KarenKarenKaren: The Mothers of White Supremacy

Racism and white supremacy are often presented as masculine expressions. The public face of the ideology in most recent times is the Proud Boys. In the past, it was the Klansman. These presentations often erase the complicity of white women in maintaining the system of white supremacy. However, the rise of the “Karens” has reminded the American populace that racism is not a gendered phenomenon, and white women have always been co-conspirators. From slavery to the present time, white women have been the mothers, wives, and daughters of white supremacy.

Karen, the slave owner

In her book, They Were Her Property, historian Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers details the significant role white women played in the ownership of enslaved Africans. In the antebellum south, white women could not vote or hold office, but they could own slaves. Jones-Roger argues that white women often inherited enslaved Africans. “Not only did white women often refuse to cede ownership of their slaves to their husbands, they employed management techniques that were as effective and brutal as those used by slave-owning men. White women actively participated in the slave market, profited from it, and used it for economic and social empowerment”. There is no doubt that white women were both economically and psychologically invested in the institution of slavery. Jones-Rogers argues that their parents trained white women to be slave owners, issue out punishment, and manage slaves. In an interview with Vox, Jones-Rogers states, “not only do they inherit enslaved people, but they also go into slave markets. They buy enslaved people. They’ll hire them out and they’ll collect their wages. Then they use those wages to buy more slaves. They open businesses, and they employ those enslaved people in their businesses, those businesses make a profit, they use those profits to buy more slaves. So they are investing in the institution of slavery in the same ways as white men are”.

Karen, the daughter of the Confederacy

After the Civil War, white women were also active participants in the maintenance of white supremacy. The United Daughters of the Confederacy was the de facto woman’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan. They actively promoted the Lost Cause Myth, which stated that the Confederacy was not fighting to maintain slavery. The Lost Cause Myth is the forerunner to the “states rights” argument often touted by the right-wingers in the Confederacy’s defense.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy took being the mothers of white supremacy to heart. In New Orleans, they published a children’s book entitled “Ku Klux Klan or the Invisible Empire”. The author, Mrs. S. E. F. Rose, wrote “during the Reconstruction period, sturdy white men of the South, against all odds, maintained white supremacy and secured Caucasian civilization when its very foundations were threatened within and without”. In her book, Dixie Daughters, historian Helen Cox argues the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s biggest goal was to indoctrinate children. In an interview with Salon, Cox states “they had a multi-pronged approach to doing that. It involved going into schools and putting up battle flags and portraits of generals. It meant getting schools renamed for famous Confederates. It was creating the Children of the Confederacy, which was their formal youth auxiliary so that the UDC could draw membership from the group when they became adults.”

Yet, the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s most incredible legacy is the hundreds of Confederate monuments that dot the country. The organization is responsible for raising the money needed to erect these monuments and currently fight their removal through aggressive litigation. In 2016, the United Daughters of the Confederacy won a judgment for $1.6 million after suing Vanderbilt University when the school attempted to rename Confederate Memorial Hall. They are also involved in lawsuits in Texas, North Carolina, and Louisiana.

Karen, the Proud Girl & Insurrectionist

On January 6, 2021, thousands of Donald Trump supporters gathered for the “Save America” rally. By the end of the day, hundreds of people had taken seize of the United States Capitol building, vandalizing and damaging the seat of the country’s democracy. Five people died, countless more injured, and the United States left in shame. In attendance were Proud Boys, “patriots”, and MAGA men. While much of the blame lies with Donald Trump and his circle of sycophants, the event’s true organizers were a group of white women who call themselves “Women for America First”. Amy Kremer, founder of Women for America First and Women for Trump, is best known for supporting racist David McKalip. This doctor, McKalip, sent out a racist post of President Obama as a witch doctor and leaked text from Kremer showed her full support of the racist trope.

The support of white women for Donald Trump should come as no surprise. In the 2016 presidential election, 47–52% of white women voted for a presidential candidate that wanted to grab them by their…. In the 2020 election, Trump’s support from white women increased. In the Georgia gubernatorial election between male pro-life candidate Brian Kemp and female pro-choice candidate Stacey Abrams, in what some would call race trumping gender, 75% of white women supported Kemp.

And then there are the “calling Karens”. These are the white women who pop up in the news every week, attempting to weaponize the criminal justice system to protect their privilege. They are known for calling the police on black people (and other people of color) for bird watching, having a barbecue, sleeping in a dorm, or just entering their own homes. They are the modern-day Carolyn Bryant. Just as Bryant used her white femininity to have Emitt Till killed, Karens use their white feminity to have black people (and other people of color) arrested and possibly killed.

It is time we recognize the significant role that white women play in the continuation of the system of white supremacy.

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