Karens and Boomers and Bros, Oh My!

Karens and Boomers and Bros! Oh My!

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Pictured: Good intentions. (Copyright 2016 Cynthia Lawing Salvia)

If you’ve read my other stuff you might be wondering why someone who was amused/angry at being called a “wine mom” might be writing this piece. Well, I’m actually not all that bent out of shape about that one mad white guy calling me that because he was trying to imply that everything else about me is worthless and we both know he wouldn’t have called me the thing if that were true. Really, the only annoyance I have about the “wine mom” term is that no one’s giving me wine. I have no wine. I mean, my name’s Ariadne, I am mythologicaly required to like wine. Yet … I don’t drink it more than about once a month. So that’s a shame. Very disappointed.

Anyways, so there’s certain things you don’t say if you want to keep your job and have your relatives talk to you. These include but are not necessarily limited to the n-word and the c-word. And yes, this includes if you’re doing a rap song at a karaoke joint. Guys, the ONLY excuse you ever have for dropping the n-word while not being black is if you are actually Japanese, speak no English, and have learned the song phonetically. And even in that case it’s probably best to expect some shouting of 許さない. Just don’t do it.

And I know what you’re thinking, “but some people just are unreasonable and that’s the only way I can get their attention!” Okay, but here: look down at your hands. What color are they? If they’re any shade between olive and pink don’t use the n-word. Just don’t. And, because you looked at your hands, you have the added bonus of knowing you’re not dreaming. If you’re white you just don’t know what people of color go through. You have not been submitted to their daily obstacle course or dealt with actual racism. No, you haven’t. And don’t even try me with claims of “reverse racism.” Racism is institutional ergo, if you are white you have never personally encountered racism. You may have witnessed racism, but you’ve never been subject to it. So do not presume to lecture people of color and do not use the n-word.

Same story basically goes for the c-word although probably to a lesser degree. Brits use the c-word all the time which — I’m not a fan, but it’s easily countered by me aping their accent. They hate that. It’s awesome. And for the record, my British accent is a right cockmongle. Honestly don’t know if that’s an actual word.

Now … let’s get into calling people Karens and Boomers and Bernie Bros.

Get over it. I’m sorrynotsorry, but these terms just aren’t that bad. It’s possible that it’s a “wine mom,” situation and some guy’s just mad that he can’t boink you, but these are not — contrary to the think pieces going around at the moment — ‘tantamount to the n-word,’ or “mired in misogyny.”

I do need to make a bit of a disclaimer here. Anytime you see a white woman doing something racist and awful you can be sure there’s a white guy being ten times worse, benefiting from her bad behavior, not being held responsible for his own bad behavior, and possibly even simultaneously directing and critisizing hers. So, it is weird that there’s no derogatory terms specifically for white men, but on the other hand it’s also super not weird because: white supremacy. White women are the foot soldiers of white supremacy, but as bad as white women can be white men are always worse.

The reason in general that terms like “Karen” are not actually so derogatory as the n-word and the c-word is that calling someone a Karen, Boomer, or Bernie Bro is just calling them on their white privilege. That’s it.

The n-word in particular though is dehumanizing and violent. African-Americans remember were bought and sold like cattle. They had to hide any ability to read if they had it because it was illegal for them to know how to read. Their children could be stolen from them, they could be forced into marriages against their will, their marriages could be broken against their will, and all of this was routinely “justified” by warped philosophy and bad science. And that didn’t just all go away with the emancipation proclamation. There continue to be lynchings to this day. And even if there weren’t, the effects of racism are so extreme that it messes up people’s health for generations.

So, no, “Karen,” “Boomer,” and “Bernie Bro,” are not the new n-word. These are people who are buying INTO white supremacy to protect their white privilege, not people who have been consistently and historically oppressed.

Again, these have become sort of derogatory terms and oy do I feel sorry for anyone whose given name is actually Karen, but they exist because white supremacy and patriarchy are out of control. I have a bit of a problem with the term “Boomer,” because I’ve seen that one applied to super liberal older people regardless of their actual generation and culpability in what I’m going to start calling the Generational Wars, but it’s still really not that bad.

And “Boomer” has already sort of backfired. Not to give away the game, but I’m a millennial. I know, I know, y’all want me to be considerably older or younger than I am but I really can’t help when I was born. I get erased quite a bit because I am an *actual* liberal and a white person who really wants to see white supremacy taken down first and foremost. So my opinions along with my age do tend to make me an outlier. But this is why I do actually care about people making butts of themselves.

While Bernie Sanders was in the race but losing hardcore — which I know doesn’t really narrow it down but never mind — one of his supporters released a dumb video of her … dancing? I think that’s what she was going for. I mean, she was white, so it’s kind of difficult to tell sometimes. (I personally put out an advisory when I decide to dance. People should know.) Anyways, she was wearing a BS campaign shirt and the “lyrics” of the “song” were “okay, boomer, whatever you say, boomer.” It’s possible she actually put it out during the Iowa caucus, but since I only saw it in March it was one of those things where it’s super funny but you also feel really bad for the person being filmed. I didn’t like that she was assuming my complicity and looking like a complete idiot, but the fact that her candidate was losing so spectacularly made the entire clip the equivalent of if she were a guy inviting people to kick him right in the crotch and then being surprised when it happened and also hurt.

The issue for a lot of people is they sort of assume complicity from the entirety of their demographic and just trust me on this, you can never break down a demographic enough to make it prescriptive of results and also maintain a reasonable size to it. There’s ALWAYS going to be variation for which you cannot account. Assuming, all people who are young are going to go for Bernie Sanders is wrong and a little insulting. Assuming all people who are older are against climate change policies and conservation is clearly wrong. And assuming that the manager’s going to be white and also fine with you using the teller or waiter as a punching bag is also clearly wrong.

So yeah, there are problematic aspects with these terms, but used correctly they’re supposed to call out in particular white privilege. They will be used stupidly at some point or another because … okay yeah we need to get into this.

I hate IQ tests, but the concept of the bell curve as a metric for the range of intelligence in a population is useful for this illustration. You should note before I get into this that intelligence is NOT static. You can get dumber, but you can also get smarter. Intelligence is also not indicative of your worth. It may contribute to what you can or cannot do but again, you can build skills and your abilities are not determinate of your worth as a person. But anyways, if an average intelligence is by default 100 then you’ll have fewer and fewer people the higher the scores get, but also fewer and fewer people the lower the scores get. This means that someone with an IQ of 98 is not really all that different from someone with an IQ of 102, and there’s going to be just tons of people with IQs around this area. Now, yeah there are other ways of getting an average of 100 but that’s why I specified that we’re talking about a bell curve here.

My point is that for 100 to be the average intelligence you have to have an equal number of people above and below that score at regular intervals so your chances of running into a very dumb or a very smart person are — statistically speaking — roughly even. You may have heard the saying that “80% of drivers believe they’re above average.” Same goes for intelligence. And I’m going to reiterate again, intelligence is not static. So these terms are not always going to be used correctly or intelligently. Dumb people will start using them and even the smartest of people do really stupid things. I had to rescue a guy from a river because he was trying to impress a girl who wasn’t ever going to go for him, my friends had to unpin a guy in a masters or doctorate program who tried to impress girls by lifting way above what he could do at the end of his workout, and my father once had to tell a nuclear engineer that the reason his computer wasn’t working was because he hadn’t plugged it in. (The guy’s name was Richard apparently and my father’s actual words were, “plug it in, Dick.”)

Smart people can be dumb. We’re not all going to negotiate our way out of white supremacy with the grace and skill of Tolkien wood elves. Although, that would explain my archery skillz.

The other thing is that white supremacy is really good at flipping the script. The minute we as a society decide a thing is bad white supremacy is ON IT. A really great example of this is cat-calling. Basically, before suffrage whistling at a lady — and we’re generally talking white women here but *sigh* moving on — was completely taboo. You could get arrested for it. But the second the women’s liberation movement started taking off, cat-calling stopped being a criminally menacing thing and was just a silly little practice that women should be flattered by.

We saw a similar thing happen with the MeToo movement. Powerful men tried to push back against it immediately because to them, recognizing the humanity of women, especially women of color is inherently threatening to their performance of power. But then, when they realized that this is happening, they fell back on the trick of trying to control rape accusations and which cases do and don’t get believed. This is a pretty old technique but it’s why people are calling Joe Biden of all people a sexual predator. He’s obviously not, but if you’re a white supremacist trying to control the narrative, yelling, “believe women,” into the faces of women of color is actually surprisingly effective.

So while derogatory terms like Karen and Boomer and Bernie Bro are meant to call out white privilege … white supremacists gonna white supremacist. They will be misused from time to time.

Not every use of these terms is appropriate or warranted and with the Karen one … I have indeed noted a few “burn the witch,” memes. But it’s not an inherently sexist term.

The big deal here is the term’s relationship to racial bias and power. The n-word and to a degree the c-word are both dehumanizing and have a long history of deadly violence. They’re not about how someone is behaving; they’re about that person not being an actual person ever. They’re basically a really vicious and violent way of saying “I am zee writer, I outrank you!!” Karen, Boomer, and Bernie Bro though are generally about how a person is acting. Some terms and conditions apply. These don’t have a violent history and regardless of what the Bernie Bros tell you they were the ones throwing the chairs in Nevada. Bernie Bros have inflicted a lot of violence and they’ll tell you they were just fighting back, but it’s like when an abusive husband kills his wife and says it was in self-defense. So yeah, these are just privileged people playing off of their whiteness and it’s perfectly fine to call them on it.

This may change in the future, but for now these terms are largely used to call out white privilege. And that’s fine. There needs to be an outlet for talking about white privilege so saying these terms are defamatory in all cases to the level of the n-word just isn’t right. It silences real criticism of white supremacy and fosters actual divisiveness. It’s not the end of the world to be called a Karen. It just means you screwed up. I know that’s weird to a lot of white people, but you CAN survive criticism. Stop with this preformative fragility. Just stop.

Doctor of Palaeopathology, rage-prone optimist, stealth berserker, opera enthusiast, and insatiable consumer of academic journals.

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