White Women and the Weaponisation of Victimhood

By Kate Cheka, Art by Elise Chastel
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In the midst of these times that are strange for numerous reasons one thing seems to be carrying on business as usual. Racism never takes a holiday and the easing of lockdown has only seen the worst perpetrators making up for lost time. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade. Their names turned into hashtags, their murders shared across social media. Black people like myself alternating between grief and rage. It's public. It's palpable.

I don't want to write. I want to do comedy. But I also know firsthand what it is like to drag your body weary from processing these emotions onto the stage and suppress the tears to make a room full of people laugh. It's exhausting. The extra tax we carry. It is not business as usual.

Speaking on the phone to a friend who went to the protests in Berlin we discuss how so often in Europe the conversation becomes 'it's a United States problem' as though our societies, the UK where I'm from and Germany where I live bear no guilt. In Germany it is famously difficult to collect statistics on racial data because of its history. But really if you cannot help murdering people because you have data on them then that's a you problem. As I keep reiterating to white people. This. Is. A. You. Problem.

My community does not go hunting people in the streets and really considering the history we would be well justified to do so. Meanwhile white friends share social media posts and it frustrates me because it feels like a performance. Things are different backstage. So I thought I would call out one of the most pervasive pillars upholding white supremacy - white fragility.

It most often takes the form of a white woman – a Karen if you will – who paints herself a damsel-in-distress when it comes to black people. It is what Amy Cooper did when she called the police on Christian Cooper. It happens to me all the time during conversations about race. A friend cries because I shut her down on the grounds she wouldn't understand. A friend cries because her white passing means I do not see her as black. A friend cries when I confront her about "borrowing" my master's thesis and using it as hers. They are the victims. I am the angry black woman.

Meanwhile I watch other white friends who witness these events and wonder if anyone will stand up for me. Because when it comes to social media these days I'm inundated with cops that take the knee and white protestors shielding black ones. But in everyday life the small and not-so-small transgressions on my black being are allowed to pass. I stay silent. They cry. They are the victim.

A few months ago I was asked to talk about racism in regards to self-defence training. And when I inquired about my compensation - for I am not a race relations teacher I am a comedian - was met with an entire narrative about why said white lady was doing this out on her own time and money and energy and so on and do I know she no longer speaks to her racist family? It's exhausting. Maybe if these white women spent less time focusing on all their hardships they'd be less tearful. Just a thought.

In the end she made a better judgement call when she offered to host a self-defence class for PoCs for free. I went along. At one point she told the class 'if you're a women being attacked in public you can always cry' me and the other black woman in the room locked eyes. When has that ever worked for us? I rarely cry and elicit empathy from white people. Often I am told that I'm dramatic or famously "angry". And right now they're correct I am angry. I'm furious. 

I'm furious that while I watch intimacy evolve on screen between white actors I cannot get a film that shows black love without violence. That we're being murdered senselessly in the streets. And those are two very different examples but they build into the same narrative. White supremacy. It seeps into all of my relationships I have with white people. I cannot escape my colour.

With every article that is written likening the "Karen slur" to the N-word they uphold the victim status that means that Lana 'don't call me a racist' del Rey comes out guns blazing for the apparent unjust criticism she faces as a white women in music. Isn't it nice how black women get away with speaking on all kinds of "problematic" topics in our art? Wouldn't it be nice if we could get away with our lives too? Perhaps before you pen that piece or get into a fight with a black person you could reflect on how the battlefields are drawn along racial lines. How we do not meet on a level playing field.

I am labelled an unsupportive friend because so often I keep my phone on airplane mode. A method I have to keep the news at bay so that I don't find out when I'm drinking in the pub like I was on Wednesday night last week that once again people who look like me are being murdered in the streets. So that I don't end up awake all night consumed by that weird collective grief. My wellbeing is my top priority. For those that have the privilege of disengaging I urge you to reflect on that. The revolution has begun.

For further reading check out Gloria Wekker White Innocence 

For where to donate follow Black Lives Matter Berlin

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