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'Don't Call Me Karen' Doesn't Go Over Well At Uber

A diversity specialist challenges the 'strategic ignorance' of those who'd rather not be on the other side of 'uncomfortable conversations' for a change

Five multicultural people holding up cartoon balloon bubbles over their heads: I don't need diversity training, I just avoid all those tone-deaf white devils! Fer fucks sake I never owned a human being in my life! Don't call me Karen! She's a total Karen. I'm not prejudiced, I hate everyone equally!
Public domain image from Pxhere, altered by the author

Pity certain poor beleaguered people of color at Uber. They didn’t like being on the other end, for a change, of ‘uncomfortable discussions’ about challenges people who aren’t them face.

Uber just put their DEI leader on leave after she challenged prejudice that isn’t supposed to be on the agenda.

Specifically, those who feel a little too comfortable calling white women ‘Karens’.

Bo Young Lee intended her two ‘Don’t Call Me Karen’ talks in Uber’s ‘Moving Forward’ diversity series to be a dialogue as part of an overall effort to promote tough, ‘uncomfortable’ conversations.

“Sometimes being pushed out of your own strategic ignorance is the right thing to do,” Lee said.

Except, it seems, when the strategically ignorant are POC.

T’other side of diversity

Lee’s dual talks on the struggles of white women and the pejorative meaning of the word ‘Karen’ prompted complaints from those unwilling to give up the epithet, which led to Lee’s being put on leave while Uber revisits what exactly they mean by ‘diversity’, and whether this actually includes ‘everyone’.

I’m not sure why ‘Karen’ prejudice required two talks, but then I’m not sure why any ‘diversity talk’ including everybody, requires more than, say, two hours, tops. I’m also not clear on why DEI takes up so much corporate time. Isn’t everyone there to do their job and grow the company? Can’t a DEI workshop cover how to treat your fellow employees with decency and respect, without these ugly words, or those awful jokes, and try not to touch your fellow employees’ private parts even if they’re not in your chain of command?

An extra-lengthy ‘diversity talk’ series sounds more like social engineering than driving revenue. Is that in all Uber job descriptions?

DEI initiatives don’t have to be the woke nightmare the Ron DeSantis types think they are, and it’s laudable the corporate world is finally addressing some much-needed changes in how we interact and engage with each other. But some don’t understand it must include everyone. Sometimes the best lead developer in the IT department is a Marjorie Taylor Greene fanboy and and the candidate hired to be the controller had the best damn accounting skills the recruitment team had ever seen, and she is a black woman who would marry Ibram X. Kendi if she could.

These two have got to get along with other associates who may not share their personal points of view.

The rest of us, meanwhile, want to do our jobs and treat our co-workers as best we can without being, as one of the two interviewed ‘offended’ Uber POC female employees complained, feeling ‘lectured’ to.

Well, welcome to the wonderful world of white people, non-white people.

Because we are lectured constantly about race, and most often by people who would rather never challenge their own imperfect views on the subject.

Lee’s talks were meant to explore the derogatory meaning behind the ‘Karen’ label and white women’s own challenges. It seems certain POC’s narcissistic prejudice renders them uninterested in hearing about any challenge that isn’t their own.

La la la I can’t hear you!

“While it was meant to be a dialogue, it’s obvious that those who attended did not feel heard,” said Uber.

True, but that wouldn’t be the complainers.

The pushback came from them, not white women, who might be the ones who privately requested a ‘Don’t Call Me Karen’ discussion.

It sounds like it might be in particular need at Uber, since certain POC objected to being called out on it. “I felt like I was being scolded for the entirety of that meeting," one person complained.

An unwillingness to move outside one’s own comfort zone and consider other people’s experiences is a hallmark of prejudice and bigotry, and when unchecked and unchallenged, makes one part of the problem rather than the solution.

Cartoon people of all races and ages frowning and smiling at each other
Diversity: Not everyone likes it. Image by Prawny from Pixabay

“I got mine, get yours!”

Everyone has a perspective and experience others don’t understand.

Including white people. Including men. Including white men.

Advantaged groups’ stories may be different, but their stories, experiences and challenges are real.

And others need to listen, because no one is immune from our unfortunate tribalist tendencies. No one can truly experience how others feel, but they can certainly open their minds to new information, however uncomfortable, if they’re serious about forging a more equitable world.

They can’t demand from others what they won’t offer themselves.

I honestly believe it’s gotta be much easier, and far less challenging, to go through life as a bigoted asshole.

As Richard Pryor famously quipped back in the ‘70s, “I got mine! Get yours!”

Okay, he was talking about female orgasms, but the line stuck with me because it sounded like a subtle, broader description of human selfishness.

When you’re a selfish, bigoted, ignorant asshole, life is a lot simpler. It’s all about you, you, you. You never have to think about others.

If you actually care about other human beings, and not just your own tribe, life is a lot more complicated.

If you know you have certain unfair advantages in a world of human constructs that value others more for their skin color, genitals or how many zeroes their family’s net worth contains, and you recognize it’s unfair, thank you for rejecting, as Socrates famously noted, the unexamined life.

If you believe, as the United Negro College Fund once informed us, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” and the lion’s share of your respect for your fellow humans goes to those with the greatest minds, then it will genuinely bother you if you see promising brains in the ‘wrong’ packaging held back, and wonder how much greater we’d all be if everyone was allowed to achieve their fullest human potential.

This is especially pronounced if you are, like white women and black men, members of both an advantaged and disadvantaged group.

As a white woman who’s striven her whole life not to be a bigoted asshole (thanks, Mom & Dad!), I can relate to the struggles of black people who were kept out of higher education, just as women have, who were enslaved, just as women have been and still are in many parts of the world, who were told they were ‘not good enough’, informed they were inferior because the Bible or some other holy writ says so, who were in many times and places legally permitted to be victimized, raped, tortured, and murdered on the whims of the dominant ruling biota because, well, just because.

I get mad, I admit, at sexist black men. Don’t they understand how similar our struggles against prejudice are?

Similar doesn’t mean ‘the same’.

In addition to sexist black people, I also can’t stand racist women (all flavors).

Don’t they understand etc.?

It’s kinship with people who are not like us, but the difference only by a very tiny fraction. We are still 99% DNA-sharing human beings. Biology shouldn’t matter, and while it may have been to our evolutionary advantage to be deeply suspicious about members of another ‘tribe’ (Are they hostile? Friendly? Do they like Coors beer or avocado toast?), but it does matter to us, deeply, and we need to challenge that.

We have been disabused of our stupidest assumptions by now. Women are, in fact, smart enough to be educated in the highest institutions of learning. So are black people. The fact that the antebellum South prohibited, at one time, teaching slaves ‘because they were too stupid for it’ tacitly acknowledged that slaves were not, in fact, too stupid to educate, in fact Southern whites were terrified they weren’t, which is why they needed a law to prohibit educating them, but not, say, livestock.

Biological discrimination today is bigotry, plain and simple.

Which brings us back to our diversity-resistant sisters at Uber.

‘Wokeness’ has created a certain artificial privilege among traditionally marginalized people who think not being members of a dominant group gives them carte blanche (ar ar) to ignore the ‘lived experiences’ of dominant groups.

They’re not interested in the struggles of white women because, well, what can they possibly have to struggle against? When you can call the police on a black bird watcher in a park and try to get him killed, you’ve got all the power, Karen! (Here’s a more nuanced take on L’Affaire Cooper vs Cooper in Central Park a few years ago.)

Uber’s prejudiced POC need to consult an otologist about their ‘tone deafness’.

What they’re missing, from a Karen named Nicole

We Level Left and Rational Right white people understand that in some respects, we are more privileged than thou. We didn’t make the rules, but there they are.

We acknowledge we have ‘white privilege’, and it’s hard to see when you’ve got it. Rather like ‘male privilege’. Many men today still don’t get why women have to be much more vigilant than they. Lotta crazies out there.

Some attempt to make us feel like we’re all personally responsible for all the sins of the world, especially slavery, which I guess we invented in 1619.

Everything wrong with their lives? It’s all our fault, racism and slavery legacy and stuff. Not, say, taking more responsibility for your life, like successful black immigrants from the West Indies, also with a slavery legacy, have done. Melanin-deficient skin is our ‘original sin’ and we’re whitewashed as racial supremacists no matter what we do.

I sympathize with men demonized for everything wrong with the world. Not every man is Andrew Tate or Brett Kavanaugh. Male fellow brain-lovers, like cerebral white women, genuinely sympathize with the less advantaged and want to help us achieve all we can. I met a friend at Starbucks recently who wanted to pick my brain about how to better market her company’s women’s empowerment services—leadership training, at enterprise-level companies. Male executives want to train female associates they think possess real leadership qualities but they can’t get them on board.

Their potential female leaders won’t sign up because they don’t feel good enough. Don’t feel qualified. And who would ever listen to them, let alone follow them?

Who needs ‘patriarchy’ when we’ve got ourselves to hold ourselves back?

I ask seriously: Consider what empathetic white folks face. Just for a second.

We strive to be better humans. But for some non-whites, it’s never good enough.

It’s emotionally draining and often turns us away from the people we want to help. Stop making it so hard!

The POC at Uber who complained about ‘Don’t Call Me Karen’ slap the faces of the people who do have a little more power and can help them if they’d stop being such, well, frankly, bigoted assholes.

Unchallenged prejudice makes it harder to get along and work with people who you think—and at Uber, have demonstrated—don’t like you for superficial, biological reasons and unexplored assumptions.

What if, instead of trying to re-engineer society for the endlessly aggrieved, diversity initiatives addressed how employees can first attempt to handle conflict personally and responsibly with another rather than running to HR like an eight-year-old. ‘Microaggressions’ are pretty minor, and employees can be taught how to maturely and responsibly approach someone with a grievance, and how to maturely and responsibly handle that grievance if approached.

The biggest challenge good-faith white people face is tone-deaf POC who look first for the evil in others and the good—well, maybe never. Who hand out pejorative labels like the CEO hands out branded T-shirts at the town hall meeting, and no one wants to wear those either. Who endlessly demonstrate their own privilege with constant complaints and refuse to consider whether they themselves are the reason no one wants to work with them, rather than their birth biology.

One’s privilege is expressed in how much power one has, and if they can successfully turn their ears off for a ‘Don’t Call Me Karen’ talk and get the diversity specialist who was doing her damn job put on leave, then maybe they’re not as ‘marginalized’ as advertised.

Uber has faced many workplace challenges in the past several years including allegations of a toxic hyper-masculine environment. Now they’re challenged by diversity resisters somewhat less pale-faced than the norm.

We’ll see if Uber has the balls—and the labia—to bring their diversity specialist back and continue her work challenging ‘strategic ignorance’ for all.

Because a half-assed DEI strategy that foments understandable resentment in the targets of ignored bigotry is worse than nothing.

Did you like this post? Would you like to see more? I lean left of center, but not so far over my brains fall out. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a post!




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