I got Karen’d and I didn’t even realize it — a spring break story

OPINION: I put my racial profiling paranoia away for ONE second, and I got burned by a woman who thought a packed, public waterpark needed a neighborhood watch.

(Photo by nicoletaionescu/Adobe Stock Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Spring break happened recently for students who attend public or charter schools in the city of Washington, D.C. Since I have kids in both systems, we had a week of neither school nor soccer practice and late mornings — it was magnificent. 

Well, mostly. But let’s work our way to the shenanigans. My wife, as she always does when the kids have long breaks, aims to find as many ways as possible to give my kids fun experiences. She is a maven at giving the kids core memories. Back in October 2023, a bevy (people don’t use the word “bevy” enough) of folks tied to my wife’s motherhood organization made the trip to Perryville, Md., to a newly opened Great Wolf Lodge. It was my first experience at the hotel resort, but I immediately understood why people flocked there. There are arcades and mini-golf courses. There are climbing apparatuses and shows, and the coup de grace — a huge indoor waterpark complete with food service and bars that serve alcoholic beverages for the adults in the room. 

To get food service, you have to pay for a cabana, and then you’re assigned a server who takes your order and brings you food and drink. My kids had such a blast on our first trip back in October that they’ve been asking about going back for months. My wife decided to make that happen as part of their spring break. So we went and a time was had. My wife enjoys the finer things in life and convenience so she got us a cabana so that we had a central meeting place and couches and whatnot all to ourselves. 

Over the course of the many, many hours we spent in the waterpark, we were in and out of the cabana both together and separately. Because we have a 3-year-old, we tend to split duties with him so when one person has him, the other might be chillin’ in the cabana, sippin’ on a lil’ something something, ya dig? I think you can pick up what I’m putting down. 

And this is where it gets diabolical. After doing a quick handoff of the 3-year-old with my wife, I walked back into our cabana — No. 15 — to dry off, sit down, take a break and sip on the brown liquor drink I’d ordered. I walked toward my cabana and then into my cabana and sat down and started to dry myself off. I think you could call what I was doing “minding my own business in a space we’d paid for.” While I was sitting there, I noticed a white woman paying attention to me. Let’s call her, oh, I don’t know — Karen. I noticed Karen noticing me, so I put her on notice that I noticed her, too … by looking directly back at her. It’s important to note here that I literally had no idea why she was paying attention to me; it hadn’t even dawned on me that anything nefarious was going on. 

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Karen proceeded to walk toward my cabana and peek her head INTO my cabana and look around. At first, I thought she was curious about the cabana and about to ask me about procuring one and such, which makes her nosy and incapable of understanding boundaries, but not a threat. But then she showed her true colors. 

I said, “Can I help you?” because I have manners and I don’t assume that all white people are trying to put me in prison. She said to me, “Is this your cabana?” 

I was dumbfounded and answered, “Yes. Yes, it is.” To which she replied, “I saw a family walk out of here a few minutes ago.” 

“Lady, that was MY family.” 

“Well I was just making sure things were OK because it’s happened to me before!”

I started to stand up and yell at this woman but then I realized how my reacting to her being a fake cop was about to turn me into the problem because if I started yelling, some sympathetic staff of largely white people would likely, somehow, turn me into a person they deemed it reasonable enough to be curious about. Does that make sense? Absolutely not. Is it likely? Absolutely. 

Karen then walked off, and turned her head back a few times as if she wasn’t entirely sure I was telling the truth but wasn’t sure if she was about to escalate it. She went to the food stand — she did not have a cabana — and eventually moved on. And I was annoyed and fuming. I was mostly fuming at myself, though, for giving her the benefit of the doubt in the first place. I truly didn’t think this woman was about to question if I had any business in a space I paid for or why she thought it necessary to make it her business to come see about what I was doing. Or why she thought she was in the right to do so. I was mad at myself for believing, even a little bit, in humanity in that way. 

And look, nobody got hurt. The police weren’t called. I was able to move about my day just fine and my kids had a blast. Overall, it wasn’t the worst situation, but stuff like this happens to Black people every day and then we get told to move on because race isn’t a thing. Do I think she did this because I’m a Black man? Absolutely. Thank gawd she didn’t have the gall to question my wife because somebody WOULD have gone to jail. My wife wanted to go find her, by the way, but I talked her off that ledge in the name of peace and spring break for the kids because if she found her, it wasn’t going to be pretty. 

But it just serves as a reminder: I tucked my paranoia for one second and boom, a Karen Karen’d me. 

It won’t happen again. And it sucks, and continues to suck, that I have to keep thinking that way. 


Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.