And the rest of that statement would be…and that’s partly why it’s so easy to miss.

As a white person, I’m sometimes surprised to see how whiteness personifies itself in the world. And I know that a lot of white people struggle with the idea of privilege. I’ve written about that in other parts of this website. And when someone talks about “weaponizing whiteness” I think that can be particularly difficult to understand. But, this example really drove the point of privilege and weaponization home for me.

You may remember the woman in Central Park (NY), who was walking her dog and called the police on a black man who asked her to put the dog on a leash. This happened in May 2020.

As a point of clarification, she was in a part of the park where dogs are required to be on leashes.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can see some of the coverage from CBS News, or the LA Times. You can also search for the story on any search engine. It was well covered.

Central Park Karen

Asked to place her dog on a leash, the woman fabricates story about an African American man threatening her.

Now let’s pause for a second and put ourselves into her shoes. Let’s be honest; we’ve all had someone say something to us that we didn’t like. Or maybe they called us out for doing something we shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. Maybe we didn’t put a cart back at the grocery; maybe we did a crappy job parking at Target. When someone calls us out, it doesn’t feel good, and no one likes to be on the receiving end of that situation.

On top of that, maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she got into an argument with someone, maybe her dog just pooped on the living room carpet. We don’t know.

So getting back to our story and giving her all benefit of the doubt, the guy tells her to put her dog on a leash. Tells her to follow the rules. It’s what she did next that demonstrated her innate understanding of how the system would respond to her cries for help.

Instead of actually following the rules and putting the dog on a leash, she decides to call the police!

Now let’s pause again. If someone said something to you that you didn’t like, such as “Please return that cart back where it belongs” your first response probably wouldn’t be…”hey, I should call the cops.” Clearly, that was an overreaction on her part, but that’s what she did.

And while calling the police is a clear overreaction, it apparently wasn’t enough. When she was on the phone with 911 she says that “…there is an African American man and he is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” At another point in the call, she says, “there is an African American man threatening my life.”

“Threatening her life.” Why would someone think they could get away with making this statement if it wasn’t true?

So let’s pause again and let me ask you a question. What do you think the lady thought would happen when she told the 911 operator that an African American man was threatening her?

Here’s another question. How do you think 911 operators in your city would react if a woman said they were in a park and an African American man was threatening them?

She was wrong when she decided to pick up the phone and call 911 instead of just following the rules about leashing her dog. But here’s the deal, she became racist when she emphasized his race to the dispatcher, and she became threateningly racist (I’m not sure that is actually a term, but I’m using it anyway) when she decided to say that he was threatening her.

If you watch the video, all of her accusations turn out to be lies.

But she wasn’t being ignorant when she said those things. We can be honest about some of the things she knew (or she could accurately assume):

  • She knew that the 911 operator would most likely respond to her request
  • She knew that her story would most likely be believed
  • She knew that the burden of proof would be on him not her
  • She knew that at worst, her actions probably would not hurt her, but depending on the temperament, and training of the responding officers it could have gotten him killed. Remember, the responding officers are walking into the scene believing that someone’s life is being threatened.
  • She knew that she could get upset, cuss, and yell and it wouldn’t weaken her argument – but if he got upset, it would make him appear to be more of a threat

And let’s not forget…she was the person in the wrong this whole time. The catalyst to this event was that she didn’t have her dog on a leash.

When I think about white privilege, and when I hear about white people weaponizing their whiteness, this is a pretty clear demonstration of how that can happen. And the circumstances that allowed the “Central Park Karen” situation to occur aren’t unique to Central Park in New York. They exist everywhere.

If we are talking about dismantling a system, if we are talking about understanding the world around us, if we are talking about understanding racism, then we have to be honest about the factors that exist here that clearly benefitted her and clearly didn’t benefit him.

And those same factors consistently benefit white people and construct the world in which we live.

As always, I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Agree or disagree, respectful dialogue is always welcome.

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