On Our Aunt Karens: The Family Business of Whiteness and Shareholder Dissatisfaction

“She did something every child has done—she tried to put the evidence of her offense away from her. But in this case she was no child hiding stolen contraband: she struck out at her victim—of necessity she must put him away from her—he must be removed from her presence, from this world. She must destroy the evidence of her offense. What was the evidence of her offense? Tom Robinson, a human being.”

— Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird”


White shame is the most combustible substance in America. And what happened in the Ramble is proof that for a black man to interact with us in any way that presupposes basic equivalence is for them to be thumbing the wheel spark of a lighter.

Consider that a black man’s freest day in America is nonetheless one spent in the menacing company of that shame, a thing which—if God forbid he should excite it—seeks only to completely efface the source of its ignition.

We are post- nothing. As a society, the tendency is now demonstrably only toward further immiscibility, and that is and has always been exclusively a white-driven phenomenon. At least in our lifetime the most we can hope for is that we move closer to being post-delusional about the fact that racism in America is not here to stay, and that to the extent that we don’t want our children living with that chronic sickness there is simply no other alternative but to become politicized in such a way that our voice serves as a single and continuous demand to rewrite the functionality of four-hundred years of racialized power.

Because that’s what Amy Cooper’s phone call was. It was an activation of power that is specific to our group and which is designed and maintained to function solely in our families’ interests. That was an ugly dimension of it, but we are all, every last one of us, common shareholders in the larger enterprise which is very efficient at dispersing and expressing that power in far less obvious, subtly murderous ways.

White people shouldn’t even get to call these women ‘Karen’ without including the word ‘Aunt’. To do so implies a distance from the seat of power that doesn’t really exist for us. We are right there. American whiteness is a family-run operation and the only functional insight to be gained by reflecting on Amy Cooper and her actions is that we really have no choice but to put it into liquidation. To work to dissolve it by advocating for reparative justice. But do not be deluded in thinking that repair will not entail a material loss for you and your family; the creditors always get paid first in a liquidation event, and whiteness is running up a 401-year tab on ADOS.