What is a “Karen” and where does the meme come from?

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Reuters

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Patricia and Mark McCloskey have been nicknamed “Karen and Ken” after photos emerged of them showing guns at protesters walking past their St. Louis home in June.


Earlier this week, Domino’s Pizza had to apologize for a promotion it ran in Australia and New Zealand, giving out free pizza to ‘nice Karens’.

The company did not choose the name Karen at random. “Karen” has become, in recent years, a very popular meme referring to a specific type of middle-class white woman, who exhibits behaviors that stem from privilege.

To give a few examples, “Karen” is associated with the kind of person who asks to “talk to the manager” to disparage service workers, is anti-vaccination, and conducts racist micro-attacks, such as asking to touch the hair of the children. black.

But a predominant feature of the “Karen” stereotype is that they militarize their relative privilege against people of color – for example, when they file complaints with the police against blacks for petty offenses.

  • Domino’s Pizza offers the “free pizza for Karen” offer

And in recent months, the meme has evolved into something new: Coronavirus Karen. This particular form of Karen refuses to wear a face mask in stores, doesn’t stick to quarantine, and thinks the whole pandemic is overkill.

But as the meme has become more and more mainstream, some have argued that it is sexist and old.

Where does the meme come from?

While its exact origins are uncertain, the meme gained popularity a few years ago as a way for people of color, especially black Americans, to satirize the class and racist hostility they often face. .

Over the past decade, as it became easier to film confrontations on our smartphones, incidents began to be captured on camera and uploaded to social media with much more ease – with a woman calling the police when ‘an eight-year-old black child was selling water. without a license, for example.

When these videos inevitably went viral, internet users gave the authors trivial names that matched the situation.

The woman who complained about the young water seller has been nicknamed “Permit Patty”. Another woman who called the police when a black family was barbecuing was called “BBQ Becky”. And a white woman who called 911 on a black dad at a football game, while she was sitting in a golf cart, was called “Golfcart Gail.”

This trend really exploded in 2018, and eventually all of these names became one or two of the most popular – including Karen.

It has also become synonymous with a particular type of hairstyle – specifically, the short, choppy cut of American reality TV personality Kate Gosselin in 2010. (Gosselin has since changed his hairstyle.)

And in recent months, a male version of the Karen meme has emerged, albeit less widely used: Ken. In June, when wealthy couple Patricia and Mark McCloskey were photographed pointing guns at protesters passing near their home in St. Louis, Missouri, they were widely dubbed “Karen and Ken”.

What is a “Karen Coronavirus”?

Wearing face blankets in this pandemic has been extremely politically charged in the United States, with some insisting that mandatory use is an affront to personal freedom.

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Media captionFlorida residents push back on new face mask mandate

Since the arrival of the coronavirus in the country, videos have periodically gone viral on social media of people refusing to wear masks in shops and restaurants, often berating service staff.

Aggressively refusing to wear a face mask to help protect others from the virus has been seen as a further iteration of the empowered Karen stereotype that harasses workers in the service industry. Likewise, people who share coronavirus misinformation and conspiracy theories on social media are also referred to as Karens.

  • Why are Americans so angry with masks?

In the United States, as in the United Kingdom, Covid-19 has also become a problem of a racist nature. The pandemic disproportionately affects people from black minorities and other ethnic minorities.

The refusal of some people to recognize the risks associated with the virus, and to be shielded from those risks by their white privilege, was also considered “Karen” behavior.

What about racism and Black Lives Matter?

On this year’s Remembrance Day, May 25, black ornithologist Christian Cooper was walking in Central Park, New York, when he came across a woman called Amy Cooper (unrelated), who had left her dog on a leash in an area reserved for the leash. of the park.

He asked her to put his dog back on a leash. His response was to call 911 and, in a histrionic tone, tell the operators that “there is an African American man threatening my life.” The entire exchange was filmed, uploaded to social media, and Ms. Cooper was now known as “Central Park Karen.”

George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis the same day, just hours after the Central Park incident – meaning people began to link the racism of “Karens” like Amy Cooper to the larger issue of systemic racism and police brutality.

Is the Karen meme sexist?

In April, British feminist Julie Bindel tweeted: “Does anyone else think the insult ‘Karen’ is hatred of women and based on class prejudice? ”

This is an argument that has been repeated in recent months as the meme has become more mainstream. Some people responded to Bindel’s tweet in line with his summary. Even the UK supermarket Sainsbury’s had an argument with the meme.

However, people who use the term “Karen” say it’s not just a catch-all for all middle-aged white women – and rather depends on a person’s behavior.

For example, writer Karen Geier – a Karen in the traditional sense – responded to Bindel: “As the only Karen telling you: No. If you have a problem with being called “Karen” then don’t you? Don’t call the police on people or ask to speak to the manager. Very simple! ”

So when isn’t a Karen a Karen?

The Moms Wall bloc in the current protest movement in Portland, Oregon is a good example of mostly middle-class and middle-aged white women. do not be Karens. Instead, the Wall of Moms sees it using its privilege to protest the same systemic racism and classism that Karens actively seeks to exploit.

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