Tears for Unfounded Fears: Why ‘Victoria’s Secret Karen’ Isn’t Funny
The latest viral video in the infamous “Karen” genre dropped this week. At a Victoria’s Secret store in New Jersey, a Black customer asked a white customer to stand six feet away. She charged at her instead, and staged a theatrical meltdown when she realized she was being recorded.
Performative white-woman victimhood is nothing new, but it’s always dangerous. Why does it persist, and how can we fight it?
Should we cancel “Karen” as a term? Is it played out, too cutesy to be appropriate for such a serious issue, or both?
“So, white people are crazy,” says Toure.
If you’ve ever listened to democracy-ish, that’s no surprise. But this week, a new viral video made the rounds on social media that crystallized the particularly crazy paradox of white privilege and white victimhood.
At a Victoria’s Secret store at Short Hills Mall in New Jersey, Abigail Elphick, 25, is seen physically charging toward Ijeoma Ukenta, who is in the midst of recording the (ongoing) incident on her phone. NJ.com reported that Ukenta, 38, had just asked Elphick to move six feet away from her. It appears that Elphrick was trying to hit Ukenta or grab her phone out of her hand.
When Ukenta rears back, Elphick goes into what can only be described as a full-on meltdown.
“This grown Black woman basically asked, Can you move back a little bit?” Toure explains. “And the white woman freaks out.”
Toure’s 12-year-old kid’s reaction? “She's giving me five-year-old vibes.”
Ukenta posted the videos of the incident on TikTok, where her account was later suspended. But not before the clips were shared widely on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
The Millburn Police Department is apparently investigating the conduct of the officers who responded to the dispute. (They declined to remove Elphick from the mall, and Ukenta says they were dismissive of her when she filed a formal complaint against the officers.)
“There's so much to unpack here,” says Toure. “The weaponization of white women's tears is so prevalent, and so dangerous.”
Let the unpacking begin.
Episode Highlights –– White Women Weaponize Tears
Video doesn’t protect us, but it’s essential for justice
One of the things that immediately struck Toure about this video is “the nature of filming to protect yourself –– this Black woman's immediate instinct to record, because the white authorities will arrive and they will not believe her,” he says.
“It’s the world we know we live in. We have to protect ourselves with video. Otherwise, we are vulnerable.”
That’s true, but so is the fact that video “doesn't actually protect us,” Danielle says. “Rodney King's beat-down by multiple police officers was one of the first incidents of police brutality we saw on video. It didn't stop them from letting those cops go. It didn't stop the LA riots from happening.”
And it didn’t stop Derek Chauvin from murdering George Floyd 25 years later.
However, “we wouldn’t have justice if not for the video,” says Toure.
Without the courage of Darnella Frazier and others who documented Chauvin’s crime, we’d never even know about it. The initial police report referred to Floyd’s death as a “medical incident.”
‘Performance art’ or panic attack?
Likewise, if Ijeoma Ukenta wasn’t recording the video, and all we heard was audio on a 911 call –– “I'm being attacked. Oh my god. Oh my god.” –– what would the dispatcher think?