Leonard Pitts: Karen’s got a gun, but she needs a book

(Laurie Skrivan | St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP) In this June 28 photo, armed homeowners Mark and Patricia McCloskey, standing in front their house along Portland Place confront protesters marching to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's house in the Central West End of St. Louis. An affidavit in a court case shows that the white St. Louis couple who stood outside their mansion with guns during a protest have pulled a gun before. Mark McCloskey says in the affidavit that they pointed a gun at a neighbor once as a warning to stay off their property. They claim they own a small piece of land, while trustees of their private street say they own it.

So now, Karen's got a gun.

To be clear, her name wasn’t actually Karen — it was Jillian Wuestenberg. But Wuestenberg’s behavior — while with her husband, Eric Wuestenberg, she drew a gun on a black woman and her daughter in a parking lot near Detroit last week after she and the girl inadvertently collided — is certainly Karen-like. As in the social-media meme of white women weaponizing their entitlement and privilege against people of color.

Karens call police on black people for barbecuing in a public park, swimming in a public pool, selling bottled water on a public street. Amy Cooper, a New York City Karen, notoriously called 911 claiming she was being attacked in a public park by an African American man after he asked her to put her dog on a leash. Karens have become ubiquitous.

But they aren't usually armed.

One is wary of falling into the journalistic trope of labeling any three similar incidents a "trend." Yet, this sort of thing does seem to be happening a lot lately. Days before the Michigan confrontation, one Patricia McCloskey came out of her home in St. Louis awkwardly holding a handgun as a group of Black Lives Matter protesters marched down the street toward the mayor's house. Her husband had a long gun.

Two weeks before that, Joseph Max Fucheck, a male Karen — a Kevin? — in Miami-Dade County pulled a gun on a black man, Dwayne Wynn. Wynn had been standing across the street from his house talking to a neighbor when Fucheck drove by and left a business card in his mailbox. When Wynn retrieved it, Fucheck circled back, produced a handgun and, in a tirade punctuated by racial slurs and other profanity, accused Wynn of stealing "my property." This, he said, is "why you have people like you getting shot."

Taken together, these incidents, all caught on video, paint a grim picture of how many white Americans are responding in this summer of racial justice uprising. Namely, with the desperate panic of people who think the race war has come to their doorsteps. They're breaking out guns and circling the wagons in defense of privilege and prerogative.

It's a dangerous, combustible mindset, egged on by the arsonist in the White House. Which makes one all the more thankful for those white people who have not lost their damn minds.

If the police murder of George Floyd was, for many African Americans, superfluous confirmation of things we already knew, it was, for many white Americans, a jolting revelation of things they never guessed. It cannot be easy to learn that much of what you’ve been taught is a lie, that you are the product of a system designed to inculcate and maintain racism in you, to ensure there are voices you never hear, people you never see, stories you never know.

Such a discovery can upend one's understanding of one's country and oneself. So Karen got a gun. But we'll be a better country when Karen gets a book, when she emulates morally courageous white people seeking to know things that have been withheld. They're the ones now reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robin DiAngelo, Michelle Alexander and Douglas A. Blackmon, the ones now watching "13th," "I Am Not Your Negro," "Do The Right Thing" and "Eyes on the Prize," the ones chanting "Black lives matter!" — even in lily-white places where no black lives are lived.

In so doing, they bring hope to a difficult crossroads of our national existence. Hard truths are being told at last and so many white people are running away from them.

We are redeemed by the ones rushing toward them instead.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com