A stone statue of a person with a tear running down their cheek.

Citi Bike Karen and the Danger of White Women’s Tears

Sarah Comrie, dubbed “Citi Bike Karen,” went viral after a dispute with a Black teen over a New York City rental bike (Insider). In the video, both claim to have rented the bike, with Comrie yelling, “Help me! Help me! Please help me!” and appearing to “fake cry” as a bystander intervenes. The woman’s attorney later showed journalists receipts allegedly indicating Comrie had paid for the bike rental and claimed that public criticism was therefore “shameful” (Independent). Citi Bike Karen’s GoFundMe has since raised over $100,000 (GoFundMe). 

But the real problem wasn’t who was right about the rental. As Kalyn Womack writes, “At the root of every Karen incident is a simple misunderstanding that could have been handled without the theatrics” (The Root). The issue is that a white woman in a dispute with a Black teen immediately tried to weaponize her tears. And as soon as a white man appears to her aid, the white woman’s tears disappear. 


• Read “White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color” by Ruby Hamad.

• Push back against the notion that Karen is the equivalent of a racial slur.

Follow our recommendations for recirculating videos of racial violence on social media.

The bike incident comes less than a month after Carolyn Bryant died peacefully at 88. At 21, she accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of harassing her. Bryant’s husband and brother-in-law kidnapped, tortured, and murdered Till, whose brutalized body helped catalyze the Civil Rights Movement. Both killers were acquitted (PBS). Bryant later confessed that her account was untrue (BBC News). 

How did we get here? Our white supremacist culture constructs white women as the perfect “damsel in distress.” White women, as opposed to people of color, are seen as “innocent and perfect victims” (NBC News). White women’s tears are used to reinforce this image.

“White women tears are especially potent,” writes Luvvie Ajayi, “because they are attached to the symbol of femininity. These tears are pouring out from the eyes of the one chosen to be the prototype of womanhood; the woman who has been painted as helpless against the whims of the world. The one who gets the most protection in a world that does a shitty job overall of cherishing women” (The Guardian). White women’s tears were the usual justification for lynchings like the murder of Emmett Till. Today, they’re still used to summon racial violence

Amy Cooper called the police on a Black man who simply asked her to leash her dog, stating that he was “threatening her life” (NYTimes). A Starbucks employee called the cops on two Black men for “trespassing” while waiting for a friend (NBC News). Frustrated that the police didn’t come sooner, a white woman expressed she was scared by Black men barbecuing in the park (Newsweek). Another white woman physically attacked a Black Muslim woman in a store, only to break down crying and scream, “get away from me,” while running towards the Black woman (Complex).

Even when they’re not being used to summon police or vigilante violence, white woman tears are deployed to protect white privilege. Ruby Hamad describes white woman tears being used to “muster sympathy and avoid accountability” when someone’s called out for racism, deflecting criticism by “turning the tables and accusing the accuser” (The Guardian). For example, Uber’s head of diversity, equity, and inclusion decided it would be worthwhile to convene “Don’t Call Me Karen” meetings to explore “the spectrum of the American white woman’s experience from some of our female colleagues, particularly how they navigate around the ‘Karen’ persona” (The Guardian).

The weaponization of white women’s tears is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it has become a social media trend. White female TikTok users filmed themselves crying and suddenly changing their expression to a smirk, showing how well they can fake tears on demand (Nylon). These videos are being condemned for demonstrating a very real and dangerous history of white women using their emotions to vilify Black people and other people of color.

Videos of violent encounters go viral across social media but rarely do posts outlining the importance of acknowledging white fragility or the limits of white feminism. Although trending videos drive awareness, they continue to reiterate who is centered in the broader narrative around racism and systemic oppression. And in the process, they trigger those most impacted by this harm.


• The “Citi Bike Karen” incident has reignited conversations on how white women’s tears have been weaponized against communities of color.

• Some of the significant historical injustices against Black people that we know of have been started by weaponized white women’s tears.

• When white women weaponize their emotions to cause harm against people of color, they perpetuate the same systemic oppression they often claim to oppose.

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