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'.
Oh, when Karens take a walk with their dogs off leash in the famous Bramble in NY’s Central Park, where it is clearly posted on signs that dogs MUST be leashed at all times, and someone like my brother (an avid birder) politely asks her to put her dog on the leash. pic.twitter.com/3YnzuATsDm
— Melody Cooper (@melodyMcooper) May 25, 2020
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.
Oh, Karen! Knock it off! Kome on! Kool it! You’re NOT the Kraken! Kwit the komplaining and kvetching and kontrolling! You know these krazy kerfuffles that you keep kreating just keep kicking you in your keister! Enough with your krybaby krocks of shit! You always get kaught and kalled-out and klapped-back! The Internet kan be kruel, and you deserve every nasty komment aimed at your kareless, kreepy, kraven ass! Also, get a normal hairkut! 😁#karen #karening #kkkaren #karencut #dontbeabitch #mindyourbusiness #seeyounexttuesday #busybody #racist #racists #prince #releasethekraken #livelaughlove #getoveryourself #whiteprivilege #whitepeoplebelike #whiteprivilegeisreal #snapoutofit #canispeaktoyourmanager #iwanttospeaktothemanager #getyourmanager #releasethekarken #whatheworldneedsnowislovesweetlove
A post shared by RightHandedLeftyArtist (@righthandedleftyartist) on May 23, 2020 at 1:41pm PDT
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'."
Thank you @loreal_blackett for letting me illustrate your words. A few weeks ago, L’Oréal was on the radio, and was asked to answer if it was worrying that the term Karen could become a racial slur/offensive. L’Oréal’s answer is so beautifully articulated and explained I wanted to illustrate it. The full video is in stories and on her profile. Everyone go watch the full version and follow @loreal_blackett 💝 Also, as L’Oréal says herself ‘my mums name is Karen. A woman who is the literal antithesis of what ‘Karen’ now stands for’.
A post shared by DOM&INK (@domandink) on Aug 4, 2020 at 11:05am PDT
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."
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like