This one is for my fellow middle-aged white women.
There is a thing I have been thinking about a lot recently. If you are a white woman of a certain age, you have what I think of as Karen energy. You have it whether you want it or not. This is one of those things about privilege. You don’t get to decide you don’t want it, you only get to decide what to do with it.
What I mean by Karen energy is this. It is simply that if you complain loudly, you are more likely to be taken note of and paid attention to by the Authorities and the Powers That Be than many other demographics. That’s just one of those things that is true. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
So, with great power comes great responsibility, right?
I have been working on figuring out ways to subvert that Karen energy and use it for good. In short, what that means is using your loud white female voice to stand up for people who don’t have access to it, instead of using it to maintain your privilege (which is what the more traditional “Karen” does, yeah?)
Back when I was a single Mom on the benefit, I would occasionally have to go into WINZ for interviews, etc. I almost always got better treatment there than many of the other people who were there for the same reasons. Because I am a white woman, with a pretty accent who is good at words. There was a day when I had an appointment at a particular time. They were backed up (they always are), and time flowed past as we waited. Also waiting was a young, maybe 20-year-old, Pacifica woman with two very small children – a breastfeeding infant and a toddler who was gradually getting more bored and tired and therefore rowdy.
I went up to the counter and politely told them that I would have to leave at a particular time because I had another commitment, and they started hustling to make sure I got my appointment. I then added, “That woman has been here longer than me, with two small kids. I can come back relatively easily, but that’s probably not true for her. Could you maybe help her out, too?” And they did. I had seen her go up and try and get them to help several times and be sent back to her seat. When I (politely) threw my weight about it, however, she got helped.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is some bullshit that I get listened to when others don’t. However, if the world is going to insist on keeping that true, I am going to use that power to help the people who get ignored.
This also means loudly complaining when someone is being racist in public. This also means asking for the manager when a member of public is being an ass to a 19 year old barista and querying why on earth they let people talk to their staff that way? (This gives managers ammo, you see – “Excuse me, Sir, but we’ve had a complaint…”) It means getting up in the white suit’s face when he pushes in front of a young black woman in a queue (assuming you can do so safely – white women are still women, and there is still peril in that.). It means being the one to stand up in the workplace when your younger, less secure colleagues are being unfairly treated.
Karen energy, but subverted for good. White folks, we can’t deny our privilege. We can’t pretend it’s not there. But you’d better believe that we can use it to stand between the bigots and their victims. You’d better believe we can use it as a weapon against the system that gave it to us, unfairly. And, quite honestly, if you are a vaguely decent human being with a white skin, that is what you will do. It is our responsibility, in my opinion, to use our unfair advantages to level the playing field as much as we can.
So join me. If you’re a white woman of “Karen” age, help me subvert that energy and use it for good. Start using that voice that is listened to to say something of value. Start making a fuss about things that matter. Amplify the voices that need to be heard.