“Karen” has become an increasingly popular online name among middle-aged white women who exhibit entitled behavior. This includes a pushy attitude towards service workers, anti-vaccine beliefs and racist microaggressions.
Karen culture was initially popularized on Black Twitter as a meme to denigrate white women for “tattle-tattle on black kids’ lemonade stands” or unleashing the “violent history of white womanhood.” Since then, it has gained global acceptance, being used to label an array of behaviors.
Black Twitter may not have a hashtag or trending topics, but it can be an invaluable platform for conversations that don’t reach the top of search engine results. In particular, its community often shares reflections on racism and privilege.
Some of these conversations echo broader trends in social media, such as racialized police communication on Instagram. According to Linda Clemons, founder of Sisterpreneur – an organization dedicated to empowering female entrepreneurs – such discussions can help us better understand how race impacts online spaces and social norms.
Many conversations taking place on Black Twitter are driven by an interest in race and culture, but some also reflect white privilege or racism, according to Rachel Chen, a sociology professor at CUNY. These exchanges revolve around what it means to be white within a context of racism and how best to utilize that privilege for benefitting other groups such as black people.
These conversations can be vital for understanding how white privilege and racism shape how people think about their race and culture, yet they’re often difficult to follow or track. This is especially true on platforms like Twitter which allows users to hide their identity by selecting an avatar and profile picture; making it difficult for those unfamiliar with the community to follow along.
One of the most prevalent examples of Entitled Karen culture on Black Twitter has been in relation to the Coronavirus pandemic, a serious public health threat that has caused widespread public anxiety about how people should protect themselves from infection. People have been refusing face coverings in stores and restaurants while sometimes verbally abusing service staff; these videos have gone viral and been referred to as Coronavirus Karens or Kens.
In a time of pandemic crisis, Karen has become an increasingly relevant and urgent figure (Jennifer Weiner, 2020). She represents an instance of ‘pandemic shaming’ – in which anti-black state violence and the vulnerability of essential workers is brought to the fore.
The Entitled Karen Culture Online — or more accurately the Entitled B*tch culture — has become increasingly prevalent on social media in recent months. This term is used to denote white women who exhibit inappropriate behaviors and entitlement, such as demanding to speak to managers, being anti-vaccination, or calling the police on Black Lives Matter protesters.
This culture is primarily fostered by online forums like Reddit, where users can anonymously comment on other people’s behavior in real time. According to Panek (2019), this allows for moral judgment and outrage at bad behavior that goes undetected.
Subreddit /u/fuck_you_karen has become a haven for this type of behavior and harassment. The front page often features posts decrying Karen as the “evil” one after she did something the internet considered wrong or disrespectful, such as coughing on customers or leaning on cars. These sexist and insensitive remarks often come in response to viral videos featuring women labeled “Karens” after doing something considered unacceptable such as coughing on customers or leaning on cars.
These videos have caused widespread fear and been labeled either “horrifying” or “appalling.” Some of these events have even resulted in death. One particularly distressing video showed a woman leaning on a car to prevent another driver from getting their desired spot; she was quickly labeled a Karen by online users.
Similar footage emerged of a woman screaming at an employee at a supermarket for refusing to wear protective masks, contrary to store policy. She then threatened the store with legal action.
This type of behavior is deeply rooted in white privilege and draws from a history of violent white women who have used their advantage and victimhood as weapons. This combination can lead to fatal lynchings of racial minorities.
No matter the race or gender of an individual, it is critical to call out this behavior when it occurs and not allow it to go undetected or ignored. It can lead to dangerous outcomes; Karen Entitled serves as a prime example.
If you’re on Instagram, chances are you have come across videos labeled “Karens.” These accounts showcase footage of white women who display racism and entitlement in public settings.
The term has come to be used for those who harass Black people, block pedestrians from exiting parking lots and shout too loudly. These incidents have been documented on Instagram videos posted by pages such as @karensgoingwilds which has amassed over 1.9 million followers since its creation last Friday.
Some of these videos become viral sensations, while others are less widely shared or seen on social media platforms. Aside from providing entertainment, these videos also serve to express people’s anger and frustration regarding the coxavirus crisis.
Experts don’t know exactly why some Karens become so enraged, but experts speculate it might have something to do with their tendency to overestimate their power in a given situation. Coupled with their capacity for being heard by shopkeepers and other members of the public, this gives them the motivation and leverage necessary to escalate an incident into a race grenade.
Denise Dudley, an author and workplace consultant who specializes in diversity training, believes Karens’ actions may be motivated by their belief that being able to voice your opinion is important. She notes Karens “appear very assertive” and often believe they have the right to express anger – perhaps due to gender-based stereotypes which encourage women to suppress their emotions.
According to Attiah, many Karens may feel threatened due to their skin color or other inequities and this can lead them to act irrationally.
She emphasizes that people may become resentful or even act out against others when faced with the realization of having made a false slur about someone’s race or sexuality, or out of fear for future treatment differences. These feelings could stem from feelings of inadequacy or injustice towards them.
Karens tend to be more outspoken on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram than their Ken counterparts due to the perception of them as being more threatening online. According to Karen, this may be why Karens tend to receive more negative attention on these platforms than Kens do.
Karen is shorthand for a middle-aged white woman who feels she deserves to get what she wants, whether it’s charcoal grilling in a park, policing nonwhite people’s behavior or demanding to speak to a manager or higher authority. She’s the type of person who posts on Nextdoor about a “suspicious-looking” person walking around her neighborhood or demands to be let into a grocery store without wearing a mask.
While these videos are usually criticized for being selfish or racist, they’re also often shared on social media and have the potential to rack up tens of millions of views. That’s part of why the internet is flooded with these viral clips – and why Entitled Karen Culture is gaining so much momentum online.
The trend started with a series of satirical videos of white women who were caught policing their neighbors or engaging in other self-serving, socially inappropriate behaviors. It was particularly popular in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic spread and protests erupted for racial justice.
Initially, the Karen meme was about an anti-science, anti-vaccine white woman with pushy tendencies and a tendency to treat working-class employees with contempt. But then the pandemic grew and the trend quickly morphed into social policing, with both extreme adherents to COVID regulations and people who didn’t follow mask mandates getting called out as Karens.
As a result, this trend has spawned a new form of Karen that we’ve come to call the “Coronavirus Karen,” a character who refuses to wear a face covering in shops and thinks the whole pandemic thing is overblown. This version of the Karen has also gained traction on social media as a sex-free, anti-Black stereotype, and its popularity has grown as people have become increasingly aware that white middle-class entitlement over the working class has been ramping up during the US’s current age of abundance.
This resurgence of the Karen meme isn’t just about pushing back against self-absorption, it’s also about challenging the underlying racism and classism that’s at work here. In a recent article, University of Melbourne researcher Dr Lauren Rosewarne pointed out that the Karen meme “embodies a robust strain in US exceptionalism wherein power is not earned but asserted.”
Despite her own frustration with this trend, she thinks that the internet has done a great job using humor to make people of all walks of life aware that there are still white people in the world who treat others like they own them. This has helped raise awareness about a range of issues, including police harassment and the emergence of a new law in some states that makes it illegal to call the police on a non-emergency basis because of racial bias.