Parlette to spread quickly into the wider world.
Welcome to Black Devinney, the only Jabateh where I prize money is paid in installments.
You remember that Saturday Night Live skit called Black Jeopardy, right? Yes. It's one of the few funny things on SNL, in my humble opinion.
The Tom Hanks one specifically that Tom Hanks won was very good, very good encapsulation of recent class. Then quickly.
We're not talking about that one, though. This is the second black Jeopardy skit. So in it, Chadwick Boseman was playing his Black Panther character to challenge.
Oh, this is so exciting. All the way from Wauconda. I am a big fan of this program. And T'Challa is getting all his answers wrong, in jeopardy because the game is based on black American idioms, which he doesn't get at all because he's from Wauconda. But at the last minute, he's asked about someone named. Bringing her potato salad to his cookout.
Before I answer your questions, this woman, Karen, she is Caucasian.
Yes. Something tells me that I should say that it is only with a tiny bit of rigor. No. As you probably add something unnecessary. Like. I know.
Something tells me that I should say that. Oh, hell, noncandidate. Keep your brand down. What did the Senate take a look. Maybe it's because I'm Iranian and Puerto Rican and both sides of me puts raisins in currents and things, raisins and potato salad. Doesn't actually sound that bad. Don't add me. I'm just saying.
Or send her your recipes with the reasons and whatever. But anyway, Merideth says this moment and a few others like it is when the nation kind of got it, too.
And I think that's one of those moments that you had cross over from. You know, this is an internal joke among black people to, wow, this is something that can be consumed by pop culture.
So after that, to get and a few other social media incidents, everybody knew what it Karen was. The point of Mesan was for black people to have a way of talking about white women without their knowledge. But the point, Karen, is that you can publicly call those women out for their behavior.
So, Karen, of backing call the cops. And so given the name to that phenomenon gives people, black people, particularly some of the power back at least to ensure that there are some social consequences.
And, you know, that may or may not turn into legal ones. We know it did.
In the case of Mamie Cooper, which brings us to Karen as a slur, you may have seen that some British feminists want Karenni race because they say it's a sexist and classes slur. Sure. Whatever.
Yeah, murder is kind of like Eugene. She is not having any of that. To me, it just points to another unfortunate characteristic of Karen, and that is that she is only able to see the world from her world view. She doesn't think for a moment about what this might mean to another person.
And that right there is classic Karen behavior.
It is. But Shereen Meredith says there's still hope.
She says instead of white women getting defensive about being called parents, they could try to honestly examine their motives for their behavior. And if they find themselves tempted to do something, Kronish like calling the police on a little girl who's selling bottled water on a hot day, they should ask themselves, what is it that you are trying to accomplish? Is that something that can be accomplished by you simply walking away from the situation? Is it something that can be accomplished by you reconsidering what's actually happening and maybe seeing it from someone else's perspective?
Is it something that can be accomplished by you simply Minding Your Business?
Imagine that. When we come back, a look at what the next evolutionary step of the Keran might be. Stay with us.
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Gene Cherine, Karen Cotesworth. So could you be. Recently you talked with Kylie Reed from Philly, whose first novel, Such a Fun Age, just got a lot of love from critics and from readers everywhere.
It's a really smart book chain and it has a lot of racial politics in it, including multiple characters who might be described as characters. Some of them are classic Kerans and some are more next gen. Terrence Karens you wouldn't necessarily peg is Kerins at first glance.
Karen, you and I talked about such a fun age on an earlier Cote's which episodes. So everybody go check that out after you're done with this one. But in the meantime, can you give us a quick recap of what such a fun age is about? Well, it's about a young black woman named Mira Tucker. She's 25. She doesn't really know what she wants to do with her life yet.
And, you know, was kind of cooking the same crock pot meal four times a week. And she does know that she is very good at babysitting. So she's out with her girlfriends. They're having a great time. And her employer, Alex Chamberlain, calls her and says, please come and babysit for us. We've had a family emergency. Can you take our child to the grocery store? I will pay you double. I'm here as a bit broke.
So she says absolutely. She heads on over. She grabs Briar, who's three years old. They go to a grocery store. They're having a fun time. They're dancing in the aisles and they're looking at the nuts until a woman and a security guard, upon seeing a black woman with a white child accuse her of kidnapping. It's a familiar scene in that way where someone pulls out their cell phone. She is humiliated. And there is a lot of urging from the security guard and white woman that they are just here for safety.
They just want to make sure everything's okay. But they are not trusting this black woman at all. And she's just doing her job.
So a white woman at a fancy grocery store is doing this version of if you see something, say something. She sees a black woman with a white child and assumes she's being kidnapped. Yep. That sounds like your run of the mill, Karen.
Retail is probably like the natural habitat of the run of the mill. Karen, Karen is domestics.
Yep. But she's not the only one. A mirror is surrounded by people who think they know who Ameera is and what's best for her, like her employer.
Alex Kelly said Alex is a type of Karen that might be harder to pin down than your supermarket parents, because Alex has a lot of power and she has a lot of manners and she has a lot of composure in the way that she wields her her racism. And I think that she is a very familiar figure to a lot of black women between coworkers or or someone you do a carpool with who has all of the best intentions yet is shaping the world around her to what she thinks is best.
Oh, I know her that Karen works at and or listens to NPR.
Check the tote bag. I just got the T-shirt. Yep. The matching water bottle, too.
I think that's where it gets a bit insidious because I do truly think that Alex wants to be this girl's friend. I think that those emotions of truly loving someone and almost having a crush on someone can live very harmoniously with not seeing them as a real human with real desires and conflicting emotions.
And I almost think it's scarier that we can have all of those emotions together, a truly loving someone, and also being able to do such harm by not treating them like a human, the kind of person Alix's might be harder for us to recognize as a Karen, because, as she said, she does have a certain Polish and presents herself in a way that would indicate. She's not Karen yet. She is. And I can't help but think that that is a closer picture of what the quote unquote Karen is, rather than just a woman who's upset and having a fit and calling a manager.
It is someone who is an active part of a broken system. And even though they're not doing the violence, they are very much in charge of where it happens and how it happens.
And there are others in the book. Not all of them are women and not all of them are white. One is Alex's best friend who turns out to be a sort of wealthy black Karen. Another is the man she whines, updating after this dust up, who happens to be the person who was filming the incident in the grocery store, even though a mirror has told him she doesn't want to be filmed, he's white. And if you read the book, you notice that he also has a lot of KARREN like tendencies, like deciding to film a mirror because you might want it later.
He's making choices for her despite the fact that she's chosen something else for herself. Which brings us to one of Kylie's most important points, which is that the trend of Karen videos is complicated and can be distracting.
I'm conflicted because I think it's a great thing that this type of racism can be caught and called out at the same time. I think the way that people respond to these videos can present a few problems. The first thing is that these videos, it's this cartoon capturable racism. It's dramatic. It's someone saying the N-word. And it's very easy to say, I would never do that. Upset not me when it's impossible to record some of the more impactful forms of racism, like a doctor not believing a black woman when she says she's in pain or rejecting a housing application because of someone's last name.
You can't record that in those forms are often harder to address. And also can have really catastrophic effects.
And I think the second problem with that is it makes racism seem like this individual choice.
And I think for every Keran threatening someone's life, there's so many more black people receiving low quality to no higher health care. And so as much as Kiernan's are truly problematic. I do worry that the satisfaction that comes from canceling a Keran is a distraction from a bigger problem that can be with an Alex or Kelly.
In other words, the people who seem woak who say the right things but who are still deeply invested in the structures of racism. Colliss that might be the next face of Karran this book.
I can't believe I haven't read this book yet, especially after the last time we talked about it. No more excuses.
It's a really good book and I think you'll like it. And I think, Jean, you will too, if only because it's set in Philadelphia and you probably know all the landmarks, but you also know the racial politics of all of this stuff. And I have a question for you both. We've been talking Kerins for a bit now.
And I'm wondering on a personal level, who springs to mind real or fictional when I say Karen?
Do you guys have any favorite parents present company excluded? I have one. OK, Karen, you love to hate.
I guess that's all parents except for you. Karen, thank you. Who's your Karen?
So for me, it's dollars umbrage from the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter.
Study hard and you will be rewarded. Failed to do so. And the consequences may be severe. I believe she is the ultimate Karen. Well, some people might just say that. That's like J.K. Rowling.
Oh, Zain, snap for me is Reese Witherspoon playing opposite Kerry Washington in the Hulu series Little Fires Everywhere.
Reese's character, Alina, I think is very Karen. She's a tightly wound suburban mom. She's controlling very aware of the social hierarchies around her. She has a blazing argument at one point with Kerry Washington's character, Mia, when Aleena tells Mia she is not a good mother. She didn't make good choices for her child. And Mia goes off.
You didn't make good choices. You had good choices. Options that being rich and white and entitled gave you.
Again, that's the difference between you and me. I would never make this about race.
Oh, how many times have we heard that? That's Karen right there in a quote.
You can pick any race with this one, kind of like the last five years. And she's like nearly she's nearly McFerran. He was a big little lies, her character. And then Little Lies is like the apotheosis of Karen Doom. Anyway, thank you. Reese Witherspoon for your magnificent portrayal of the Karen in the Wild.
That is our show. This show was edited by Legionella and produced by Allison Joan Perry and the shout out to the rest of the Code Switch team.
Kumari Devarajan, Natalie Essabar. Just calm Steve Drummond and Ellie Johnson.
You can follow us on Twitter on GDI two and five SAGD to my father. Cherine is Radio Mirage. KJB is at Keryn Beats and we always want to hear from you.
Email us at Code Switch at NPR dot org. Save that venom for the Kerans, not for me, please. And subscribe to our newsletter by going to newsletter's dot NPR dot org slash code switch. If you want to hear Kyly talk more about the issues she raises in such a fun age, she and I will be doing that on IJI live on the Code Switch Instagram site this Wednesday at seven p.m. Eastern. Come with your questions. Meanwhile, I'm Gene Demby.
I'm Shereen Marisol Marjie.
And I'm Karen Grigsby Bates. But one more time for the people in the back.
Not that Karen be easier. P. C. What do you do when you have too many pickles in Alaska and not enough pancake syrup in New Jersey on the next episode of Planet Money Summer School? We send supply and demand to the rescue. It's economics, education you always wanted, but never got around to every Wednesday. Listen now to Planet Money from NPR.