Karen is often used in internet memes as shorthand for a woman who believes her way is the only right way: charcoal grilling in the park, monitoring nonwhite people’s behavior or demanding to speak to an authority figure who can grant her wishes.
Over the past year, several high-profile cases have come to light that demonstrate how privileged white women are using racist rhetoric against Black people. Now, some cities are taking action to curb this type of behavior.
Proposals for New Laws Targeting the Racist Behavior of Entitled Karens
Karens, whether they take the form of an angry woman in a store demanding attention or middle-aged white women calling the police on Black people doing mundane activities, draw inspiration from America’s long history of racism and social injustice. They may be affected by current racial tensions in America – including the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement – or simply feel caught off guard by current political climate.
Due to this trend, they have become a common sight in public places such as Central Park in New York City or neighborhood pools in San Francisco. Recently, Amy Cooper – a white woman – called 911 over an argument she had with Christian Cooper, a Black man, after he politely asked her to leash her dog while bird watching in Central Park.
These incidents have their roots in a longstanding history of racism and discrimination, yet they also reflect a recent trend of white privilege that manifests as feelings of entitlement and anger. These feelings have been compounded by recent racial divides within America as well as other pressing concerns such as economic crisis, health problems and substance abuse issues.
Although many of these irate Karens are men, a majority are women. According to Denise Dudley, a workplace consultant in San Luis Obispo, California, women tend to be more sensitive than men when expressing their emotions. She believes that factors like furloughs and layoffs have only added to the anger seen in these videos.
This anger is then channeled into an extreme reaction against any person or group of people they come across on the street, particularly Black people. This behavior has often been shared on social media under hashtags such as #PermitPatti or #BBQBecky, leading to even the creation of a Twitter account dedicated to calling out these entitled, racist women.
But it’s essential to distinguish the anger of these entitled white women from that of others. It is one thing to have an emotional response to a situation, but another to use that emotion for harm or endangerment of others. Remember: these irate white women are not simply performing an act of racism; they are actively using their white privilege in an effort to subjugate and control those around them.
The CAREN Act
In a nod to a popular meme that decries antagonistic white women for verbally abusing people of color, San Francisco leaders have unanimously passed hate crime legislation known as CAREN Act (Caution Against Racialized Exploitative Non-Emergencies), making it illegal to make false emergency reports that discriminate based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.
As more and more videos emerge of older white women abusing their privilege to call police on people of color for everyday acts like selling water bottles or barbecuing, many are growing increasingly concerned that these “Karens” pose a danger and must be addressed directly. The infamous “Central Park Karen” case is just one recent example.
The act would also enable victims to sue if their lives or reputations had been damaged by a racist 911 call, including if their reputations or businesses were damaged, they were forced from an area they had the right to live in, and even if their lives were endangered. Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the bill Tuesday following numerous recent incidents that have come to light.
Since the “Central Park Karen” incident, other “Karens” have been captured on video verbally abusing Black people in various contexts. Examples include a white woman in New York’s Central Park who was called out by a Black man for asking her to leash her dog; and a couple in San Francisco who confronted a Filipino American man for stenciling “Black Lives Matter” in chalk outside his house.
These actions have not only been perceived as racist, but also a breach of public safety and decorum. In addition to the “Central Park” incident, several other cases have been highlighted in the media; for instance, a woman from New Jersey berated state police and threatened them with violence when she couldn’t get her hands on the vehicle that pulled her over.
AB 1550, commonly known as the CAREN Act, is a proposed law that would make it unlawful to make false and discriminatory emergency calls to law enforcement in San Francisco. This legislation has been created in response to recent high-profile 911 calls made by entitled Karens against people of color.
Supervisor Shamann Walton has taken action against racist behavior by introducing an ordinance that makes it unlawful to “fabricate false racially biased emergency reports.” This measure follows similar proposed state legislation which seeks to combat discriminatory use of 911 by making it a hate crime. Previously, these calls weren’t classified as hate crimes but still had legal justification because they were made based on perceived threats or danger.
Experts contend that many Karens, particularly those displaying anger, aren’t necessarily motivated by racism but rather other personal and financial difficulties. This includes furloughs, layoffs and lockdowns many Karens have endured due to the return of Black Lives Matter protests.
Lillian Glass, a communications and body language expert based in Los Angeles who works with women affected by the Karen video phenomenon, believes that viewers are drawn to these videos due to both emotional and financial concerns. She notes that these clips tend to get more views than other videos featuring Karens because people are more likely to share them online and encourage others to watch as well.
Although a majority of white women appear in the viral video clips, the Karen narrative neglects the fact that people of color experience similar negative experiences to those experienced by white people when it comes to harassment and abuse in public. Furthermore, research suggests people of color tend to get mistreated or treated differently based on their race more than white people do.
Though some white feminists may feel the Karen video meme has gone too far, it is beneficial to call attention to entitled behavior. The Karen video phenomenon offers an insightful window into what life may be like for some white people who feel entitled and out of place in society. This tool can be utilized by individuals of all ages, races, genders and backgrounds in order to prevent discrimination and safeguard others.
The 2020 George Floyd Protests
In May 2020, a video of George Floyd being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer went viral. This sparked an unprecedented anti-racism movement across America; thousands of protests took place in cities throughout the US as well as many other countries, with Black activists taking a stand against racism and police brutality worldwide.
One of the largest protests of the year occurred in Minnesota, when officer Derek Chauvin fatally shot Floyd. Witnesses captured footage of the brutal incident which showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes as he begged “I can’t breathe” before going limp and eventually succumbing.
Consequently, this case sparked massive protests in Minneapolis and around the country, which have since grown into one of the biggest anti-police violence movements in America. This movement is founded upon the notion that Black lives matter and racist police officers have no right to kill people of color regardless of race or nationality.
Support for the movement surged in June and continued to climb through September, with Black Americans seeing the greatest increases. According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, there has also been significant growth within Europe, Australia and Canada for this cause.
The growing movement for racial justice has become a global symbol, inspiring all Americans to address racism as an issue that impacts everyone. According to Pew Research Center, 79% of American adults now agree that Black lives matter – marking a new high.
This movement has grown so strong that it even inspired a global anti-racism protest in Paris last week. These demonstrations were part of an international campaign organized by Black Lives Matter Alliance, an organization dedicated to social justice and racial equity.
The outrage over Floyd’s death has been felt across America, as evidenced by an increasing number of protesters and riots. Minneapolis – where Floyd was murdered – has seen criminal charges being laid against Chauvin and his fellow officers. Additionally, looters and arsonists have set fire to various locations such as police stations and stores.