Karen is an internet sensation that refers to white women who behave rudely or appear entitled. While some Karen moments can be funny, many more can be very serious in nature.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Karen sightings have become more common – even turning into viral memes – but what exactly does being a Karen mean?
1. Try to be a better person.
Karen has become a meme to symbolize an idealized representation of white women who exhibit classic stereotypes: someone who throws tantrums and berates employees at Starbucks to get her way; similarly, Karen may call the police on black people for as little as asking them to leash their dog in Central Park.
No one knows for certain where the term Karen originated as a meme, though some point to Dane Cook’s 2005 comedy routine about naming the most disappointing woman among a group as Karen or to Cady from Mean Girls asking Cady why she is so white as possible starting points. Others point to Karen being one of the most commonly used female names in America (despite some arguments against this), often serving as code word for older white women or simply used as code-word (although many claim it has become more discriminatory than “Kyle”).
No matter its original source, Karencore has become an effective way of discussing casual racism and privilege online. For instance, during summer 2020 Karencore became popular as an ironic “appreciation” of stereotyped fashion and aesthetics associated with Karencore: short angled blonde bob haircuts known as the “mom haircut”, minivans with rhinestone-covered windows, minivans packed full of toys for their offspring to play on, as well as Spotify playlists filled with 2000s pop/rock music.
People whose names are Karen have reported being teased about being stereotypes; most do it humorously but many are aware of how their actions could come across as racist or classist, and strive to become better people overall.
Sun has taken steps to be more mindful in her conversations with others and herself, learning about marginalized groups as she goes. Furthermore, she works on being more patient while dealing with COVID-related meltdowns.
Karen believes it’s important for everyone to realize they’re not perfect, making mistakes along the way and giving themselves grace as they try. That sentiment holds especially true if you are Karen herself.
2. Ask for help.
Parents might know you as “Karen,” but online, this term stands for something much different. Karen represents a middle-aged white woman with an asymmetrical bob and an incessant need to speak to managers; she may throw fits over coffee orders or call police on black people for leash-jamming their dogs in Central Park – as such behavior has become more prominent online discourse and increasingly common real life Karens have come under attack due to being perceived as entitled and ignorant.
“Karen” has recently come to be known through viral videos as an insulting term used to refer to white women who engage in selfish or racist behaviors such as not following public health recommendations or protesting for racial justice. Additionally, this word often becomes used during times of social unrest when such as when Las Vegas mayor was called out as being called a Karen for pushing to reopen casinos without first implementing distancing measures.
But what does it really mean to be Karen, and how do actual Karens feel about being stereotyped as such? CNN reached out to several Karens for insight. Here’s what they shared.
Most Karens are Baby Boomers, and millennials and Gen Zers have taken to criticizing them for their narrow views on gender, race and youth culture (such as in the viral video of Karen berate-ing her Starbucks barista). Yet even those who identify as Karens recognize that it would not be fair for them to bear sole responsibility.
Although they’ve long been associated with the meme, most Karens don’t perceive it as being racist or sexist slurs. One 23-year-old living in Philadelphia noted that being called Karen comes up from time to time in everyday conversations. Though she agrees with its message, being called Karen doesn’t feel like an insult – rather, it’s more fun!
3. Change your name.
Karen may only be a name, but its association has come to stand for so much more online. Thanks to memes depicting Karen as an entitled yet ignorant middle-aged white woman. While actual people named Karen don’t fit this description, they still bear responsibility and come under scrutiny; particularly those of color named Karen.
While other internet slang typically ridicules race and gender identity tropes, the term “Karen” has also become an umbrella term to denote individuals out of touch with modern society. Unfortunately, its increasing popularity has given rise to criticism that its usage is misogynistic and objectifying of women. One Philadelphia community organizer recently tweeted that white boys have co-opted it as code word for an offensive racial slur; Karencore is even an entire hipster subculture dedicated to stereotypical Karens who love minivans, asymmetrical bobs haircuts, and playing 2000s-era pop music playlists on Spotify!
Some critics have argued that using the term Karen to refer to women of color living in urban areas can be highly offensive, while others see it as simply an attempt at insulting older white women who do not sympathize with younger generations. Yet many individuals who have been called “Karens” have come out in defense of themselves and their actions.
Some have even taken drastic measures such as changing their names to avoid the stigma attached to being transgender, such as changing to Karen from California in a viral video where she got into an argument with a Starbucks employee over refusing to wear a mask; it became an internet phenomenon.
People who feel offended by being called Karens must take action themselves, and one effective means is changing their names. While this may not be suitable for everyone, changing ones name allows people to break free from stereotypes while asserting their individual power and show that not all Karens are identical.
4. Take a break.
Unbelievably, Karen used to be a popular baby girl name; Social Security data shows it reached its highest popularity ranking of fourth among US births in 1965. But somewhere along the line, its meaning has become ugly on social media; today when you hear “Karen,” it typically refers to an entitled middle-aged white woman from suburban privilege who wears bleach blonde bob haircuts with overpriced designer labels and uses too much spray tan; she throws tantrums over any inconvenient situation and calls the police for seemingly no apparent reasons whatsoever.
Origins of this term remain uncertain; some claim it originated with Dane Cook’s 2005 comedy routine “The Friend Nobody Likes”, wherein he describes Karen. Others cite Cady from Mean Girls asking her why Cady has darker skin. As an internet phenomenon, the phrase gained widespread use on Black Twitter; becoming even more prominent during 2020 due to coronavirus pandemic which saw many see as selfish or racist behavior by white women.
One of the key steps you can take to stop being a Karen is recognizing your privilege and being more understanding of other people’s experiences. Avoid taking things personally as doing so only makes things worse – if something bothers or upsets you in any way, step away and allow others to be themselves; trying to force an argument between individuals will only alienate more. Senselessly fighting back will only alienate more.
Avoid alcohol as much as possible to stop being Karen (or at least reduce its effects). Alcohol can make it easier to slip into Karen mode as you’ll likely take things personally and think everyone’s against you; plus it becomes harder to control impulses while drunk.