It’s become the nom de ridicule to identify the generic white woman of privilege. Basically, calling someone “Karen” is to say that they are a demanding, arrogant, self-absorbed, and oblivious white woman who is not afraid to use her white privilege to gain what she wants.
Let’s take the situation in NYC’s Central Park, where a woman was walking her dog off leash in an area where she was not supposed to. A black man asks her to put the dog on leash, and she not only refuses, but she gets so angry that she calls the police and claims he is assaulting her.
It’s very clear, she was not following reasonable rules and she’s definitely in the wrong. Had she simply recognized that fact and complied with the rules, we would not know her name and she would still have a job. So, why not follow a simple request to follow a simple rule? Would this situation have unfolded differently if the man asking her to leash her dog were white? One can only speculate, but my hunch is that she would have either complied, or at least not called the police while refusing. But, because society has placed a higher value on her word as a white woman, she believes that calling the police and making a false claim will work and she can get her way.
This is white privilege.
A closer examination of this interaction reveals that white privilege has allowed her to not relate to the world in a fully developed and mature way. Humans go through several different stages of mental and emotional development during their lives. Hopefully, by the time one has reached adulthood, one has learned to be part of a group and accept that one’s wants and desires may not always be fulfilled. Living in a city with shared spaces means that one has to adhere to various rules in order that all may share in them equally. Her desire to let her dog run unleashed conflicts with the rules for that shared space. By exercising white privilege to have her desire met (to let her dog run unleashed), she has acted like a toddler who gets told no.
She has reduced herself with this false feeling of security, control, and power. Elevating her wants above rules that apply to everyone is to actually take her far below a developed and mature adult. This is infantilization by white privilege. When you have the ability to force your will not matter what, you never have to acknowledge other people or consider what they may need or want. Or, in other words, white privilege has allowed her to act like a spoiled, petulant child.
Like a toddler who’s only focus is on themself, she feels she is able to ignore what was a completely reasonable request and essentially throw a temper tantrum to have things her way. White privilege has allowed her to not behave as an adult, not respect those around her, and to be bad member of society.
So – what is she actually giving up by giving up her white privilege? She gives up the undeserved feeling of superiority but not much else. Granted, the concept of self is very powerful and is one of our most important mental health aspects. But a self that is built on lies is not a healthy self and is actually weak. What she gets without the ‘security’ of white privilege is a healthier and more adult relationship with fellow humans.