Like the invention of the atomic bomb that at one point threatened the very future of the world, Karens are among the most significant dangers to the Black community; actually, when accounting for noise and blast radius—they ARE the atomic bomb. For example, a Karen’s tactics can range from the seemingly innocuous (complimenting how articulate you are) to the flat out insidious (calling the police on a neighbor who has lived in the area longer than her, and then crying tears of anguish when things do not to go her way). The moniker may be new, but the threat against Black people is at least as old as America itself—and just as lethal as any form of gunfire.
In 1955, a 21-year-old white woman named Carolyn Bryant falsely accused a 14-year-old Emmet Till of flirtatiously whistling at her. Bryant, portraying the white damsel in distress, lied to her then-husband and brother-in-law, who felt the need to defend her honor by mutilating and killing Till. When an all-white jury found both men not guilty, it immortalized the white woman’s word as law. A few years later, Bernice Marcus accused two young Black boys—not even 10 years old—of rape when her daughter of the same age told her that she’d kissed them both on the cheek. The boys, James Thompson and David Simpson, were separated from their families, beaten, charged, and sentenced to reform school until the age of 21. Neither Bryant nor Marcus was the first white woman to make a false accusation against Black people, but they modernized the blueprint for future Karens to follow.
As the laws of the world changed, the sanctity of America’s white woman did not. Her blond armor of authority is the law because AMERICA has told her so. So when a Jennifer Schulte, alias BBQ Becky, demanded a permit—with no legal authority—from a group of minding-their-own-business Black folks at a cookout, she felt an entitled obligation to unleash an arsenal of white tears on a 911 call. Those same weaponized tear drops can be seen on the face of Amy Cooper who screamed as if her life was in danger when calling 911 because a Black man had the nerve to politely ask her to follow the Central Park rule of putting a leash on her dog. Neither Schulte nor Cooper’s teardrops were emotional responses from fear; they were a rally cry for the use of force.
Karens are non-ally white women who have weaponized their tears against Black folks for centuries. The threat of those same white tears is why every morning when there’s a white woman within distance, a black male jogger will run outside onto the street—nearly getting hit by passing vehicles—to maintain that distance. It’s the reason why a Black woman walking towards her own apartment will conspicuously hold the gate key visible in hopes that a Karen (who’s seen her multiple times before) won’t ask for ID. The confidence of a Karen comes from years of her dangerously racist actions being met with zero unaccountability or legal consequences.
Carolyn Bryant was a near-death senior citizen by the time she admitted her lie, while BBQ Becky and Amy Cooper both maintain that they did not mean any harm. These actions by the Karens of the world are neither tone-deaf nor careless; they are intentional evils against people of color. The nickname may be a viral video joke to white liberal America, but to the Black community, it’s a pleasant way to say terrorist.