While "Karen" has become synonymous with anti-mask temper tantrums and unbelievable racist encounters caught on camera as of late, the Real Housewives of Potomac star is sitting in the power of the name she's held for 57 years. In fact, it's the word she uses to describe the fifth season of the Bravo series, premiering Sunday. Season 5 is, to Karen, all about Karen.
"I'm all that you guys have seen for five years, all of that is me," she tells ET over video chat. "I don't exclude any part of Karen in order to be on reality TV, and I think that's what the viewers and my fans relate to. They're like, oh my god. She's so funny, but then when she's hurting, she's hurting. When she's loyal, she's loyal. I'm all of those things."
Karen says she's never been hesitant about "being real for reality TV" (partially because, once you film it, "it's too late!") -- and season 5 just might be her most real season yet.
"I'm always trying to go deeper the next season because people think they know me and then they're like, oh my god, I really don't know her," she admits. "I went a little deeper in the foundation and the root of who I am and shared family with you."
While Karen and her husband of nearly 25 years, "the Black Bill Gates" Ray Huger, have gone through issues before -- from money problems to mysterious midnight moves -- for the first time, their "institution" (that's what Karen calls their marriage) appears to be at either a breaking or a turning point.
"It's a place of work in a marriage," she shares of the journey viewers will see between the couple. "We don't hold back and we work through. I'm honored to have done it."
There is a 17-year age gap between Karen and Ray, 74, and in the premiere, Karen notes that gap seemed to widen the more the pair grew into their marriage. When she was 40 and he was 57, they felt like they were in a similar life place. But now that he's in his 70s, Ray and Karen are at very different stages.
"I wouldn't call it a divide, I would just call it a disconnect," she shares. "The disconnect is frightening. … I learned so much about myself and about Ray, and it was important to take that lesson and to be a student at that moment. I'm not surprised I learned so much about myself, and I learned what I will do for family. You don't think you can keep growing. I kept growing."
The trailer also features a candid moment of Karen confiding in her co-stars about the state of her relationship, admitting, "We've been together 25 years. I shoulda left in a f**king heartbeat." It's worth noting, the Hugers are still going strong; just before her chat with ET, Karen had Ray make sure her internet connection was working for the interview.
"When women get together such as ourselves, The Real Housewives of Potomac, there's a sisterhood and there's a healing in talking things through," she offers of the teary moment.
That sisterhood will be on full display this season, as the women deal with something they never expected to happen on their show: a physical altercation between cast members Monique Samuels and Candiace Dillard Bassett.
"No one could have told me that moment was going to happen," Karen says. "I watched in awe, and I also want to share that two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s the teaser I’m giving you guys this season. Y’all do the math! I have always been a strong advocate for what’s right is right, what’s wrong is wrong. I don’t change on this. It’s very difficult for me to watch what transpired, but I’m always hopeful."
In the days after the incident, Karen and her fellow OG RHOP stars Gizelle Bryant, Robyn Dixon and Ashley Darby met with Monique to discuss how things wound up where they did. As Gizelle proclaims in the trailer, "We have been able to hold ourselves above the stereotype and in five minutes she took it away."
"It's important to understand that as the OG of RHOP, I will facilitate anything that will allow us to express ourselves in a positive way and have a discussion that most people would feel uncomfortable about," Karen says of the discussion. "I can say that it was a very fruitful moment and you’ll see a lot of growth and a lot of pain and love."
Some of that pain is teased in the trailer, with Monique tearfully telling her co-stars, "Maybe I don't need to be a part of this anymore." Karen says viewers will need to watch to find out if Monique really took a step back from the group and, in turn, the show.
"I can tell what I advised my friend to do; to take care of herself first, and then whatever you call that, that is what she did," she teases. "She did it very committed and I respect her for it."
At its heart, The Real Housewives of Potomac is about life for Black women in America, a topic that's more timely than ever as the country reckons with its history of racism and the inequalities Black people still face in the year 2020.
"It's a movement, it's a change happening, you know, and I'm honored and excited to be a part of it and to live in this moment and see this change come," Karen says of the call for social justice. "It will happen this time, there's something different about it, there's something powerfully new about this movement and it's not just Black folks marching, it's everybody marching who has enough human kindness."
"I honestly believe that RHOP would be the place to [continue] the conversation," she adds. "We will continue to walk in truth, honesty, pain, love and hate until Black lives matter. … It’s a subject matter that has to be taught and I’m here to educate."
Karen, who previously worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights, says she’s been having “painful” conversations with her adult children, Brandon and Rayvin, as the family navigates this time.
"I've raised my children in love and hope, but they were ready because they are educated," she says. "My son is a man of Moorehouse and Georgetown masters, Rayvin did Penn and is getting her masters from Fordham. I think education is the key. While it was painful to have this conversation with them, it was very needed to refresh their memory and to let them know I have them and love conquers all, and that our foundation as a family will carry us through whatever challenges we will face through Black Lives Matter, but it does matter."
"Rayvin even marched, by the way," she shares. "She had to get out there, there was a need to represent her family and I just love her for that strength and courage and I just wonder where she gets it from."
Karen hopes her own strength and courage shines through on season 5 of RHOP, which will also feature some lighthearted moments, too. Fans will see how Karen takes to new addition Dr. Wendy Osefo (spoiler alert: she's "unimpressed" at first, but says the door is open for change) and how her relationship with Gizelle continues to evolve.
"I think from this season, you'll see acceptance," she hints. "I can only speak for me. I accept Gizelle, good, bad, different shenanigans, just depends on what hat she's wearing that day. I can do both -- I can do it all with her, but for me, you'll just see acceptance for everybody. It takes all seven of us to make this thing called RHOP and the fans love and support and so I'm at the point of acceptance and, you know, you are what you are and I will treat you accordingly."