What's behind crying spells and "Karen" yells going viral? experts explain (2023)

For anyone who's been paying the slightest attention to social media lately, it's been hard not to notice the growing deluge of "Karen" videos:furious,dramatic,white women sobbingbe calledrebuke,spit on, swearing or evenpoint guns at people, as in the now infamous images of the St. Louis (nicknamed "Ken and Karen') who used firearms to threaten peaceful protesters passing by his mansion. But what's really going on below the surface here? And what drives these women crazy?

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Yahoo Life consulted with some experts on what seems to be triggering Karen's meltdown and what seems to be going through her mind. Their responses were insightful, disturbing, and yet somehow hopeful.

First, what is a "Karen"?

"Karen" is a derogatory term often used to describe an eligible white woman who is just as likely to insist on seeing a manager for a minor infraction as calling the police to allow black people to go about their business. While Matt Schimkowitz ofknow your memecalledwell informed personWhile its exact origins are difficult to trace, he said the "most compelling" theory is that the archetype of aDane Cook Comedy Specialwhich aired in 2005.

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But according to the sociologist and professorJessie Daniels, author ofWhite Lies and Cyber ​​Racism,your next bookUndo White FemininityGiven the history of how white women contribute to systemic racism, its roots, while not specifically named, go back even further.

"A lot of people are reacting to this Karen meme like it's a new phenomenon, like there's a new emergence of white women behaving badly, and that's not the case," she told Yahoo Life. "It's a very related part of this larger story of how white women behaved in brutal and violent ways, going back to white women who were part of this country's slave-owning class."

(Video) The Origin Of The Karen Meme

In fact, long before Karen's popularization, the archetype already had names like "Miss Anna', an older slang term used to describe white women who were 'the wives, sisters, daughters and mothers of Deep South slaveholders' known to harbor 'virulent fear and resentment towards black people'. In recent years, these captured depictions of racism have inspired individual names for each woman, such as "Permit Patty" and "Gas Station Gail", often hashtagged "live be blackAnd that core element of racism is why some social media users have criticized the term "Karen" for downplaying what's really going on in these videos. As one Twitter user put it: "Calling them Karen instead of racists distracts attention from the fact that they allow and benefit from white supremacy."

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What triggers the failures?

Natasha Stovall, a self-proclaimed clinical psychologista twitterAs the "white lady" who "brings whiteness to the couch", she told Yahoo Life that the "level of hysteria" the women in these viral videos seem to experience shows that they are "highly triggered in a pretty extreme way". — some of which involve projecting this idea of ​​being attacked,” while others simply aggressively attack other people.

"I think what happens when someone reacts like that," he explains, "is they get defensive and show this feeling of themselves as if they're not a bad person or don't fit into the 'bad' category," which. according to her. says is what most people mean by "racist". By crying and screaming, he adds, "these people often try to frame themselves as positive contributors to society rather than someone who can be criticized."

Delving into these women's psyches, Stovall says much of the phenomenon can be traced back to her.cognitive dissonance, when a person's beliefs and behaviors disagree, leading to an internal conflict. She says the research surrounding the theory "underscores the idea that when people experience cognitive dissonance, they often try to reduce it, and there are many ways to reduce it, but one of the most important ways is to deny that there is any such thing. cognitive dissonance. dissonance at all." ".

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But, says Stovall, "just because they've experienced cognitive dissonance doesn't mean they're trying to resolve the dissonance." organize your thinking in such a way that you no longer notice dissonances." She says some of the most common ways to do this are to deny the existence of white privilege, downplay it, or try to contextualize it, such as pushing racial issues into class functions .

Stovall says, "What usually happens is that when people start to figure out why they don't like the idea of ​​white privilege or why they think it's invalid, which is usually a very emotional response, they end up digging deeper and asking themselves more about a hole." That, he adds, often means saying things like, "I don't think white privilege exists because it's not as bad as it used to be," "Things are better now," or "Why do we have to keep it up? You're talking about Is this?" he says, "is a cover for more dismissive attitudes toward the experiences of black and brown people."

What interests Stovall about the extremes of some of the meltdowns recorded on tape, he says, "is the extent to which people act in ways they never would with other subjects. At the same time, people try to hold on to this notion of who don't care as much, but it's incredibly uplifting for them. This kind of behavior is talked about a lot, more in public now than in private, but I think obviously it's also something that people have observed for centuries."

Since the satisfaction one gets from being right is often related to self-image, "the thought of being questioned or scrutinized is completely intolerable, so there's an aggression they're comfortable with." I can't stand it at all," she says. "Some really feel it.brancoIt's a kind of narcissism, in terms of the psychological mindset, and it makes sense because narcissists are all about projection and have an extremely fragile sense of self."

Stovall told Yahoo Life that he often sees similar behavior in his practice. "This dynamic of white people feeling very defensive when the issue of race and white privilege comes up is something I see a lot, and I've definitely seen it in my personal life as well", also admitting that "to some extent, indicating yourself has experienced it.

Stovall points to psychologist Janet Helmsracial identity development model,He explained that once 'color blindness' becomes a conscience, 'or do you start to accept the fact that 'this country is racist, you have privileges that don't feel right, and what are you doing about it?' dealing with cognitive dissonance by accepting that white people are superior or that everything is fine. The problem with these conversations is that sometimes people choose to back off and go back to being defensive. That's a real problem, as we've really shown over the last four years."

How did the Karens get away with their behavior for so long? Tradition.

Experts say many factors are at play, including a lack of accountability for white women who "behave badly" and other deeply held societal beliefs about the supposed innocence of white women. Widespread videos, Daniels told Yahoo Life, "are a way to accommodate white women," which she says rarely happens.

The depiction of the armed couple in St. Louis, for example, is "a lot like how white people are raised to believe in a certain kind of right," she says, adding that it's also "gendered," "there." behaviors of white men and there are behaviors of white women”.

To white women like Patricia McCloskey, who pulls a gun on them, she adds, "There's a way to maintain that notion of goodness or innocence... and they never have to face the consequences of their behavior." Some people are saying that McCloskey will face charges, and I'm deeply skeptical that there will be consequences for them, because there are rarely consequences for white women in society. Note that it was Twitter's hashtag in 2014#CrimingMientrasBlanco, which has been going on for years and takes thousands of whitespublicly confessseveral crimes they got away with.

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"This trope of the innocent white woman being attacked by a violent, superhuman black man is really central to American culture and history," says Daniels; narration, at least in the film, goes to D.W. Griffiths 1915birth of a nation, whichhas the privilegeto become the first film to be screened at the White House following its release. (Daniels writes the work ofgo b the wellfor being "the first to say this white woman thing is a myth" and for getting in Daniels' way).

But in real life, says Daniels, one of the most enduring examples of white women not being held accountable comes from the 1955 case of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy who was brutally murdered after being accused of harassing a target. Woman at her family's grocery store in Mississippi. Prosecutor Carolyn Bryant Donham was never held responsible for her connection to the lynching; While her original story was that Till molested her,since then retired. Historian Timothy Tyson's book was published in 2017O sangue de Emmett Tillrevealed that nearly 10 years ago, when he was 72 years old, Donham had confessed to him that he had lied about this detail when he was testifying. "That part is not true"she told him, and stated that he could not recall further details of the incident.

As Daniels told Yahoo Life, "There's this assumption about the innocence and innate goodness of white women who later become the epitome of the good mother that even women like Carolyn Bryant Donham cling to."

In a 2018 Huffington Post op-edDaniels wrote: “Bryant [Donham] is the forerunner of contemporary white women calling the police on black people.sitting at a starbucks,barbecue in a parkÖnapping in a room. These white women know that their allegations carry power, are easily believed and have little consequence for words that can and do cost lives."

She blames some corners of the feminist movement in part for promoting injustice. “In this way, white feminism expands to see white women as suchOnlyVictims and that kind of white feminism without any critical understanding of race is really part of the problem,” she says. "But those Karen moments are captured on video, and then people [in the media] have this horrible attitude like, 'Well, we shouldn't shame these women.'"

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What part does life play "in the world of men"?

Stovall describes an archetype of a white woman who can enjoy thisIdeabeing more intersectional, but has difficulty understanding himself "as someone who, despite his best intentions and work, still embodied certain white supremacist behaviors or attitudes". That blind spot, he says, is largely a function of a "man's world."

This results in a way in which “white women are socialized to meddle in everyone's affairs, to regulate everyone, to make sure everyone behaves, and to do so in the service of white supremacy and patriarchal service.

So while there's certainly something about race, or what they're called because of their own racism, "it triggers a psychological response that's really outside the realm of normal behavior," explains Stovall, "it's also possible that a Karen is someone ." And part of it, she says, "has to do with the burden that white women carry because they are good girls." it usually means pleasing everyone, so this notion that people are going to be mad at you and you're going to have to live with that. For women, especially the more perfectionistic and middle-class women, it's very counterintuitive, but it's probably much better for you than just being right.

They also play a role: social beliefs about who is most worthy of help

Daniels says that "the way we think about getting help in this society is really centered around white women and their needs." To illustrate, he points to the infamous case of Kitty Genovese, a white New York City woman, who was stabbed to death by a mentally ill black man outside her apartment building in 1964, and allegedly none of the many witnesses from the neighborhood tried to intervene. There was no 911 system at the time, and Daniels notes, “911 isthe system from which it came, in part the murder of Kitty Genovese".

The reason this story got so much attention, Daniels believes, “is because there was a white woman here who didn't get any help. So how can we create a complete telecommunications infrastructure to help the next white woman?" He connects this to today's "Karen moments" and says, "WhenAmy Coopershe's in Central Park and she's calling 911, she's not just calling the police about this lonely black man, she's accessing an entire system that was built for her. Not only is there no accountability for white women, but there is a particular way for white women to get all sorts of extra help in the system."

Can the Karens change?

In a word: yes.

While reporting their racist behavior can sometimes lead to aggression and defensiveness, Stovall says so-called Karens can also empower themselves to know better so they can do better in their turn.

Many whites, says Stovall, have a false sense of security that, thanks to the presidency of Barack Obama, racism is over. But with the rise of social media, public representations of racism have also increased, pushing people to the point where they can no longer ignore racism. "It's not that people didn't realize it by that point," he says, "it's just that many white people can live in such a way that they are completely isolated from any awareness or reminder that racism exists." in a way they don't like."

He also says that the bad behavior shown in these videos “and also these deeper cognitive attitudes and emotional responses are very learned. Just like white people learn racism, it can be unlearned, and these behaviors can be unlearned when you decide to stop”, says Stovall, likening even unlearning racism to substance abuse rehabilitation methods and called it "a lifetime of work."

Because while people can work on their reactions and behaviors right away, "it takes longer to unlearn deeper attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs," he says. “But as a white person you don't have to do everything at once. You can hear people of color around you and white people who have been doing this for a while to start the learning process.”

Read more about Yahoo Life:

  • Because of this, trans women of color are essential to both LGBTQ equality and the Black Lives Matter movements.

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  • LGBTQ Pride Month leaders unite in show of solidarity in support of George Floyd protests: 'Stonewall was a riot'

  • Businesses say black lives matter. The staff says it's just for show.

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