This is how 'Karen' came to be more than just a name

The Editors
·5-min read
Photo credit: Dom&Ink - Instagram
Photo credit: Dom&Ink - Instagram

From Cosmopolitan

During recent months as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum, we've seen the name 'Karen' further morph into something more than merely a popular moniker for women (it was the second most popular baby name in the UK in 1974, peaking in the US a decade previously). For some time now, on social media, it has been used as shorthand for a middle-class white woman, with an 'I want to speak to the manager!' attitude (read: privileged) – and recently, its usage has increased tenfold.

Since BLM moved to the forefront of conversation, that negative stereotype also widened to include the sub-section of women who preach, "All Lives Matter!" and in the US in particular, those who are actively anti-BLM. A male equivalent, while less prominent, is thought to be called a 'Ken'. (Side note: saying "all lives matter" is pretty much the equivalent of turning up to a fundraiser for a breast cancer charity and shouting "But what about all the other cancers? And diseases?" – the movement isn't saying only Black lives matter, but rather all lives can't matter until Black lives do).

Then, back in May, the 'Central Park Karen' video went viral. The clip highlighted exactly how racism can manifest in society, as a white woman – later identified as Amy Cooper – is seen phoning the police, falsely telling them that she is being threatened by an "African American man" (who recorded the footage). In reality, no such thing had happened, as Christian Cooper (no relation) had merely politely reminded Amy that dogs were not allowed to be off their leads in that area of the park. She didn't like being told what to do – and the repercussions of her phone call could have been astronomical for Christian.

When tweeting the video of Amy Cooper, Melody Cooper (Christian's sister) referred to Amy Cooper as a 'Karen'.

From this point on, the word Karen ramped up in significance. It was now increasingly used to describe women who used their whiteness as a weapon to potentially harm Black people, in potentially life-altering ways.

Naturally, if your name is Karen, you could feel pretty miffed about this whole thing – and admittedly, it probably doesn't feel all that nice to have your name associated with such negative connotations (equally, if your name is Becky, you may also have seen the memes saying 'Beckys are the younger versions of Karens' and feel similarly). Some people are now arguing that Karen – in itself – is a racial slur against white people. But it's not - and here's why.

Illustrating a BBC Radio Manchester interview with presenter and journalist L'Oréal Blackett, the talented Dominic Evans (@DomAndInk) put some of her quotes into easily digestible artwork. During the conversation, L'Oréal explains, "When you talk about racial slurs, there's a lot of history that comes behind racial slurs. 'Karen' doesn't have a deep, entrenched racial history."

She added that there are plenty of other, more harmful things, to be offended by too. "It's the calling out of a sub-section of people who are doing damaging racial things to other people. Of course people will take offence to it, but if you're going to be offended by something, be offended by the racism that's taken place. That's what we need to be offended by, not the term 'Karen'."

L'Oréal also said, "It is uncomfortable, you might be offended by it a little bit but then you have to address the reason why it's being used in the first place."

When speaking to Cosmopolitan UK, she also added, "My mother’s name is Karen so I understand the impact this has on a ‘real’ unproblematic Karen firsthand! But, she’s passionately anti-racist and understands the need to call-out this behaviour, even if her name is used."

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