The Rise of the Karens

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Karen, Karen meme, Don't be a KarenAccording to a popular meme, Karen is an entitled, somewhat ignorant, middle-aged white woman. She most often appears with an asymmetrical hair style, loudly demanding to speak with the manager—also known as a Full Karen. Karens drive SUVs, sport acrylic nails, and subscribe to the newspaper in a project neighborhood home.

Not you? Don’t worry—it’s not a lot of people. Karen has become internet slang for women who show themselves to be racist, ignorant, and full of their own importance.  Calling the police, usually on a black neighbor, is a Karen hallmark. When I was a kid being a Karen meant giving out raisins on Halloween.

All of this gives real-life Karen’s an unfair prejudice, making them the butt of an internet trend. But where did it all begin? Although 2020 is seeing the rise of Karen memes,  she’s been around a lot longer.

Who Started It?

The name Karen in the context above is often linked to the 2004 film Mean Girls, where an outraged character responds to a comment with:  “Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask someone why they’re white.”

It’s not a stretch to understand that Karen was chosen for her whiteness. Washington Post editor Karen Attiah (a beautiful young black woman) recalls being told, “You don’t look like a Karen.”

The name is one of the top 10 names for girls born in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, so it’s associated with older white women now in their sixties.

The 2020 Karen

2020 is the year of the meme, and Karen is no exception. A Karen meme reflects an expectation of self-importance. Being called a Karen on social media implies an ignorant white lady with a regulatory, cultural or racist bone to pick—and does it in the most public and obnoxious way imaginable.

Cell phones make videotaping Karen behavior a new pastime. It does not take much for them to go viral, sparking widespread outrage and repercussion. The offending Karens are immediately ostracized and some are even fired from their jobs.

It’s tempting to jump on the Karen bandwagon, even when common sense says you shouldn’t. A good example is Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, who referred to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany as “Karen” in a tweet—a poor choice for an elected official.

Another one is San Francisco resident Lisa Alexander who called the police on her neighbor for stenciling Black Lives Matter on his own property. Karen behavior is hard to hide. A viral example is the woman reporting her neighbors eight-year-old daughter for selling lemonade without a permit. The child’s mother filmed it and trended the hashtag #calmdownkaren.

Covid Karens

In the age of coronavirus, calling someone a Karen is increasingly tied to those protesting social-distancing rules, especially wearing a mask. A pandemic gives a Karen carte blanche to regulate neighbors, friends and, well…. anyone.

Karen, Coronavirus, Don't be a Karen, MemeKarens have been filmed throwing public tantrums over masks in Target, Home Depot, Costco and Dairy Queen. The opportunity to film and socially shame Karen behavior is trending. A parody of Dolly Parton’s hit song “Jolene” is cleverly redone to point an internet finger at all the Karens refusing to wear a mask.

Being called a Karen is considered an insult and those coming under fire often earn themselves the name. An example is Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman. She suggested an immediate reopening of Vegas casinos,  offering her constituents up as a “control group” to test the effectiveness of the shelter-in-place order. #karen

Las Vegas officials were quick to condemn her as reckless and embarrassing but the harshest criticism came from the online community, referring to Goodman as “a real Karen’s Karen.

That’s So Karen

Karen’s are in a class all their own.  To be a legitimate Karen you are filmed representing yourself in incidents where you, the white person, are calling the police about black people in public parks, coffee shops and other public spaces.

You might be a Karen if you act like this woman, filmed at a Red Lobster. The restaurant staff was reduced due to the pandemic and she had to wait too long for her food.

You are definitely a Karen if you are like this California woman who was refused service at a Starbucks for not wearing a mask. She took to the internet in a public rant that resulted in a public GoFundMe campaign for the barista who refused to serve her.

More than $105,000 in “tips” was raised for his courageous stand.  The woman now clams she’s owed half of the money considering the “underlying health issues” that exempt her from wearing a mask. #fullkaren

Don’t Be a Karen

Being a Karen means you’ve forgotten how to treat people decently. It comes down to character. To all the Karens out there who don’t deserve this–#staystrong.  Your name has unfairly become a pejorative.

Don't be a Karen, Covid Karen, privilegeA meme that began as a joke about entitlement and asymmetrical hair now calls us to be accountable for behavior that make us complicit in entitled and racist behavior.

No one wants to be a Karen but let’s be real; it happens. Each of us has the potential to find our inner Karen, deep inside of us. It’s important to recognize it and not let her out.

You’re better than that. Don’t be A Karen.