Recently, the Karen meme has evolved from mocking a specific type of white woman — an anti-vaxxer mom with “speak to the manager” hair and an entitlement complex — into a symbol for 2020’s contentious social politics.
As Black Lives Matter protests grew and Covid-19’s viral spread triggered social policing around the novel coronavirus, Karen’s image shifted dramatically. She became someone who refused to wear face coverings in shops, won’t stay quarantined and believes the pandemic is overblown.
The origins of the Karen Meme are unclear. Some attribute it to Dane Cook and Mean Girls, while others believe it originated on Reddit in 2017. Regardless of its beginnings, this meme has since gained notoriety for its mocking commentary of unreasonable white women.
Know Your Meme describes this term as a derogatory term for middle-aged white women who are seen to be rude and irresponsible. It’s also sometimes used to describe individuals who wear masks or have meltdowns in public places like coffee shops or Target.
Although the “Karen” meme is often seen as an insult against middle-aged women, some observers have pointed out that its root meaning lies in power imbalances. According to Matt Schimkowitz, senior editor at Know Your Meme, names have often been employed to reinforce existing social rules.
In the US, names have long been used to denote various archetypes or stereotypes such as scrooges and Smurfs. Thus it’s no shock that Karen Meme — which has its roots in black American internet culture — has become a derogatory term for middle-aged white women who possess entitlement.
That’s why it’s essential to comprehend the history of this slur. On an episode of NPR’s Code Switch in 2020, Karen Grigsby Bates stated that the Karen Meme “isn’t just about white women.” It symbolizes white people wanting control over black people – just as slavery did during slavery or 1992.
Black people use it as an outlet to satirize white women’s unreasonable behavior, which she described as a form of social catharsis.
Shaming individuals for their entitled tantrums may feel like a necessary punishment, but it doesn’t necessarily help address the underlying issue.
The Karen Meme was started by an anonymous Reddit user in 2017, who started complaining about his ex-wife and created the subreddit r/F**kYouKaren. Shortly after, however, that user deleted their account; eventually leading to over 600,000 members on the subreddit.
Karen has been around for some time, but it has recently gained notoriety among online users as a racial slur that applies only to white women.
The Karen Meme has become an internet meme that not only provides humorous entertainment, but it’s also a social critique. It depicts an upper class white woman with an attitude of entitlement. In some cases, she acts aggressively or in ways which put others in jeopardy.
The term has a long-standing pejorative usage in Hollywood. It’s especially prevalent in the US, where many popular movies and television shows feature characters with stereotypical names that often serve as stand-ins for other negative stereotypes.
Gwen Snyder, a Philadelphia community organizer, noted that while Karen Meme can be seen as humorous, it also has the potential to be misogynistic. “Karen is an offensive name rooted in class prejudice,” she said.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the origin of the Karen Meme, but it likely stems from an internet subreddit formed in 2017 to poke fun at a fictional ex-wife named Karen. This page, called r/F—YouKaren, now boasts over 600,000 members.
That subreddit was founded by a 17-year-old from California and has grown exponentially since. It now serves as an online forum where people post videos and memes featuring Karen, an angry white mother who drives a minivan while wearing what’s been dubbed her “speak to the manager” haircut.
Jelani Ince, a sociology professor at Indiana University, notes that unlike many popular memes that draw upon cultural references to make them work, the Karen Meme has no roots in any one source. It simply continues a long-standing tradition of using proper names as eponyms to refer to certain character traits or behaviors.
He suggests the Karen Meme is based on Dane Cook’s 2005 joke in which he compared his friend to “ditzy Karen.” It may have been made during an era of intense anti-feminism in America or it could be an allusion to “Mean Girls,” released in 2001 and widely associated with a meddling Karen.
The Karen Meme is a social media trend that has gained widespread acceptance in recent years. It aims to mock middle-class white women for behaviors associated with white privilege, particularly identifying those who demand to speak directly to managers in order to belittle service industry workers and who are anti-vaccine – an act commonly associated with racism.
The exact origins of the Karen Meme are unclear, but it likely began with stand-up comedy sketches in 2005 and has since spread to social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit (where there are subreddits dedicated exclusively to variations on this theme). Although it’s uncertain who first coined the term Karen, it likely originated as a variation on Katherine.
Karens often present as middle-aged blonde women with “speak to the manager” haircuts, always needing to complain about something or demanding that a restaurant manager resolve her issue. She tends to be ignorant and usually smug; she may call the police on Black people or be staunchly anti-vaccination.
In 2020, the Karen meme gained notoriety due to a viral video featuring a white woman in Central Park calling the police on an African American birder. This video was seen as evidence of systemic racism and linked to other incidents where Karens were caught engaging in microaggressions against others.
Other examples of the Karen Meme include a white woman filming herself coughing on coffee shop patrons and calling the police on someone wearing a face mask, both examples showing how women with privilege can abuse their power over other people. It also involves calling the police on a black child selling water “illegally” in public places.
The Karen Meme has been linked to numerous instances of racism, such as when a black woman was arrested for selling water in New York City and police shot a white man after protesting in Minneapolis. Domino’s Pizza even issued an apology over their advertising campaign offering free pizza to “nice Karens.” In the UK too, Sainsbury’s had to retract a promotion featuring Karen-themed menu items.
Karen is the name of a fictional middle-class white woman and an online meme phenomenon. This persona is ignorant, self-important and frequently depicted as bossy; Karen’s racist behavior is a reflection of her privilege and entitlement; she calls the police on people of color frequently and opposes vaccinations.
Karen Meme has become a powerful tool in revolutionizing social politics and drawing attention to the many racist incidents that would otherwise go undetected. When protests over systemic racism and Black Lives Matter took over America in May 2020, Karen quickly became emblematic of those turbulent social struggles.
“Karen” is an insensitive term for middle-class white women with curly hair and a sense of entitlement. They’re usually on the phone complaining about restaurant wait times or calling the cops on Black people who don’t appear to mind their own business.
Karens can be harmless and entertaining, but their actions may be highly reprehensible. When they become viral sensations on YouTube, however, they become the target of social criticism and outrage.
Apryl Williams of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society conducted a study that examined the behavior of Karens that became widely popular in 2020, and discovered they were not only engaging in racialized fear-mongering and harassment of Black people but also committing crimes such as doxing and defaming careers.
Williams points to systemic bias as the cause of this behavior, which has been amplified by recent political events. Williams cites deteriorating service quality, the empowerment of consumers at the expense of workers and a failure to uphold equality as some factors that contribute to such actions.
For example, a white woman in a grocery store called the police on a Black family for attending a barbecue she didn’t want. This video went viral and served as a reminder to other shoppers that harassing or assaulting Black people in public spaces is never acceptable.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak sparked a wave of public anger and shaming. Some argued that refusing quarantine or wearing a mask in public was acceptable while others maintained that shaming others on social media was wrong and should only be done when someone’s behavior has been reported.