By Kellie Schorr
DJ, gimme a beat… Strike a pose:
Now, Hold. That. Pose. For. Me.
This caricature of white, suburban, entitled people creating unpleasant (or dangerous) situations for everyone around them while they meet their own (often selfish) needs has become so commonly used in current culture it might was well be a pose in Ballroom, the birthplace of Voguing, where one moment, one image, tells an entire story.
Ballroom, the latest thing (that’s been going on in my community for literally fifty-plus years), is an underground movement created by Black and Latinx Queer visionaries that uses dance, competition, style, and language to communicate, empower, and slay the isolation and oppression around us. Ballroom occasionally rises to the surface in places such as Madonna’s Vogue video, films like the controversial Paris is Burning and the stunning 2016 documentary Kiki, the TV hit Pose and HBO’s Legendary. If you’ve ever “thrown shade,” “spilled the tea,” “slayed” or “left it all on the floor”—you’ve been secretly kissed by the world of Ballroom.
“Serving” means putting yourself out there with 100% effort, attitude and confidence. It means unapologetically living your truth and letting the world see it all. When it comes to the issue of “Karen” (which has evolved from a meme into the shadiest of white shade) it’s time for Buddhists to stop using the term and serve with Right Speech.
That’s a Chop
You’ve seen her. You’ve heard her. If you’ve ever worked in retail, you have been mightily abused by her. If you’re a teacher, you’ve been called to a conference with her. She’s taken up your time snarling at a manager over a coupon expiration date while bragging about being so busy. She reeks of privilege, judges your skin with her eyes, and uses sexist or racist stereotypes because they are so embedded in her vocabulary, she doesn’t realize it’s happening. If you’ve had to deal with her husband, he’s a Ken.
She’s the worst. Why shouldn’t we call her a “Karen”?
Because one of the foundational teachings of Buddhism is the Noble Eight-Fold Path, and the 3rd step on the path is called “Right Speech.” Right Speech doesn’t just mean don’t lie. It means be accurate, be real, build a bridge-not a mic drop, be clear, be there. It means understanding your words are tools and treasures, so you use them correctly and choose them wisely.
Calling someone a “Karen” is unfair (particularly to women who happened to be named Karen), and unhelpful. It’s the opposite of good language.
“Karen” hides the truth. You’ll never bring light or change to a behavior you’re not willing to be clear about. If I say, “She’s a Karen,” I haven’t told you anything, really. If I say, “She was being rude,” “She was only thinking about herself,” “She was acting out of a sense of entitlement,” then I’ve opened the conversation. Slapping a label on someone doesn’t teach them or anyone else what the real issue is with the behavior. It’s just a slur, easily batted away like a summer mosquito.
“Karen” misses the point. The problem isn’t her haircut, her minivan with the little stick family on the back, the “live, laugh, love” sign over the computer where she complains on Facebook, or even the bedazzled rose gold cellphone that never leaves her hand. The problem is the way her behavior creates hostility, feeds sexist tropes, and gives more fuel to racist, phobic, or harmful impulses. I don’t care what her charm bracelet looks like; I just want her to stop calling the police on black people who are simply living their life.
“Karen” trivializes the moment. There’s a difference between something that is socially annoying, and actually damaging to other humans. Saying, “Oh, Karen and Ken were out there waving guns at protestors” makes it seem like they are guilty of wearing socks and sandals together. Saying “because of their fear, this couple was actually brandishing weapons at passing protestors” helps identify what a tragic and dangerous situation it was, and why we need more dialogue about every aspect of our interbeing.
10’s Across the Board
So how do we serve Right Speech when we see a person involved in a wrong moment? Resist easy labels and try to put words to what we are seeing and feeling. The most important thing we can do are acts inspired by compassionate intent.
One of the things I notice in most of these situations is that we will go to our community of like-minded voices and talk, talk, talk, about the “Karen.” We never really talk to the person. Much of the rude attitude they exhibit comes from existing in an entitled bubble where their behavior or ideas are not challenged or seem to be the norm.
Instead of telling my friends, “This Karen was telling our attendant she needs to dress sexier if she is going to succeed, can you believe that crap?” it would help more to say to that person, “I feel like that’s unfair. It’s not a woman’s responsibility to visually please men.” You don’t have to create conflict, but there is usually a gentle way to be a voice of equanimity.
More than once I’ve stood in line while someone berates a cashier and then turns to me and says, “The service here sucks!” I will usually say gently, “I find treating people with respect makes everything easier.” It may help that person to reflect on the fact they are being rude, or it may not. My role isn’t to control how they take it. My commitment is to serve Right Speech.
Most people don’t wake up in the morning and decide to be an insufferable, snobbish, entitled horror in large sunglasses who abuses, marginalizes, and irritates the rest of us. Unraveling the internalized aggression and tangled mentality that causes the problem is going to take more than one dance.
However, when we stop seeing people as cartoon characters posed in front of us and respond to them with the compassionate clarity deserved by all, we are honoring the path, and offering them chance for a better outcome. We are serving it.
So, friends named Karen (and a few named Ken), hear me when I say, no shade. No shade.
Photo: Urban Dictionary
Editor: Dana Gornall
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