The Madison School District is considering whether to remove the word “Karen” from a section of its online student enrollment form where parents can identify their children’s ethnicity, apparently after some expressed concerns about its modern-day connotations.
But if it does, the district wouldn’t be able to collect information on more than 30 other ancestral groups, including Somali, Ecuadorian, Menominee and Nigerian.
“Karen” in the parlance of current American race relations has come to mean a demanding white woman blind to her own privilege and racism.
Think the woman who called police on a Black birdwatcher in New York City’s Central Park last year after he asked her to put her dog on a leash.
“Karen,” though, also refers to “a number of ethnic groupswith Tibetan-Central Asian origins” who speak 12 related but distinct languages, according to the London-based human rights group Minority Rights Group International. The group estimates there are some 4 million Karen (pronounced “kuh-REN”), mostly in Myanmar. An estimated 215,000 live in the U.S.
The word appears on an online district enrollment page that asks parents to check a box for their student’s ethnicity. Check the “Asian” box and a drop-down menu appears with boxes for “Chinese,” “Filipino,” Karen” and five other Asian groups, along with “unknown,” “other” and “decline to indicate.”
Similar drop-down menus appear for “Hispanic or Latino,” “American Indian or Alaska Native” and “Black or African American” (but not “White” or “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander”).
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