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When Your Mom is a Karen

Our trip to Target only happened because of heelies, remember those? The sneakers with wheels in the heels that were both a clever pun, and an aneurysm waiting to happen for parents. They were all the rage in 2003. My parents had gotten them for my younger brother’s birthday and they hadn’t been exactly what we’d expected. As was typical with our family they were knock offs, the wheels weren’t in the heels but came from the sole of the shoe when a small button was pressed. The wheels were crazy small. I remember the button being hard to press, and they didn’t skate well at all. As the daughter of a hoarder, my mom can’t stand turning down a deal or keeping an item that isn’t worth her money, which is how we ended up at the store in the first place. My personal memory of the event has been overtaken by the retelling over the years, with my sister or dad normally taking up the mantle of narrator.  In the story, my mom is insistent on the fact that they bought the shoes from Target, and she wants a refund. When the employee can’t find those shoes being sold at all at Target, the situation got tense, and my mom kept firmly insisting that they got the shoes at this store. Eventually my mom starts raising her voice, going crazy that no one believes her that the shoes were bought there, and that we can't return them. The employee was rightfully fed up and so at that point she called over the security guard which cued our super hasty exit with our mom saying “don’t tell your father!” as we pile into the minivan. 

If this hadn’t happened before the proficiency of camera phones then I would have no doubt it would have been recorded from 5 different angles and shared across all platforms, because my mom exhibited major Karen behavior. We later found out that my dad didn’t even buy the shoes at Target, but at another store entirely. Finding that out made the whole story seem extra silly to my family - how funny, mom got worked up when they weren’t even from that store! -and for a while I laughed at it too. As the years went on and we kept retelling it, I became disenchanted with the supposed drama and humor of the story. I finally realized the humor was reliant on my mom’s inability to emotionally regulate herself, and how the security guard who ended up trying to escort her out was black. You don’t know me but if it wasn’t painfully obvious by my mom’s behavior, my family and I are white. My dad's family is from Ireland and Germany and my mother’s is from Germany and the South, so that kind of white. I don’t trust my memory of the security guard himself, because while I don’t remember making note in my young mind of his skin color (as if that isn’t so subtly ingrained in young white children, it’s more probable that I *did* make note of it myself), I always remember him from the story as being black. My mom’s hasty exit from the Target being attributed to the guards race, not her probable embarrassment at causing a scene, also absolves my mother of any wrong-doing within the situation although the responsibility was on her.  My family and I imposed a fictional character to this innocent man's physical form, that of the “threatening black man”. Even while my mother was the one in the utter and complete wrong.

Emotionally, I understand her a lot better now, and I have a great relationship with my mom. She is still problematic, a result of an emotionally abusive childhood resulting in anxiety and depression, as well as growing up with the privilege of being a white Christian in America. One does not excuse the other, but they are both true. 

Undoubtedly, my mom was convinced in good faith from my dad that they had gotten the shoes there, and that believing this to be true my mom began feeling signs of parasympathetic stress and her body started reacting to the intense emotions she felt. For people with anxiety, control and lack of it, is a huge component in the emotional imbalance that occurs. Being convinced she needed to do this, and then being unable to became a paradox for her that was too hard to handle and she lost her cool. There is a lot of her that I can forgive and accept now that I am an adult, but this one moment in particular, and especially the narrative that came from it, still plagues me. 

The race of the security guard within this story is irrelevant, as should be obvious. The addition of the security guard’s race placed him as foil to the fleeing white woman of my mother, a narrative that has horrific and deep connotations within our country. White women’s fear has been used as justification for the taking of countless innocent lives of black men in this country. It is a specific tool of the system that is deadly, powerful and flouted every few months around my kitchen table like it doesn’t even exist. The biggest harm from this event was it’s consistent re-telling. Every single time my family told this story our punctuation of this man’s race solidified that fear of a black man is natural, it can be funny, and was noteworthy enough to distract from all other aspects of the event. It is within this story and my family's ritual telling of it that white Americans such as my family and I continue to perform roles with our racist system.