Karen has become a byword for middle-aged white women whose behavior is seen as sexist, racist or ageist. It has been associated with such individuals online since the 2004 movie Mean Girls.
It’s a term that’s particularly pertinent now due to social media and protests over the coxsackievirus pandemic. Some of the most infamous rude Karens have been caught on camera.
1. Amy Cooper
One year after her video of her threatening to call the police on a black birdwatcher in Central Park went viral, Amy Cooper is still remembered as the most famous rude Karen ever captured on camera. Her name and picture have become associated with an archetype of demanding white woman whose behavior often gets depicted through memes.
On May 25, 2020, Cooper was walking her dog in New York City’s Central Park when she encountered Christian Cooper, a black man birding. Cooper claimed that he was intimidating her, so she called the police to file a report against him.
According to The Washington Post, she expressed fear that Cooper would hurt her dog and was “a threat.” On the podcast Honestly with Bari Weiss, reporter Katie Foster played Cooper’s 911 call.
As soon as the story broke, many took to Twitter to condemn Cooper for her actions. But it soon became evident that she was more than just a racist woman who threatened to call the cops on someone of African descent.
It was also evident that she was part of a long tradition of white women using their power and privilege to harm, mistreat and threaten Black people. These behaviors have been central features of chattel slavery, Jim Crow laws and well into the 21st century.
What’s more, a new breed of “Karen” has emerged in the wake of coronavirus – an intensely debated pandemic that’s become an excuse for police to discriminate against Black and Latino communities. This version of Karen isn’t afraid to wear face coverings in shops or disregard quarantine protocols because they believe the pandemic is overblown.
Some have speculated that the trend began in black American internet culture, where “Karen” has long been associated with rude entitlement. But that seems a bit of a stretch.
In Britain, the term “Sharon” or “Tracy” is often used to disparage working-class women on sitcoms like Birds of a Feather. But according to sociologist Elizabeth Bindel who studies online name usage, the “Karen” meme is being interpreted differently across different countries and cultures.
2. Amy Cooper’s Dog
Have you ever encountered Karen in a Starbucks or Costco store, wearing her blonde bob haircut and asking to speak to the store manager? That’s often how customers refer to an entitled middle-aged white woman with difficulty interacting with staff members.
Recently, the term “Karen” has become a widely used internet slang label for various edgy and aggressive behaviors associated with white privilege. Its pejorative connotations have spread so widely that it has even gained acceptance within mainstream pop culture.
Two years ago, 17-year-old user karmacop97 created the subreddit r/F—YouKaren as a joke. However, it quickly blossomed into an active forum dedicated to the legends of some of pop culture’s most iconic rude Karens. Although his account was eventually deleted, the subreddit now boasts over 600,000 members and serves as an entertaining source for Internet users worldwide.
One of the most infamous rude Karens ever caught on camera was Amy Cooper, who falsely accused a black bird watcher in Central Park of threatening her life. This exchange brought attention to how some white people often call the police on black Americans for seemingly minor matters.
This incident caused outrage across America, but not everyone shared the outrage. Cooper could face up to one year in prison and New York City officials have called for her ban from Central Park.
Some have even proposed that Cooper be charged with a hate crime. A bill introduced in Albany on Tuesday would make filing false reports with a racial component a hate crime, and the president of Central Park South Civic Association has called for Cooper to be banned from the park for life.
Although some in the media were initially reluctant to excuse Cooper for her actions, it’s essential to remember that there are other examples of white cop-caller nicknames. For instance, a woman who called police on a black man for using a charcoal grill in a park earned herself the moniker “Barbecue Becky.” Moreover, white people have given other white women who called police on black Americans alliterative names such as Permit Patty, Cornerstore Caroline and Karen.
3. Amy Cooper’s Neighbor
Last month, a video of a white woman calling the police on a Black bird-watcher went viral. Amy Cooper, a dog walker, called 911 on Christian Cooper – also of African descent – while they both stood near Central Park’s Ramble.
The shocking footage caused widespread outrage and swift investigation. Twitter detectives quickly identified Amy Cooper, her workplace, and even the shelter where she adopted her dog; ultimately leading to Franklin Templeton placing her on administrative leave.
Reportedly, she once attempted to have her doorman fired. Neighbors reported that she frequently engaged in minor disagreements with them as well.
She often took her dog without a leash, which is against the law in public parks. Although she had a deep-seated sense of entitlement that led her to act like an absolute jerk when confronted by people.
Other neighbors reported her abrasive behavior as being driven by an apparent sense of entitlement. They said she often walked her dog off-leash – which isn’t allowed in Central Park’s Ramble – and would become enraged when confronted.
Schimkowitz notes that white women who have called the police on Black Americans out of an apparent sense of entitlement often receive nicknames such as “Karen.” Other popular ones include “Barbecue Becky” and “Permit Patty,” she adds.
This trend, which can be traced back to a long-forgotten joke from decades ago, is deeply embedded in Black American internet culture and serves as an effective vehicle for finding humor within real-world racism and oppression.
It is especially prevalent in the US, where white privilege is often seen as a defining characteristic of society. Compounding this stereotype, many white women use the term “Karen” to demonize Black people–especially those they perceive to have lower status within their community–for this reason.
4. Amy Cooper’s Dog’s Neighbor’s Neighbor
Recently, the internet has become inundated with “Karens,” women who display power dynamics in potentially sexist ways. This meme has been particularly popularized in the US where it sparked debates regarding its sexist and misogynistic implications.
Recently, Amy Cooper made headlines with her white dog walker call the police on a Black man in Central Park for asking her to leash his pup. The video went viral with millions of views and ignited conversations about race relations, racial justice issues, and white people’s power over Black lives.
But if you consider the context of that moment, it becomes apparent that Cooper’s reaction wasn’t simply motivated by racism. She had already witnessed a situation skewed racially and she understood the potential repercussions of her decisions.
That is why I believe the Karen phenomenon reveals much about how white people are complicit in a system of white supremacy. No matter how much they may believe they lack prejudices, white people must always confront the fact that they possess power which they can use to subvert racial justice.
In 2018, a woman who complained to a young water-seller for purchasing her drink was nicknamed “Karen.” Another who called the police on black people barbecuing in public parks was labeled as “BBQ Becky,” while yet another who tried to reserve a parking space at Applebee’s was given the moniker “Golfcart Gail.”
Power dynamics and race combine to make this situation so crucial, making it essential that we do not ignore or gloss over it. It is vital that we expose and challenge dangerous racial assumptions underpinning these behaviors as well as the disproportionate police power they wield – particularly in an age when so much political discourse has shifted toward racial justice concerns.