The World Apology Tour.
Beware the Karen Gone Rad: A personal story of abusive, woke white women liberalism.
I am recovering from years worth of trauma and abuse and finding myself and my voice again. There is so much I am sorry for: I brought the wolf in sheep’s clothing into the fold. Today is the first day of my world apology tour. Because when you’re wrong, you are wrong, and I was so very wrong.
Four years ago I found myself in a shelter for survivors of domestic violence in Richmond, Virginia. After an incredible amount of white violence by business owners, non profit agencies and a bar full of mediocre rednecks dished out towards me and my family for unapologetically opening and operating Fredericksburg Virginia’s first Black and Indigenous owned art gallery, music venue and LGBTQA safe space. I left because this violence seeped into every aspect of my life: from death threats, being outed as Undocumented in this small racist town, to my husband beginning to drink, blaiming me for the violence we experienced and ultimately becoming physically abusive towards me. In October of 2017 I found myself faced with a possible ICE detention. When it was all said and done, I was once again free to continue my journey, equipped with the expertise only a lived experience can give you and swore to myself that if I could help it, I would not let anyone suffer what I did.
Less than a year later after leaving the shelter, I began working to establish Sanctuaries in Virginia in response to Trump. That’s when I met Rad Karen. She positioned herself an ally and an expert in immigrant justice, because her husband was once undocumented. She was insufferable in bringing in her husband’s name into everything as only a white woman married to a man of color can be. She worked lobbying and preaching jobs speaking for the undocumented as if she was an expert. I found the whole thing performative, most of my peers did too and we mainly stayed clear of her, who would only show up to take coffee orders and talk shit about the organizing community in Richmond where most people hated her. When she found out I had some schooling in theology, she, a self confessed theology nerd, begged us to meet and get to know each other. I really did not have much of a desire to do so.
She proved herself an ally when she lied to the community, claiming her former boss, the director of an interfaith organization in Virginia fired her for centering Latinx people in the work of Sanctuary and hired a white man whom cannot be found on the internet (leading us all to believe he was a cop plant) she claimed that this man called her house to threaten her. She also claimed that her former boss had been trying to take over the national Sanctuary movement since the late 80s and put this new hire up to shooting three shots into her home, she said that there was a police investigation but like many things she said, I did not look into it further than that. We had no reason to believe that this was untrue, however fantastic the claim was. For a few months everything went as well as one can expect. As a community we pulled together for the Sanctuary guest. I personally provided interpretation, translation, design, social media management and decolonization and ally trainings.
Now, understand that I’ve been a professional artist for almost ten years at this point, a curator for five, and even before that, I have never really been unfamiliar with press. As a child prodigy in a small country and then in a small town, the opportunities to guest on TV, have tea with presidents and call out gentrification to our own city’s mayor were always present. Clout doesn’t face me. That was not the case for some of my colleagues at the time.
One fall day I got an emergency call to the Richmond Sanctuary, when I arrived, I was told Karen was lying, gatekeeping, clout chasing and using our (two) Sanctuary guests was to perform allyship and that her only interest in establishing sanctuaries was monetarily driven. That this was a career for her. I went off on her and left the drama. Karen begged to meet for coffee with me for a couple months after but my co-leader D insisted on letting them handle Karen. A couple months later, while looking for a third sanctuary church I had a devastating car accident in Virginia. My car was totaled and my left leg muscle was torn. I could not work for months, I still feel pain in my leg. Around this time I began getting word from survivors that D was a rapist. I took this up to Ice out of RVA, RITA and SONG, I was ignored and later demoted from my positions of leadership. I am still on a “cool off period” at SONG (lol) One night out of the blue, I open my apartment door to find groceries and dinner. Karen texted me, telling me that she knew I did not want to speak but she couldn’t help but feel like I should have support from my community as a single parent after the accident. That shit warmed my heart. A month later, as I was facing a possible eviction, Karen once again texted me, letting me know that she could get me a contractor job at the General Assembly. I worked a whole week before getting fired for calling a racist senator a racist. D (who also had gotten a job as a lobbyist through Karen) and I had an epic confrontation during this time. After, Karen confessed to me that D coerced her into a sexual relationship outside her abusive marriage, that she was a victim and that the only reason D tried to get us all to kick Karen off Sanctuary work was to cover their own ass, and that D was undermining and trashing my name because they knew I would be the only person within our groups to confront their foul, predatory behavior. When I was fired from the GA Karen offered to split her contract with me so I could continue doing the work and getting paid. We worked well together.
Black, Brown and even white organizers came to me since that February asking why, why would I work with someone like her, she was infamous for being a self centering, selfish, destructive white woman but by that point I had bitten the bait. I always said that the minute she displayed some kind of red flag I would out her, and dammit I kept my promise.
Trauma Bonding ensued — No abuser abuses you right off the bat. I was love bombed but did not recognized it as such, as I only thought of these types of power dynamics in terms of romantic or sexual relationships, two things I did not at any point have with her (despite her lies… Because she literally told people we were soulmates and lovers, FUCKING YUCK) She suggested we open a business together, that way we could catch contracts and give other undocumented people besides myself a chance to work, I offered for us to use my already established brand and since she had a social security number to get the licesnces we needed, we became business partners.
I became alienated from a big part of my organizing community, I thought it had to do with calling out toxic men and thems and performative cloutivism and not because I had made a deal with the white devil. Being marginalized from my own community, my leadership and expertise undermined and seeing documented, abled bodied, college educated kids speaking over (and getting paid for it!) undocumented people made me angry and bitter. What more could a narcissistic white woman want? I became her attack dog. She would rile me up, put me in spaces of rage and then unleash me to attack the Black and Brown people she as a woke white woman could not. She also would sic me onto her own enemies: white women in social justice spaces that she competed with in her own sick mind. I was effectively her weapon of choice and once I realized how much of a tool I was to her, it was too late.
I am not yet at liberty to discuss a lot of what happened that sent me running from this white woman’s house (after I left my abusive boyfriend earlier this year) and into another shelter for Trans survivors in DC. All I can say is that Karen has gone Mad. Honestly, it doesn’t matter, because hindsight is 2020 and here I am ending 2021 six months away from her white nonsense, toxicity, manipulation, violations, unwanted sexual advances, threats and narcissistic behavior.
I see a wonderful therapist, am in support groups for survivors of narcissistic abuse, my circle of friends is stronger albeit smaller and my relationship with my co parent is more solid now that it would have been had we not been in separation for years and most importantly my relationship with myself has gone beyond being resilient (you know, bouncing back from a traumatic set back) to taking me to a place of thriving, of learning myself, of being kind to me, of understanding my triggers and how others use that against me. My Elders and Religious Leaders continue to guide my soul through the path of Peace and non violence. I find myself in a space of peace, prosperity and life.
I am accountable to myself, my Elders and the Movement And I want to say that I fucked up. Big time. I trusted someone that people warned me against. Mainly out of spite against those that aligned themselves with D (before they were outed as an abuser) and a wish to help my people by any means necessary and in that space, I believed a white woman, I coddled a white woman’s feelings, entertained her for years, I looked after a white woman’s affairs: I believed the racist narrative that her husband (a man of color) was a rapist without question based only on my fucked up experiences (something she knew and fully took advantage of) I watched as this white woman cheated on him and covered for her. I defended her and attacked anyone that would attack her. I allowed her to get into my head. I gave her access to my vulnerability and by doing so gave her more than enough ammo to keep me in a constant state of anxiety, panic, of the past, of bitterness. I became divisive to the movement in Richmond, Virginia. I called out people and organizations I had no business calling out. I am fully responsible for my actions and inactions. I fucked up and owe so many people so many apologies for so many things.
I am not writing all this for sympathy. If that was the case I would tell you more of the abuse and violence she put me through before and after I tried to hold her accountable in an effort to make you see that I was another of her victims. And I don’t say victims lightly. She goes after THE MOST marginalized people in America, the new slaves, undocumented people like her husband, like our sanctuary guests, like myself, she offers help that comes with a price: Your entire person. The Karening is real, she is using every privilege available to white women in the white supremacist handbook and every play in the narcissist playbook: from white tears, fantastical tales that I am cop to keep my community away from me and my side of the story, sending flying monkeys after me, to hiring a white woman lawyer to harass me, to sending the cops to my mothers home… She will stop at nothing to get a new reaction out of me, to make me fear her. At the same time, I remain unmoved by the pathetic tactics of a narcissist unmasked, someone that seeks to destroy my life simply because she was finally told for the first time in her sad and privileged life: “You cant have Me, my labor, creativity… my life. You are unwanted, bitch” I do not operate in that kind of thinking where I am either the good guy or the bad guy anymore. I was abused and actively participated in the abuse of others by being some ugly, lipless white woman’s Mouthpiece. One day she jokingly told me that if I continued trolling her ex boss online for her (she had signed a NDA binding her to not speak on the employer that fired her) she (the ex boss) would come after me for libel. I prophetically replied:
“Let her. Let that white, performative bitch use the entire system built for her to try to bring an undocumented person down for speaking truth to power. All she is doing is proving my point, that this systerm is created for white women, especially the ones that harm and then hide behind tears. The Weakest link: racist Liberal White Women like Her.”
Reverend Leonina Arismendi Zarkovic is part of the Prophetic Council for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and Co-Leader at Iglesia del Pueblo. They are an award winning writer and artist from Uruguay living in the US.
Keep my writing Free: Become a Patreon.