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Deconstructing Karen: anti-Blackness and allyship

During his Howard University commencement speech to graduates this spring, President Biden said, “White supremacy is the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today.”


True.


But there’s more to it than the physical violence from groups like the Klu Klux Klan, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and January 6 insurrectionists. The most dangerous contributor to the perpetuation of white supremacy may very well be white women.


The documentary, “Deconstructing Karen” profiles Race2Dinner, an organization led by Regina Jackson, a Black woman, and Saira Rao, an Indian Muslim. They host dinner “parties” where they force their white female guests to have radically honest conversations about racism, anti-Blackness, and the patriarchy.


The hosts are up front with their guests from the start; racism is bad for everyone, including white women. The goal is to make these self-identified liberal women think critically about racism and their role in it, then send them back to their families and communities where they can do their part to help end white supremacy.


That’s a lot to expect from a conversation over dinner.

To ensure that the women in attendance understood that they are not the only ones that perpetuate anti-Black beliefs, Rao acknowledged that as an Indian woman, she is an anti-Black racist. It was ingrained in her upbringing, but she’s doing her part to change that. She tells the women that we cannot change what we don’t acknowledge.


Even white passing women of color, white women from interracial households, married partners from a different race, or those raising Black or brown children don’t get a free pass at this dinner.


“Having brown or Black children does not make you impervious to racism,” Jackson said. “Dating or marrying a Black or brown man doesn’t either. You cannot f**k your way out of racism.”


It’s a fascinating documentary and well worth your time if you’re also a white woman trying to unpack your own role in white supremacy and internalized anti-Black beliefs.


White women—myself included—can’t be allies to the Black community unless we’ve addressed our own anti-Black beliefs and acknowledge the way we benefit from white supremacy and patriarchy.If it is truly our intent to be an ally in the work towards the liberation, then we have to take a deep look at ourselves, the role we play, and ways we benefit from anti-Blackness.


Liberal white women can be incredibly dangerous. We pretend to love and care for the marginalized people in our lives, but we do things to ensure they are unsafe and remain so. We vote in droves for people who are explicit in their wish to harm them, we threaten them with violence and sometimes kill them, we ban books about their lives from schools and public libraries, and more. We center ourselves in their spaces and believe we are better than. We refuse to see ourselves as part of the problem and fantasize about solving everything by loving the world back to “health.” White women feel a desperate need to be “nice” over and above anything else. Nice doesn’t accomplish anything. In fact, nice is just a cover for rage and a desperate need for control.

White women also have a long history of making anti-Black and demonizing accusations that have led to the deaths of so many.


The Tulsa Massacre, with deaths of over 300 Black men, women, and children, was initiated by the screaming of a white woman riding in an elevator with a Black man. The first white woman senator, a liberal white woman and suffragette, Rebecca Latimer Felton called for the lynching of thousands of Black men if it meant protecting white women and she was seen as an icon and hero of women’s rights. And more recently, a white woman shot her Black neighbor through her front door, killing her in front of her children.


It's no wonder that our anti-racism as liberal white women can’t be trusted.


I’ll admit, I’ve had my moments of disappointment and hurt when someone made comments that sound like they don’t trust me. As a white woman living in a predominantly Black city, with mostly Black co-workers, I’ve struggled with not getting invited to hang out during smaller private staff get togethers, or feeling snubbed when the person I’m dating doesn’t invite me to dinner with their family or friends.


But I was making that all about me.


Very few spaces exist in our society that allow Black people to bring their whole selves into a place without being policed by white people. When I took a step back, I realized it’s not right for me to expect inclusion when that might be one of the few times folks might have to be completely free to be themselves. I understand why I’m not invited and when I am, I’m grateful that they feel safe enough to include me.

The spaces where I should spend my time, are white spaces. It’s there that I am most needed. White supremacy will only end if those of us who benefit from systemic racism actively work to dismantle it at every opportunity presented; dinner tables, golf courses, Facebook posts, and any other place a white friend, family member, or co-worker who holds anti-Black or racist beliefs might feel comfortable enough to share with me. It's there that I can push back and do what’s necessary without looking for a pat on the back from marginalized people or other white people who believe they aren’t racists because they don’t attend Klan meetings.

But I can’t do any of that unless I uncover and address my own anti-Black racism—because some of it is so deep it’s not always apparent and can pop up at any time—and decenter myself and my feelings about how things are done.


Anti-Blackness is taught to everyone, and unless we are open to unpacking it and realizing how it shows up in our lives it will continue to manifest in ways that do harm.


You can’t be anti-Black and be an ally.

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