Ken and Karen are White Supremacists

Though memes are humorous, Karens and Kens of the world express a dangerous, audacious kind of White supremacy

Apryl Williams
Jul 1, 2020 · 4 min read
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Ken (Mark McCloskey) and Karen (Patricia McCloskey) were supposedly in fear for their lives when they pointed a handgun and a rifle at peaceful protestors passing their home in St. Louis:

“I was terrified that we’d be murdered within seconds, our house would be burned down, our pets would be killed”.

This Ken and Karen are the most recent in a long line of White supremacist actors who have been memeified on Twitter. Their behavior is not new or different. It is violent, just as every other Karen and Ken have been. Sure, the visual representation (pointing guns at passersby) is shocking (to White people) but Black people have seen this behavior before. Amy Cooper (Central Park Karen), Jennifer Schulte (BBQ Becky), and Alison Ettel (Permit Patty) were all violent in the same way: they threaten to enact violence against Black people with relative impunity.

The threat of violence is a consistent and persistent thread throughout each of these incidents. The step between calling in violence, to be perpetrated by police, and actually committing violent acts yourself is a small one if the end result is the same. In fact, in many states, being a co-conspirator of a violent act will get you charged with the same penalties as the one who committed the crime. In this case, the crime is White supremacy.

McCloskey and McCloskey are the logical next step to these threats of imminent violence. While all threats of violence are just that, a threat, the McCloskeys demonstrate a transition from a reliance on the police state to threaten violence to relying on one’s own White supremacy to threaten violence. This type of blatant, unveiled White supremacy is alarming because they appear to be unafraid to be filmed or have their names revealed to media as opposed to the hooded White supremacists of yesteryear. It is not a big logical leap to imagine the McCloskeys following in the footsteps of Gregory and Travis McMichael, the father-son duo who have been charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery in a lethal display of White supremacy.

Put simply, White supremacy is the idea that White people are superior to others. White supremacists believe that White superiority is the natural social order and work to uphold it. With each incident, it becomes clearer that White supremacist actors recognize the logical outcome of their threats of violence. Amy Cooper (Central Park Karen) can be heard saying “I’m taking a picture and calling the cops…I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life”. If the police were to respond to such a call, given the current state of racialized policing in the U.S., it is quite possible that Christian Cooper may no longer be with us. Amy Cooper calling the police to potentially enact violence against a Black man is evidentiary of a centuries-old implicit social understanding about Whiteness.

Whiteness dictates norms and rules about who is allowed in what spaces, who is allowed to surveil whom, and who is allowed to call out whom. Karens and Kens have traditionally reserved the right to dictate what is normative and ensure that individuals follow the rules of a White supremacist society. Now that they are aware of a shift in power, an inability to maintain the current social order that privileges White comfort frightens them — enough to go out barefooted and guns blazin’. Remember, the Central Park Karen incident began because Christian Cooper called Amy out on violating a leash law. Karens don’t like being called out and Amy Cooper reacted to being told she was in the wrong by using an implicit threat of police violence to try to maintain her White supremacy and control over the situation.

White people need to understand that these displays of casual racism and threats of violence are perceived as actual violence for Black people. Given the history of our society, built on slavery (a violent and abhorrent system) with a period of unchecked and widespread lynching, followed by a period of incredibly violent policing and criminal justice systems, along with a moment in which lynching is once again on the rise, Black people have no choice but to learn that threats of violence equate to violent ends at the hands of White supremacists. Though the associated memes are humorous, Karens and Kens of the world express a dangerous, audacious kind of White supremacy and if you are not actively working toward being anti-racist, you are dangerous too.