Clare Brown's Viral TikTok Character Carèn Takes on Racism With Humor in 'New Nigeria County'

During 2020's upheaval, Brown created Carèn, a TikTok character who humorously flips racial dynamics. Now, her audiobook "New Nigeria County" expands Carèn's world into a fictional Black utopia, offering sharp commentary on race relations in America.

Like a lot of people during that transformative, upheaval-filled year that was 2020, Clare Brown found herself dealing with a ton of emotions as the pandemic raged and a recocking on Black life finally got everyone’s attention. Like so many others, she needed a creative outlet, and she found it via TikTok, where she created a character named Carèn who flips the script on the dynamics of modern-day Black life by acting in the same passively racist way white folks do us––treating “European Americans” as if their names were exotic for example, or acting as if European history was an elective the way Black history is now. 

“There were a lot of anti racist educators who were making videos and talking about [systemic racism] at the time,” she tells BET. “And I just felt like it wasn't resonating. So I was like, ‘How can I be part of this conversation in a way that I feel like people will listen, and not be like, ‘This doesn't have anything to do with me, because I'm not racist.’ I wanted them to be humorous, and I wanted to shift the perspective because I feel like racial discussions can re-traumatize Black people.” 

Her approach and her account took off, going viral almost immediately. For years and nearly half a million followers later, Brown is taking Carèn to the next level with the audiobook New Nigeria County. The book expands Carèn’s world, placing her in the aforementioned fictional county––a wealthy Black enclave where nearly every aspect of life as we know it now is inverted. The wives are all strong, rich, and powerful, the husbands are more or less trophy dudes, and Nat Turner High is the best public school in the state. Amid this imagined Black utopia, things change when a white family moves in the area. When Carèn spots a “possible gang member” in her tony neighborhood (the cheekily named Malcolm X Estates), she makes a frantic call to the police only to discover that the young European American boy in cargo shorts is the son of her new neighbors. Carèn’s call sets in motion a series of events that send her and the whole town spiraling, offering the listeners a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek commentary on race that’s as enjoyable as it is resonant. 

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“I wanted to flesh out this woman and create a Black female character who is an antihero,” Brown says. “She behaves really badly throughout the entire book. People make excuses for her. She's a terrible human but people still love her.” Just like…a Karen, right? 

By day, Brown, a former theater kid with a penchant for performance, works as an influencer marketer, helping social media influencers connect with brands. Yet she’s always been careful, she says, about separating her own life from her online presence. “I very much go out of my way to not share anything about my own life,” she says. “I don't do any product reviews. I always have a green screen or blank wall in front of me; it's a church and state kind of thing. My TikTok is my creative outlet.” 

And now, so is New Nigeria County. She admits there was a bit of a learning curve in adapting her TikTok to audiobook; she had to cast other people to round out the cast that would make the community come alive, and she had to think differently about writing for an entirely different format. “I remember the first draft of episode one that I submitted, I was like, ‘I am the best writer to have ever existed; this is so good!’ And I get it back [from the editor] and it was like, all red. It was learning the format. Like every 30 seconds doesn't need to be a joke. Thinking about dialogue and how people speak to each other. I’m a huge reader, but with this it was like, ‘How can I get this story across quickly?’ I just wanted it to be a quick thing you can listen to on a road trip or while you're cleaning the house. I wanted to make it easy.” 

New Nigeria County is easy and fun, but it’s provocative too. As Carèn, and her equally spoiled, entitled friends oblivious to their own toxicity and bias directed at this new white family, become undone, listeners explore the consequences of blind prejudice, and the ways a whole community can descend into madness just because of the actions of one person. And though the audience may learn something or feel a sense of relief, Carèn learns absolutely nothing and that’s by design. 

“I want Black people to listen to and feel seen. I think so many Black people have this exact situation, but in reverse, and you start to think, ‘Am I crazy? Am I overreacting?’ It’s like, ‘No, we all experience this.’ And then I do want white people to listen to it and say, ‘Oh, get the pattern. I get what Black people are talking about when they say they experienced a microaggression at work or in my neighborhood.’ But the book does not have a clean ending. Everything isn’t tied up in a nice bow. It was really important to have Carèn start and end in the exact same place. Because that is how racial racial relations work.” 

New Nigeria County will be released on June 18th, available wherever audiobooks are sold.

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