Wanted: Women of Color
It’s hard to look at current anti-“Karen” sentiment and not see striking parallels with #MeToo. White female entitlement may not typically have the decimating potential of sexual assault (unless the former leads to a Black man in a coffin), but both, in a sense, represent days of reckoning following decades — no, centuries — of privilege.
#MeToo was the first time men had to answer en masse for their deplorable treatment of women. And from the moment Amy Cooper, aka “Central Park Karen,” became an emblem of an often overlooked branch of White supremacy, White women have had to answer en masse for the privilege and entitlement they’ve long enjoyed and often wielded over minorities, particularly Black men and women of color.
Now, with an incident involving another White Amy, “Karen”-ism and cancel culture once again have collided. In the case of Amy Roost vs. Senti Sojwal, to the victor (Sojwal) has gone the spoils of public support, while the loser (Roost) has been left licking her wounds and being painted by some — including herself — as an undeserving victim of the new normal.
Ah, the new normal. It really isn’t working in favor of White women, and the cultural shift probably stings as much as the bad press. Post-#MeToo, straight White men begrudged having to watch their every move around women. Now, as “Karens” go down, White women are increasingly bemoaning being painted with the same broad brushstrokes as the Central Park pariah. Those who get cancelled for their transgressions and those who fear similar fates long for a time when (White) people were allowed to say whatever they wanted to say without consequences.
We’ve all heard talk about the good-old days when few held White people to any meaningful standards and Blacks and other minorities had no voices, platforms, or power to effect their lives. Now White people must occasionally endure not qualifying for job opportunities reserved for people of color, the very people of color they’ve been shutting out of job opportunities for generations. Blackface is officially a no-no, much to the chagrin of people like Megyn Kelly who can remember when it used to be totally fine, a time that never was. And perhaps most challenging of all, they must proceed with caution on social media. One wrong move, or tweet, and they might face the wrath of the masses.
I probably would feel more sympathy if Black people and gay people — you know, folks like me — hadn’t been spending our entire lives facing far more defeating (and sometimes deadly) obstacles and paying considerably steeper costs than endorsements and social media followings.
As far as I know, Amy Roost was never in any clear and present danger due to her showdown with Senti Sojwal. I read about it for the first time in an October 19 article on Arc Digital, a Medium publication to which I have contributed. As I interpreted it, the crux of the essay “White Women Need Not Apply” by Kat Rosenfield was this: So Amy made a minor mistake. Should her professional life be destroyed because of it?
I am a Black Journalist, and I Have Always Felt Like an Outsider in the World of Media
Black talent matters. It needs to be nurtured and valued.
My answer would be a resounding no, but that’s not all there is to the story. In defending Roost and her right to have a lucrative career and pitch an article to someone looking exclusively for Black and Asian voices (because apparently, trying to amplify underrepresented voices represents a breach of fairness), Rosenfield glossed over Roost’s tone deafness and insensitivity to a changing racial agenda. The evidence she selectively presented cast Roost as yet another White victim of cancel culture in a world where people who aren’t White are finally having their say. As a double minority who has spent a lifetime living under a cloud of White supremacy, I feel compelled to speak for that other side.
Responding to a call out on Twitter from Sojwal, co-founder of the Asian American Feminist Collective, for a Black or Asian American political writer, Roost ignored the bold print and pitched a “3,000-word semi-reported essay, the through line of which is a hate crime I witnessed against three women wearing hijabs.” She attached the piece to her message to Sojwal and added that she would like to find a home for it, one that paid, before the 2020 US Presidential Election.
Did she even read the tweet? Apparently, not well enough. Not only did she ignore its clear directive (as if a White, female writer couldn’t possibly be exempted from anything), but she mangled the acronym of Asian American Writers Workshop, the company hosting Sojwal’s project, identifying it as AAUW, an acronym belonging to American Association of University Women, an organization with which she was familiar. To say she didn’t get the response she probably expected would be a major understatement. Sojwal’s reply, sent two hours and 20 minutes later, was direct and brutal.
Roost fired back, and after Sojwal had another go at her, she posted about the incident on Facebook. She didn’t name names, but she made Sojwal easily identifiable by including her position and the organization for which she works in her rant. Sojwal retaliated (opening shot: I am really tired of white women’s tears), launching an increasingly all-too familiar she said/she said on social media, which Roost lost, though she’d later emerge as the winner in the comment section of “White Women Need Not Apply.” When public sentiment turned against her, Roost was short one podcast and one speaking engagement. As Rosenfield put it, “her career was toast.”
“Toast” might be an exaggeration, but still, I must ask, does Roost vs. Sojwal represent a high crime against all middle-aged White women, or even just one? I’m sure Roost’s career will be fine (or as fine as a writing career can be in these pandemic times), and she will emerge from this in far better shape than Amy Cooper, who actually broke the law. I have faced cancellation numerous times over the course of my career, and I am still standing.
Cancel Culture Turned on Me. Why Am I Defending It?
The big, bad mob went after my job, my reputation, and my blood.
Perhaps Roost has suffered more than enough, but she did make the bed in which she’s tossing and turning. Let’s look at it from Sojwal’s point of view. She received a message from a writer she did not know who ignored the specifications of her request and couldn’t even be bothered to identify the organization she was pitching to by the correct acronym. As an editor who has received my share of sloppy pitches, I understand Sojwal’s frustration. Roost and her subtle air of entitlement (I’d love to see this published before the election and find a home for it that pays) embodies everything that made AAWW necessary in the first place.
Yes, Sojwal’s message was harsh, but Roost gave as good as she got. She responded by Whitesplainin’ professionalism and then played the “But I’m a good White person” card before closing with a passive-aggressive “Be well.” Word to the White: People in minority groups have been fielding this brand of patronization all our lives, and it’s not a good look coming right after an insult.
Adding injury to insult and condescension, Roost went on to post about the incident on Facebook, opening herself up to further clapback from Sojwal and the reaction of everyone else. For me, the most objectionable part of her Facebook post and probably what led Sojwal to fire back with the shots that hobbled Roost were the final three sentences: I mean, yeah. That’s all true, if it were true. Sheesh!
That sounds a lot like “All Lives Matter” and “I don’t see color.” It’s another White person basically saying “Fuck you and your experience as a minority in a world dominated by White supremacy.” Roost comes across as a White savior wannabe demanding respect because she wanted to rescue Muslim women from their pitiable social status through her story, as if Muslim women aren’t capable of writing about their own experiences with discrimination.
In standing up for her White rights, Roost turned herself into the epitome of “Karen.” The inconvenience and ego blow the incident have caused her are nothing compared to the bumpy road women of color have to negotiate to put food on their table. Welcome to their world. Perhaps Roost should have taken a cue from the Muslim women she wrote about and responded more gracefully to Sojwal’s initial rejection by letting the matter go.
It would have helped her save face and a lot of tears. By publicly calling out Sojwal on Facebook, she was trying to do to Sojwal exactly what cancel culture ended up doing to her. I don’t feel sorry for Roost. Some of us have far more pressing issues to worry about than the state of her career and writing assignments for which White women need not apply. Roost may have apologized to Sojwal for her behavior (an admission of culpability or just saving face?), but in true “Karen” form, she had already reported Sojwal to Twitter for daring to ID her by name while telling a true story. Who’s zooming who?
Crocodile tears aside, this goes beyond a war between two women and touches on the pervasive issue of structural racism, and how the scales are, for the first time, beginning to balance. #MeToo started exposing straight men to some of the shame and degradation they’d been dishing out for ages. Now the anti-“Karen” movement is force-feeding strong medicine to the very White women who have been doling it out forever.