Dear Karen:

I wanted you to know that I got your email. Yours, your husband’s, your brother’s and your best friend’s. All were vexed at my recent evocation of the meme that uses your name as shorthand for a certain type of white woman: rude, entitled and presuming to police African American lives.

“I am OFFENDED,” wrote Jim, whose Karen is the wife of his priest. “It is reprehensible,” wrote Robert, whose Karen is his daughter.

And an actual Karen asked, “How would you read it if ‘Leonard’ was used to mean pedophile?”

Karen, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it much. But I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t give it a lot of thought. After all, there are more important things to be upset about. Like, say, pedophiles.

I’d hardly be the first person — and neither are you — whose name was a synonym for something objectionable. Former Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney and the great comic actor Richard Wayne Van Dyke both go by a nickname that connotes the male sexual organ or a very unpleasant man. Singer John Legend and comedian John Oliver share a name the dictionary defines as a toilet or a man who patronizes a prostitute. And I’d imagine black boxer Thomas “Hitman” Hearns and black radio host Tom Joyner do not particularly enjoy being called out in public by their nieces and nephews.

Yet somehow, they all manage to live with it.

Predictably, Karen, one of your defenders suggested white people retaliate by adopting a “Black” name — he suggested Lakeisha — as a meme for things they find disagreeable in Black women. They’re welcome to try — it’s a free country — but I can guarantee it won’t work out well for them. That’s because of something I call the Goliath Principle after a quote from Wilt Chamberlain: “Everybody roots for David,” said Chamberlain, who stood 7 feet, 1 inch tall and weighed 250 pounds. “Nobody roots for Goliath.”

Karen, that’s not just sports, it’s life. The Goliath Principle is why we empathize with secretaries over supervisors and maids over millionaires, why a tiny woman decking a brawny man makes you laugh, but a brawny man decking a tiny woman is infuriating. Human nature dictates that we side with little over big, weak over strong, with those power is wielded upon over those who wield power. So the white person who attempted to meme “Lakeisha” would only reveal himself or herself as a thin-skinned bully who had missed the point entirely.

The point being power, and the lack thereof. A “Karen” does something a Lakeisha simply cannot. She weaponizes her race and gender to bully people of color in ways that are humiliating and sometimes even life-threatening.

Think of Amy Cooper, shrieking desperately to a police dispatcher as if the black bird-watcher Christian Cooper was killing her after he asked her to put her dog on a leash in compliance with Central Park rules.

I’m sorry, Karen, but I haven’t the luxury of prioritizing your pain above — or alongside or even slightly back of — the pain of thousands of Christian Coopers whose ability to live their lives unmolested is interdicted on a daily basis. Frankly, to have power and yet still want pity takes a bit of nerve.

For the record, I also have a Karen. She’s my cousin. I recently asked if she was offended at having her name used as a meme for women like Amy Cooper. She laughed. “Absolutely not,” she said. “I have such a thick skin that it just doesn’t bother me. It’s not me (they’re referring to).” Which strikes me as the right attitude. There’s nothing wrong with being Karen.

Just don’t be “a” Karen.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at lpittsmiamiherald.com.

Tribune Wire

Tags

Recommended for you

(7) comments

Pitbull

Why this newspaper continues to carry this racist's columns can only be explained by "white guilt". This column is a perfect example of his inflammatory style based on his own warped opinion of how the world works and what he knows he can get away with. This "Goliath" thing is a double edged sword. First, I would argue that the underdog position of the races has flipped. Also, not everyone roots for the underdog anyway. This kind of leftist blathering is fanning the flames of racism, which the leftist press will decry as a right wing cancer...until it all falls down. This is one column that needs to be cancelled. The column, not the guy.

KRobbins

the underdog position of the races has flipped. Also, not everyone roots for the underdog anyway.

White, Christian males are now the underdog? Sure.

No, Trump and his followers don’t root for the underdog because they’re bullies who are rooting for Goliath. That’s because they are Philistines in the truest sense of the word.

Pitbull

Yes, White Christian males are the underdog today. There are set asides for every group except White males. Now, pay attention at this time of year to the male/female balance of val/salutatorians. Way more female. Are there scholarships for white males? No. Are there scholarships specifically for black females, females in general, etc.? Yes. Clearly, White males are under attack as privileged. This is an absurdity.

Next, I am a Trump supporter. I attend a "crazy" evangelical church. I am not a bully. I accept everyone. I wonder if your comparison of Trump supporters to uncircumcised Phillistines would sit well with the UMC.

KRobbins

I wonder if your comparison of Trump supporters to uncircumcised Phillistines would sit well with the UMC.

I doubt they’d care very much. If they haven’t booted me yet. I’ll take it up with God.

Really tho? That came to mind for you? That Philistines were uncircumcised? I never even thought about that.

If you want to feel that white males are put upon and getting trampled upon in the world go for it.

KRobbins

You made me go look. Christians don’t have to be circumcised. Are you sure you’re not Jewish?

KRobbins

I was wrong. I shouldn’t have said all Trumpers are bullies and after Hillary made the same mistake with deplorables. I’m sorry.

Pitbull

Apology accepted. The reason circumcision came to mind is because, in the Old Testament, circumcision was an indicator of the Israelite's covenant with God. Jesus changed that and the New Testament refers to the "circumcision of the heart". No, I'm not Jewish, but the roots of Christianity are.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.