Due to furloughs, layoffs, lockdowns and the stress caused by Black Lives Matter’s return, there has been an uptick in social media videos and memes featuring white women getting angry. These are usually referred to as Karens or Kens – the latter being named for Kate Gosselin’s iconic side-swept bob haircut featured on “Jon & Kate Plus 8.”
Social commentators seem to use the label “Karlesque” as a way of recognizing behaviors stemming from entitlement or disenfranchisement, often at the hands of others. And they want entitled Karens to pay back for their harmful actions.
Activist Groups Holding Entitled and Racist Karens Accountable
Activist groups are demanding that Karens take responsibility for their harmful actions.
Social media can be an effective tool in calling out racist or entitled remarks, but holding those responsible for their crimes requires real accountability. Whether it’s through San Francisco’s Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act (CAREN Act) or a fiery op-ed in The New York Times, activists are holding negligent busiers accountable for their misdeeds.
Aram Sinnreich, an associate professor of communication at American University in Washington, D.C., has noticed an uptick in Karen video incidents over the past few months. He believes this trend is proof of social media’s ability to spark social transformation.
Many Karen-themed videos that have surfaced on social media depict white people becoming indignant over a perceived slight from their Black counterpart, whether it’s asking them to follow store or restaurant social-distancing rules or demanding to see their ID.
This phenomenon has also given birth to a new wave of humorous satire and practical jokes, such as “Karen vs Ken” t-shirts and bumper stickers (OK, not quite as funny as it sounds), but that’s another topic for another article.
No matter where you stand on the “Karen” or “Ken” spectrum, it’s impossible not to wonder what drives these current and past fashion fads. Is it due to racial profiling, an absence of better terms for entitlement, or simply a desire to maintain an oppressive racial status quo? Or perhaps both?
Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter activists have been holding entitled and racist Karens accountable for their harmful actions. For instance, this week they called on Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass to withdraw her support of LAPD Chief Roy Moore and overhaul the police commission. Furthermore, they asked that Bass meet with them next Wednesday at the American Civil Liberties Union office near downtown L.A.
Activists contend the most damaging aspect of the Karen video phenomenon is its disregard for the reality that people of color face daily discrimination based on race. For instance, 66% of Black adults say they’ve encountered situations in which someone acted suspiciously, compared to just 25% among white adults.
Viral videos often depict a range of incidents, though some are more troubling than others. They can take place in public places when people of color are asked to leave for socially distancing reasons; or when they’re told they cannot eat in certain cafes or parks; swim in pools; or take their children to museums due to noise levels.
Cases such as these may be caused by a combination of socio-economic, mental health and substance abuse issues. They could also be the outcome of racial profiling and cultural redlining that grants exclusive access to spaces like elevators, department stores, street corners, parks or Ivy League colleges for people with certain racial profiles.
Many of these cases are caused by coronavirus — a potentially lethal virus that has been linked to job loss, depression and stress among those of color for generations, according to Clemons.
She asserts that the video phenomenon has gone too far, trivializing the anger and economic disenfranchisement of a white working class that propelled President Donald Trump to power in 2016. “This is an extremely sexist narrative,” she declares.
She nonetheless believes this movement is beneficial in calling out those who may feel entitled to act in ways that harm people of color. Ultimately, she hopes it will foster an inclusive society and foster an empathy that was lacking before Black Lives Matter became a national movement in the late 1960s.
The Women’s March
The Women’s March is an organization formed in opposition to President Donald Trump’s inauguration. They organized one of the largest mass protests in history and founders Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland ultimately stepped down from their roles after years of controversy.
The group’s organizers have been credited for revolutionizing American feminism and diversifying the movement. But they’ve faced criticism, with some activists in other cities accusing them of consolidating power.
Activists have also questioned the leadership of the group, contending it failed to build a robust grassroots movement. A knowledgeable activist knows that success in any grassroots endeavor depends on those who show up and sustain it.
At a time when political organizing seems hopeless, The Women’s March proved that activism can be successful. It brought millions of people together to express their dissatisfaction with Trump’s policies and assert their voices back in the political arena.
But The Women’s March has taught us that social change does not happen overnight. Instead, it requires time and dedication.
One activist told KCET, “In a world where everyone seems contented, we need to take action. We need to fight for an equitable society.”
Denise Dudley made a mark on activism when she joined protesters in Washington, D.C. wearing a pink pussyhat.
She then expressed that her involvement in other activist groups had inspired her to consider joining movements such as Black Lives Matter. Although she had been active previously, participating in the Women’s March was what finally gave her voice and renewed engagement within a larger political movement.
Since the March, she has become involved with local and national groups advocating for women’s rights and issues. Additionally, she volunteers her services at both local and state elections.
She sees her role in these groups as an opportunity to make entitled Karens pay for their harmful actions. She labels them scapegoats for a system that discriminates against minorities, particularly women, she claims.
The Anti-Racist Action Network
The Black Lives Matter movement has been a powerful tool in combatting racism, but some White activists have also seen an opportunity to exact revenge on those responsible. A series of viral videos featuring White people posing as Karens have gone viral across social media, sparking outrage with their hostile attitude toward people of color.
These incidents may stem from personal grievances or be the product of systemic racism that affects White Americans. In America, many of the most severe instances of anti-Black, anti-gay, anti-Muslim and anti-woman prejudice involve groups of white extremists committing acts of terrorism or murder – such as the recent bombing in Arizona which claimed the life of an abortion provider.
Some activist groups work to eradicate racism at the individual level and prevent it from spreading. Searchlight, for instance, is an organization in Britain that monitors and dismantles far right organizations. Their methods involve employing moles and informers within these extremist groups in order to expose their activities and expose the harm they cause.
In the United States, activists have sought to create spaces where far left and anti-fascist movements can work together. They’ve done this through countercultural networks such as Anti-Racist Action Network (ARA), founded in 1987 with chapters initially located throughout the Midwest but now spanning across North America.
Another example is the Anti-Racist Action Network International, a militant anti-fascist group founded in Germany in 1997. Its members were mostly young people. Together they formed a coalition to oppose Nazi activity and provided countercultural space where left-wing activists could engage in anti-fascist work.
The Anti-Racist Action Network remains active today, though it is less well known in the U.S. than it was during its peak of 120 chapters during the 1990s.
The Anti-Racist Action Network is a social activism movement that addresses racial inequality and discrimination. It also advocates for human rights and the elimination of violence against communities. With chapters around America and thousands of supporters, its members include many who have confronted neo-Nazis and other extremists in the past. Furthermore, ARAN helps promote other activist groups such as Black Lives Matter in its efforts to eradicate racism from our society.