Terrell Owens, Karen, and Infinite Lying

While I was waiting out the last hours of my pre-colonoscopy fast on Friday, Twitter’s Chris Evans (not to be confused with the actor) posted a video of an incident between former NFL great Terrell Owens and a white woman who first harassed him and then called the police.

Much of the focus has been on the “white woman tears” from “Kate” that come out at 1:59 and continue to the end of that section of the video. The recent history of “Karen” incidents, the Emmet Till lynching in 1955, and the history of white racial violence testify to the destructiveness of “white woman tears” when deployed as an accusation against black men. And it hasn’t stopped either. In “White Fragility,” white author Robin DiAngelo devotes an entire chapter to the issue of “white woman tears” in her experience as a corporate diversity and anti-racism trainer. White woman tears has long been a leading weapon for everyday racist aggression.

But before “Kate” started crying, she unleashed a cascade of lies against Owens–accusing him first of “harassment (0:13), then driving in the middle of the road (O.22), and saying that he “almost hit me” (0:24). After “Kate” made a number of accusations against Owens (0:49) that would have required previous online research, she then lied and said “I don’t give a shit” (0.53) for which Owens called her out. And finally, “Kate” accused Owens of running a stop sign (1:09) that apparently wasn’t even there. In some ways, getting out such a long string of lies in such a short period of time was an impressive accomplishment and is a good indication of the power of “Kate’s” racism as a source of motivation.

Indeed “Kate” seemed eager to lie about all of the reference points of her encounter with Owens. In ordinary conversation about lying, we usually measure lies against “the truth” rather than discuss lying as a system itself, an element of other systems, and the potentials of lying in various contexts. In fact, “Kate” could have made up an infinite number of lies about the details of her encounter with Terrell Owens and the only thing limiting her capacity for lying were petty empirical details like the cop’s attention span, other obligations in her life, and the need to sleep. Of course, “Kate” could have expanded the universe of her lying by also making up new reference points such as Owens having an AR-15, being a member of the Black Panthers, or in league with the police. But “Kate” could have continued lying until the end of time about the reference points she had before her. In my opinion, the determination of white people like “Kate” to engage in infinite lying about black people is at least as much a part of the white supremacist history as “white women’s tears” and is part of the mechanism through which the white population enforced the slavery and segregation systems.

But infinite lying about race requires a great deal of support. It requires white kinship networks, public opinion, police apparatus, and judicial systems that are both willing to believe anything a white person says about a black person and are eager to act violently on those lies. For infinite lying to thrive, the word of a white person needs to have so much support within the system that it carries a credible threat of instant death. Such support existed through the whole history of the U.S. as a “White Patriarchal Republic” from the drafting of the Constitution in 1787 to 1954 and “Brown v Board” and “Kate” was counting on a version of that support when she precipitated her confrontation with Owens. Her underlying expectation was the same as Central Park “Karen” Amy Cooper, that unflinching support from white opinion and the police would put Terrell Owens in mortal danger and that she would be protected from any adverse consequences.  

But since Brown v Board, the situation has changed to the disadvantage of Karens like “Kate” and the advantage of black men like Terrell Owens. The nearly seven decades between Brown v Board and the incident between “Kate” and Terrel Owens saw the rise of “Multicultural, Liberal Democracy” into a heavily contested but still pre-eminent position in American society. The Supreme Court decisions like Miranda v Arizona, the Civil Rights movement, and campaigns for feminism, gay rights, and immigrant rights have evolved into popular culture, corporate culture, Democratic Party politics, and the operation of government at all levels. In this context, Kate’s exercise in infinite lying was done from a position of disadvantage. Much of the reason “Kate” resorted to “white woman tears” is that her lies were discounted and ignored by the police officer, her husband didn’t support her, and a neighbor intervened to contradict her. Far from “Kate” being able to appeal to the public, it was Terrell Owens and his camera that were primed for public appeal. Infinite lying also requires a caste system in which the target has little recourse and is usually cowed by the threat of violence. But that wasn’t the case for “Kate” either. In fact, Terrell Owens is a famous man from his Hall of Fame NFL playing days who has enough wealth to own two houses. It was the loquacious Owens who had the status and his word seemed to have at least as much credibility with the police officer as Kate’s. Indeed, the incident was more a threat to “Kate’s” status than it was to Owens.

The White Patriarchal Republic is far from dead but white Karen’s like “Kate” are like conspiracy theorists, the religious right, urban cops, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in operating much less as agents of the dominant social order and much more in terms of counter-revolution and dissent. As conservatives often admit, they are agents of the “world they have lost” and that world remained lost in the dispute between “Kate” and Terrel Owens.

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