Miya Ponsetto, the white woman dubbed as "SoHo Karen" on social media, was forcibly arrested in California this week. Her arrest comes after she racially profiled and assaulted 14-year-old Keyon Harrold Jr., son of Grammy award-winning jazz musician Keyon Harrold, in a New York City hotel lobby on December 26. According to a spokesperson for the Ventura County Sheriff, who worked in conjunction with the New York City Police Department, Ponsetto was confronted at a traffic stop and pulled from her vehicle when she refused to get out.
On the day of the attack, Keyon Harrold posted the video of the altercation on his Instagram of Ponsetto falsely accusing his son of stealing her iPhone. "The lady in this video assaulted my 14-year-old son and me as we came down from our room in the Arlo SoHo to get breakfast,” he wrote in the caption. “This person 'lost' her iPhone, and apparently, my son magically acquired it, which [is] merely ridiculous. This incident went on for five more minutes, me protecting my son from this lunatic. She scratched me; she tackled and grabbed him. He is a child!!"
Shortly after, the clip circulated throughout social media as people were outraged with not only the hotel's lack of intervention during the attack but the baseless accusation and assault. People drew comparisons to Amy Cooper, a Karen who called the police on a Black man in Central Park last year and falsely reported that he threatened her. An online petition, posted by civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, garnered more than 100,000 signatures. The hotel released a statement regarding the incident on December 27, writing via an Instagram post: "No Arlo guest - or any person - should be subject to this kind of behavior. We want to apologise to Mr. Harrold and his son for this inexcusable behaviour."
A few days later, the NYPD released the hotel's footage of the racially-charged attack on Twitter, asking for the public's help in finding Ponsetto. In the footage, Ponsetto charges at the teen, who was walking away with his back turned to her, then grabs his waist and tackles him to the ground. According to the NYPD, she fled the hotel before officers arrived at the scene. Soon after, Ponsetto's attorney confirmed that she had left her phone in an Uber car, which the driver returned after the incident.
But even with the lingering threat of police involvement before her arrest, Ponsetto wasn't afraid to use her whiteness as a weapon again — this time, sheltering it with her Latinidad. In a video that circulated on January 2, a reporter caught Ponsetto exiting a Mcdonald's in California and asked her a few questions surrounding the assault. "Are you worried that the police are looking for you," the reporter asked. "Are you concerned about the warrant for the arrest? Why did you do it? [Harrold] 's young." With an unworried expression on her face, Ponsetto turned towards the camera and quickly interjected. "I'm actually 22, so I don't know what the problem is here — and I'm also Puerto Rican, so thank you," Ponsetto claimed.
Yet, the problem is clear. Being a white Latina does not exempt you from being racist just because Latinidad falls under the “POC” umbrella term. Ponsetto's assumption that identifying as Puerto Rican justifies her actions is invalid because Latinx is not a race. You can be Latinx and still be a Karen. Let it be known that Harrold Jr. also is of Puerto Rican descent. At the base, white Latinas like Miya Ponsetto benefit from white privilege, yet they'll use this privilege to choose when they can or cannot demonise Black people in the white spaces that accept them as one of their own. Then, they'll use this same Latinx identity and exploit the oppression of other Latinx people to defend their racist actions. But if an officer arrived at the scene at the time of the incident, they wouldn't see two Puerto Ricans: they'd see one white woman accusing one Black young man — and historically, we know how that story goes.
Let's not forget the deep-seated racism in Latin American cultures that stems from a long history of colonisation, assimilation, and the preservation of whiteness that remains ingrained in its people today. Ponsetto weaponised her Puerto Rican ethnicity as an attempt to insinuate that she does not have the power to racially profile a Black teenager. “How is one girl accusing a guy about a phone a crime? What is the deeper story here?” Ponsetto asked Gayle King on CBS This Morning hours before getting arrested — questioning how her actions were racist. According to King, Ponsetto insisted that it’s not racial profiling during the interview. This is similar to when George Zimmerman, a white man, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a Black teen, and Zimmerman and his family used his Peruvian heritage to imply that Martin's murder was not racially motivated.
Despite the heightened racial tensions in the United States and the fate of many Black people — including Black Latinos — at the hands of racist police officers, and the unfairness of how differently violence is wielded when it comes to Black and brown folks peacefully protesting for justice versus white Trump supporters terrorising the U.S. capitol, white Puerto Rican women like Ponsetto are still determined to use their whiteness to put a Black Puerto Rican teen in danger. Ponsetto allegedly has claimed that she wants to apologise to the Harrold family and her lawyer stated that she has "anger management issues and anxiety.” Still, her comments not only undermine the severity of her attacking a Black minor, but also disregard and perpetuate the erasure of Keyon Harrold Jr.'s own Latindad. In an attempt to use her identity to shield herself, she showed us that white privilege within Latinidad is very real, and it is dangerous when it falls into the wrong hands.