Karen, Becky... and Kathy.
As a mental health professional, I spent a great deal of time in the month of July honoring BIPoC/Minority Mental Health Awareness month. I evaluated the work I've been doing, how I am choosing to show up in the community and in the field, and perhaps most importantly I engaged in intentionally increasing my own self-care. This self-care included a few things, but one key thing - intensely connecting with other black women in dialogue where we love, see, hear, and honor one another. If you follow any contemporary social media pages, you may have seen increasingly more discourse about the need to honor, listen to, and follow black women. We have a unique presence and were divinely created to love, nurture, and to heal. We do this for others, as well as ourselves.
In spending more time with one of my sister-frienships on daily early-morning walks, we have engaged in rich, soulful dialogue about our respective professional experiences. We process our trauma from academia, experiences of toxic whiteness, childhood memories of education and socializing, and experiences of what another dear friend and colleague referred to as the 'second wave white feminists.' Our dialogues are often emotional, unapologetically loud, raw, and full of laughter. We take notes from each other, honor each other, lift each other up, and hold each other accountable. Most recently, we talk more about our professional roles and their adjustments to a Covid-19 world. The demand for black professionals in our respective careers has greatly increased since dealing with the 1619-Pandemic. From one of our many work/professional-related conversations, birthed the notion of a 'Kathy.'
In recent times we have seen the internet come up with names that embody a certain type of white woman in this current season. We have the most recent example of a 'Karen,' in Amy Cooper who called the police on Christian Cooper, a black man, who simply asked her to respect the outdoor space they were in by leashing her dog. We have also seen the original internet meme of the white woman in Oakland, CA who called the police on a black family that was grilling at Lake Merritt. We all know or have experienced a Karen who unnecessarily stuck her nose in black business with intentions to correct behavior, monitor, or cause harm based on her perceived notions of threat, founded in racism. We know of Becky from pop music in connection to white women and fetishes of black men and sexual interactions. So, who is Kathy, you ask? I will gladly tell you.
Kathy is the white liberal woman who is openly verbal about her support of Black Lives Matter or doing diversity training for her job. She is the professional, often with several degrees and even holds positions of leadership in jobs or the community. Kathy openly shares the donations she made to bail bond relief funds or about the playdate she set up for her child with their black friend. Kathy openly condemns '45' and his followers and shares her constant worry and stress about the future of this country. Kathy has read 'White Fragility' by Robin DiAngelo and believes she has greater understanding of race and identifies as an ally. Kathy thinks that she truly 'gets it,' and feels good about entering spaces of diversity work and dialogue.
What Kathy doesn't realize is that she has barely scratched the surface in her work. Kathy doesn't understand how she projects her anxiety onto her black colleagues in meetings by trying to anticipate what to say instead of truly listening. Picture it. A black professional speaks up in a meeting about their history/position/experiences of race, perhaps even gifting the audience with some of their trauma narrative. Kathy, meanwhile, is on the edge of her virtual seat, anxiously waiting to take herself off of mute, to jump in and offer how she connects to that black person through her own history of trauma or some benign emotional connectivity that in reality serves as a micro-aggression to her black colleague. She makes statements that are not helpful in the moment and are centered around her unease, unresolved discomfort and guilt, or her own experiences of being discriminated against for being female. After she finishes what she has to say, almost in one breath, you can see her relax, filled with pride after she offers her sentiments so boldly in the diverse space to her black colleague. After all, she gets it, right?
What Kathy doesn't realize is that she just micro-aggressed the hell out of her black colleague. She doesn't realize that all of the other black people on the call are internally cringing, rolling their eyes, or sending "here she go," texts to one another. Kathy is the epitome of the white liberal, second wave of feminists. They do a little bit of work to learn and read new information, but perpetuate instances of racism by neutralizing or completely gaslighting conversations. They inappropriately insert themselves into the plight with an anxious confidence, instead of affirming, asking more questions, or silently reflecting. Their anxiety drives them to project their lack of knowledge and insight in other areas onto their black peers, appearing in forms of doubting their abilities, demonstrating shock at their success, or providing unsolicited help or feedback at awkward moments, which they often aren't even qualified to offer. Kathy doesn't realize that she has self-appointed herself at a higher competency level (ultimately, ego level) in this work than is actually realistic or appropriate. As a result, black people continue to pay the cost.
This ultimately is a call to white women to explore and update the history of their feminism. Black women have never fit in the original context of the feminist movement, hence explicitly black feminist movement, or womanism being coined to honor the presence of the intersectionality of gender and race as very present realities for black women. It is time for white women, to include women who are white-presenting to own and embrace their privilege rather than reject it. Finding comfort in your authentic self, authentic truth, and redirecting your anger and awkward emotions at your white, violent, colonizing ancestors, will then create a more collaborative healing possibility for us all.