And, yes, my name is actually Karen.
"And, yes, my name is actually Karen." CBS

In the The Equalizer, three generations of black women live under the same roof. There's Viola "Aunt Vi" Marsette (Lorraine Toussaint), a boomer; there is Robyn McCall (Queen Latifah), a Gen Xer; and there is Delilah McCall (Laya DeLeon Hayes), a Gen Zer.

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The Gen Xer is the star of the show. She was trained by some elite force of the US military, and she now offers the skills she learned to powerless people in the New York City area. Latifah was raised in the era when the first Equalizer, staring the British actor Edward Woodward, made its mark on American popular culture (1985–1989).

In the subplot of the fifth episode of the show's second season, "Followers," a classic Karen leaps from social media onto the TV screen. The black woman who suffers the Karen is the boomer of the McCall house, Aunt Vi. She is shopping with her niece in a fancy second-hand store when an obnoxious white woman gets in her face about a yellow dress in her hands. The white woman wants the dress; the black woman is at a loss for words. The rudeness and sense of entitlement is just too much. The white woman calls the police when, after assaulting the black woman, she does not get her dress.


The police enter the store, listen to the Karen, and, predictably, threaten to take Aunt Vi downtown if she doesn't make an apology for whatever happened between the two. Aunt Vi stands her ground and refuses to do any such thing. But before the white cops arrests the recalcitrant black woman, her niece intervenes with a video clip. Like a good Gen Zer, she captured the whole bad business on her phone. She presses play on the touchscreen, the cops see the truth, and they force the Karen to apologize to the black woman.

But here's where things get interesting. Aunt Vi tells the cops that it's not over. As she was the victim of an assault, shouldn't they ask her if she wants to press charges against the white woman? The faces on the cops fall hard upon hearing this. The apology is not enough for the uppity negro. But before they can cook up an answer, Aunt Vi tells them that she will not press charges because her relationship with policing is not the same as that of the white woman. The police are not a weapon to her.

I bring this scene up for two reasons. One, it explains exactly what many on the right and white center-left mock when mocking wokeness. It's not so much an idea or program but a mode of survival. Wokeness is about staying alive. I stay awake to stay awake.

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When Aunt Vi realizes that the Karen has placed her life and the life of her niece in danger, she needs to make a very tough decision: Her dignity or her life. What is of more value at that moment? Should she just apologize to the white woman, as the police demand? But wouldn't capitulation to a racist system negatively impact the developing mind of her black 15-year-old niece? This is not a situation a black person can sleep on.

The second important thing captured by the scene is that sheer exhaustion led Aunt Vi not to press charges. Once the danger had cleared, she just wanted her life back and nothing more. You can't keep fighting your society all of the time. Where is there time to live when you're protesting every racist thing that happens to you? The right and white-left have completely missed this point, which is brilliantly made at the end of the shop scene of The Equalizer.

Blacks don't enjoy protesting all of this racist shit. It's not fun in any way, and there's lots of other things to worry about—the state of a marriage, the education of children, credit card debt, health insurance, rising rent, falling wages, and so on. The frustration expressed by Vi says this: Why wont white people let her live her life? Why do they have get into it at every opportunity? Why can't she just look at a yellow dress in peace.