How the Karen Meme Confronts History of White Womanhood | Time

“One of the things that has worked throughout American history is finding a way to project whiteness in need of defense or protection,” says Dr. André Brock, associate professor of Black digital culture at Georgia Tech whose research is leading the conversation on the impact of Black Twitter. “For men, it’s a fight; for women, it’s calling men to help on their behalf or demonstrating that they are so frail that they cannot handle the weight.”

…In a larger sense, the mainstreaming of calling out the danger that white women and their tears pose has been building up to this moment. There’s the oft-cited stat that 52% of white women voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Meanwhile, the constant lies of white women like Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders in service of the Trump Administration have made it abundantly clear that white women can and are often complicit in oppressive systems. Coupled with the rise of social media and the smartphone camera, the longtime narrative of white women as helpless victims in need of protection is now being challenged by video evidence of them as instigators of not only conflict, but violence.

…The historical narrative of white women’s victimhood goes back to myths that were constructed during the era of American slavery. Black slaves were posited as sexual threats to the white women, the wives of slave owners; in reality, slave masters were the ones raping their slaves. This ideology, however, perpetuated the idea that white women, who represented the good and the moral in American society, needed to be protected by white men at all costs, thus justifying racial violence towards Black men or anyone that posed a threat to their power.

…“White women are positioned as the virtue of society because they hold that position as the mother, as the keepers of virtuosity, all these ideologies that we associate with white motherhood and white women in particular, their certain role in society gives them power and when you couple that with this racist history, where white women are afraid of black men and black men are hypersexualized and seen as dangerous, then that’s really a volatile combination.”

Williams says the exposure is challenging this position. “That’s part of what people aren’t seeing is that white women do have this power and they’re exercising that power when they call or threaten to call the police.”

…“The fact that Amy Cooper is saying, ‘I’m going to call the police and tell them that a African-American man is threatening my life’ is a very racially violent statement and a racially violent act, especially if you look at it in a larger, broader historical context, and think about the way that Emmett Till’s accuser [Carolyn Bryant] did the same exact thing and it resulted in his death.”

How the Karen Meme Confronts History of White Womanhood | Time

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