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Deconstructing Karen helps white women realize how they uphold white supremacy: 'Denial, denial, denial'

In the documentary, white women are invited to attend a dinner party and experience radically honest conversations on racism and their role in upholding it

"What is the number one thing that white women feel the desperate need to be, over and above everything else? Nice," says American political activist and author Saira Rao in her critically acclaimed documentary Deconstructing Karen.

"White women feel the desperate need to be nice — and it’s white women’s “niceness” that is killing us all. It means smiling, it means being polite, it means not calling out oppression when it happens."

Saira Rao and Regina Jackson are founders of Race2Dinner, an organization facilitating conversations between white women about racism and white supremacy.

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"Race2Dinner allows us to have radically honest conversations," Jackson said in the documentary. "The market we have identified is white women who call themselves liberal or progressive or Democrats. The foot of white supremacy and patriarchy is firmly on their necks just like it's on ours."

Rao says that she used to be a white feminist — "a white woman trapped in a brown body."

"I woke up, and then I started doing anti-racism work more. And then I first started talking about racism, I was totally unprepared for when you talk about white people and then say the words 'white people' and then those white people want to come and kill you," Rao said.

As part of their anti-racism work, Jackson and Rao recently released the popular, provocative documentary, Deconstructing Karen, where white women are invited to attend a dinner party and experience radically honest conversations on racism and their role in upholding it, their conditioning to ignore it and the essential part they can play in tearing down the systems that are killing Black and Brown people every single day.

The market we have identified is white women who call themselves liberal or progressive or Democrats. The foot of white supremacy and patriarchy is firmly on their necks just like it's on ours.

According to Rao, they picked the term "Karen" as a pejorative term used to describe entitled white women— the worst of the Karens use their societal privilege to oppress people of colour. It can be as common as asking for a manager at store, or as bad as calling the cops for even little inconveniences.

"One of the things we know is that you cannot change what you do not acknowledge, so we're here to help you acknowledge some things and to try and work on changing some things," Jackson said.

"Change requires pain, and people will not change 'til they have what I call a significant emotional event."

The documentary is refreshingly honest and uncomfortable at times. At one point in the documentary, a white woman claims she is not a racist because her husband is a person of colour. Rao turns to her and says, "You, frankly, cannot f*** your way out of racism."

Regina and Sara founded Race2Dinner in 2019 to help white women learn how they uphold white supremacy.
Regina and Sara founded Race2Dinner in 2019 to help white women learn how they uphold white supremacy. (Deconstructing Karen)

Addressing white supremacy in Canada

"Saira and Regina, the way they address it to your face is next level, it's very American, like in your face," On Canada Project founder Sam Krishnapillai told Yahoo Canada. "That's what we need in Canada. If you don't talk racism, then you can keep being racist and we can't continue living in a racist country."

The On Canada Project was initially a passion project and media organization founded in June 2020 to fill the gap in communications about COVID-19 that did not speak to young Canadians and marginalized populations.

"But then we realized that in Canada we don’t have something that contextualizes the news. We’re not the news — that’s not our expertise. But we explain what the news is talking about. On top of that, a lot of our education in Canada was incomplete — we weren’t taught about racism, about white supremacy, and now we’re only starting to call it white supremacy in society," Krishnapillai added.

The On Canada Project is made up of a group of active citizens, change agents, and friendly neighbourhood nerds who are here to dismantle the status quo and champion change in our lives. The organization has amassed more than 182,000 followers on Instagram.

After the success of their documentary Deconstructing Karen and their New York Times bestseller White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better, Jackson and Rao are collaborating with Krishnapillai to host an event in Vancouver.

Featuring the screening of the documentary and an interactive discussion with Krishnapillai, the event hopes to address challenging conversations about racism in Canada.

"We have to change the culture in Canada... our country has not had critical dialogues about race. We haven't done education campaigns for kids. We haven't done any campaigns for adults around why we need to challenge white supremacy," Krishnapillai said. "A lot of people think that they're on the right side of the conversation. I think they're being racist... they don't understand that the behaviour is actually racist."

While recent surveys have claimed that public opinion in Canada is in favour of immigration, recent events have suggested otherwise. There have been cases of heightened surveillance of immigrant populations in Canada, incidences of hate crimes against members of immigrant groups — especially since COVID-19 — and cases of discrimination against migrant workers.

A recent KPMG Canada report found that 72 per cent of Black employees still experience some form of racism at work. Out of the 72 per cent, 20 per cent experienced the same amount of racism compared to the year before, while 19 per cent claimed they experienced more racism.

We have to change the culture in Canada... our country has not had critical dialogues about race.

Krishnapillai believes there are two types of white supremacy — one is outright racism that we can see and feel.

"And then there's a roomful of people that I'm guessing won't know that they're racist but are upholding the white supremacy by not saying anything about changing their behaviour," she said.

"These people think they're on the right side of history because they don't outwardly hate Black people. But what they don't understand is, they're still holding unconscious beliefs about being better, and we don't know what we're supposed to do to change that because no one's talked to us about it. And I think what Regina and Saira are bringing to Vancouver is an opportunity to start talking about it for anyone who feels racism is bad," Krishnapillai added.

Krishnapillai strongly believes that all white people have a responsibility to show up for Black, Indigenous, and all people of colour who live in Canada — even if it feels uncomfortable.

"What's that Spider-Man quote? With great power comes great responsibility," she said.

"And I think that's what this event really is about. Join us and feel a little uncomfortable. And let's talk about what the future looks like and how you can do your part to change that."

The screening of Deconstruction Karen and following discussion take place May 3 in West Vancouver, B.C. Tickets for the event can be purchased via Eventbrite.