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What Is a Karen and How Can I Avoid Being One?

I have a BA in history and creative writing and an MA in history. I enjoy politics, movies, television, poker, video games, and trivia.

What does it mean to call someone a "Karen"? Get the definition and some examples here.

What does it mean to call someone a "Karen"? Get the definition and some examples here.

A Brief History of Karens

The term "Karen," when used as an insult, refers to a badly behaved, entitled White woman. She is middle class. She is sometimes racist.

According to Wikipedia and numerous other sources, there is no specific origin of the term. However, it is possible that "Karen" originated on Black Twitter around 2018. According to The Atlantic, the website Reddit posted a subreddit in December 2017 that was all about a user's vindictive ex-wife, named Karen. It's possible the Karen movement grew from there.

Despite the new connection between the specific name Karen and bad behavior, the concept has existed for years. In Sir Mix-a-Lot's 1992 hip hop hit, "Baby Got Back," he sings the following line:

"Oh, my, God, Becky, look at her butt! It is so big. She's just so Black."

In this example, Becky doesn't exhibit the exact behaviors of the modern Karen. However, Becky is close. Karen is clearly an evolution of Becky. And it's not inconceivable that Becky could be a Karen. Clearly, she's a bit racist. Some might say she's a lot racist. But there's no clear indication of her entitlement, though it's easy to assume.

What is clear is that Black people have had their share of Karens for a long time. What may be different now, as with much cultural appropriation, is that White people get the reference. And now they're using it frequently. So, let's look at some recent behaviors that define what it means to be a Karen.

Kate Gosselin is frequently the photo used in Karen memes.

Kate Gosselin is frequently the photo used in Karen memes.

The Case of Amy Cooper

On May 25, 2020, a woman named Amy Cooper set the bar high by any Karen standards.

A man named Christian Cooper (no relation) was bird-watching in a part of Central Park in New York City. It's called The Ramble. There's a sign indicating that all dogs must be on a leash. Amy Cooper's dog was not on a leash, so Christian Cooper asked her to leash her dog. Amy Cooper refused. Apparently, the rule didn't apply to her. So Christian Cooper calmly told her the following:

"Look, if you're going to do what you want, I'm going to do what I want. But you're not going to like it."

At that point, Christian Cooper pulled out some dog treats and called the dog over. That's when Amy Cooper freaked out. Let's stop here for a moment and analyze this situation.

Amy Cooper is already displaying some typical Karen behaviors. She doesn't care what the rules are because she has a special circumstance. Her dog needs exercise. She doesn't want to go all the way over to the other side of the park.

Christian Cooper is not bothering anyone or breaking any rules. He is politely asking another person to follow the rules. He is perhaps impolite when she becomes confrontational. Cooper says that if she won't follow the rule, then he will behave in a way she may not like. Tit for tat. It's clear that Amy Cooper perceived Christian Cooper's actions as a threat to her dog.

The obvious, easy solution here would have been for Amy Cooper to apologize and leash her dog. Instead, she called the police and, in typical Karen fashion, used her whiteness to draw the police into a conflict.

Did I mention that Christian Cooper is Black?

Amy Cooper called the police and told them an African-American man was threatening her and her dog. She used his race as bait to the police. Given police reactions, a confrontation with Christian Cooper might have ended badly. Given how easily a nice, normal person would have resolved this situation, it's unbelievable what it turned into.

As a result of this incident. Amy Cooper lost her job. She's the face of Karens worldwide. The police charged her with filing a false report. For his part, Christian Cooper refused to help the police. He felt Amy Cooper suffered enough.

Obviously, Amy Cooper could have chosen a different path. Perhaps she could have complied with the law. Maybe she could have apologized and leashed her dog. Perhaps she could have considered the value of being a good citizen. Instead, she ignored the rule, ignored decorum, and used her White privilege to try to get what she wanted.

A Karen Named Karen

In December 2019, a man named Robby Wirramanda filmed his neighbors, Rob Vigors and Karen Ridge, questioning his Aboriginal roots. While they are arguing, Karen Ridge tries to tear down his Aboriginal flag. Fortunately, she doesn't seem up to the task. Her failure prompted the meme "too strong for you, Karen."

Once again, a Karen incident involves a White person using their whiteness to question somebody's non-whiteness. Can you imagine a Black person walking into a White neighborhood and grilling the White residents? How would the police respond to a Black man reporting a White man lurking in a neighborhood?

The result of the flag incident was that Karen Ridge lost her job, too.

Typical Karen Behaviors

Below are some behaviors and phrases that are commonly associated with Karens.

Can I Speak to the Manager?

Wanting to speak to a manager because anybody not a manager is not worth talking to is typical Karen behavior. I have a personal example for this one.

A Karen berated one of my front line staff workers over the phone. This was happening even though this woman was both smart and kind. She was also good at her job. However, because she couldn't answer a fairly technical question, this Karen treated her like an idiot. She called her unkind names.

When the Karen showed up in person, I helped her. Me, a manager. Although she was more civil toward me (a typical Karen behavior), she demanded all sorts of information. She had no right to any of it. In an effort to placate her, I tried to get what she wanted, but couldn't.

Eventually, because she continued being unkind, I offered to send her up the line. This is always a good move with a Karen. Karens believe they are getting good service the more senior they go. My supervisor, also a woman, politely called the Karen's bluff regarding a threat she made. That put an end to her harassment.

The same Karen entered the store many weeks later. We all recognized her, of course. She pretended she had never been there before. At the time, we gave her instructions on how to perform a particular task on her own. She came in again and pretended she couldn't do it herself.

You get the picture.

Jenny McCarthy. Anti-Vaxxer. Hair cut. Karen.

Jenny McCarthy. Anti-Vaxxer. Hair cut. Karen.

My Kids Are Too Precious for Vaccines

Actress and former Playboy Playmate, Jenny McCarthy, is a Karen.

You see, McCarthy is an anti-vaxxer. Against all science, she pushes the theory that vaccines cause autism. Vaccines do not cause autism. Science says so. It doesn't matter what she used to do. She's not a scientist. She's not a doctor. McCarthy's doubt and her public platform have undoubtedly killed some people. If she persuaded people to decline vaccines, then children may very well have died. If her views continue to win converts, people will die.

McCarthy has used her privilege to push a conspiracy. And she thinks she knows better. All this when vaccines are one of human beings greatest achievements. The belief that vaccines are dangerous is idiocy.

That's the definition of a Karen.

I Said 65% Milk in My Soy Latte! This is Clearly 58%. Maybe Less.

That lady at the front of the Starbucks line screaming at the barista—that's probably a Karen. I mean, unless the barista stabbed her in the face with a fork, no woman can justify such behavior.

Karen behavior is common in Starbucks. Some Karens will scream about getting three shots of caramel instead of two or whatever. Then she'll usually ask to speak to a manager and demand a free drink.

Starbucks is like a Karen habitat.

Does a Karen Have to Be White?

In short, no.

Racism is a secondary characteristic of Karens. However sexist, the most important characteristic is sex. Karens are always female. The next most important characteristic is entitlement. Thus, a Karen can be any race. It's the entitlement and the indignation that matter the most.

Is White Privilege a Thing?

In short, yes.

It's important that we understand privilege. White people who deny privilege are usually racist. Does security follow White people in stores because they are White? Do police follow them for no reason? They can walk around almost any neighborhood without having random people call the police. That's a privilege. White people take it for granted.

White people have advantages because of their whiteness. One cannot always link a specific outcome to White privilege. However, it's clear that being White isn't a hinderance to living free and making decisions.

How Not to Be a Karen

So, how can you avoid being a Karen?

It's pretty simple, really. Just behave like a decent person. Follow the rules. Err on the side of apology instead of accusation. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

Just be nice.

Karen Resources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Allen Donald