Thanks to the influential magic of social media, the name Karen has taken on a new, specific meaning over the last few years.
Like ‘Becky’, ‘Debbie’ and ‘Sharon’ that came before it, ‘Karen’ is a name that has become synonymous with the kind of woman – usually white and middle-aged – who is passive-aggressively judgmental, often racist (sometimes covertly so), and always ready to call the police or ask to speak to the manager.
We all know a ‘Karen’. She has a blonde, asymmetric bob (with chunky highlights), she’s entitled, quick to anger, and not afraid to weaponise her tears.
‘Karen’ has become shorthand for this kind of woman, and the name is often used to poke fun at women who use their white privilege and femininity to silence minorities and marginalised groups in public spaces.
But, because we can’t have nice things, a new debate has surfaced over whether calling somebody ‘Karen’ is a slur. And whether it is, in fact, racist (or sexist or classist) to use this nickname to criticise somebody’s behaviour.
It’s an exhausting and well-worn argument about who can be racist to who, and plenty of people are now voicing their outrage about the use of this name in this context.
So, we decided to ask some actual Karens what they thought about the use of this word.
We sought out a diverse group of Karens – Karens who don’t have aggressive highlights in their hair, Karens who are too nervous to speak to the manager – to find out just what they thought about their name being used as a meme, and to try to get to the bottom of this ‘slur’ argument.
Karen C, London
I feel like the first ‘Karen complaining to the manager’ memes were quite funny, even as a woman with the same name.
To be fair loads of them are still hilarious.
The whole ‘Karen is the equivalent to the n-word’ debate is ridiculous. It actually feels like it’s another way of people trying to minimise how serious and offensive racism is, by comparing it to something trivial.
The use of Karen in this way doesn’t make me embarrassed about my name to be honest, but comparing it to the n-word actually makes me really annoyed and angry.
I’m not buying into the ‘reverse racism’ narrative.
Can you imagine comparing a few light-hearted memes to the origins of the use of the n-word and how it was used as part of denigrating an entire race?
Karyn Dyer, New York
So, my name is spelled Karyn and it’s pronounced ‘Kuh-Ren’, but people almost always call me Karen. They have since I was young and I never corrected them until I got older, but I always felt weird about it.
I felt like I didn’t ‘look like a Karen’. Karen feels ‘plain’. And I realised later on in life that it reminded me of white women.
So even when people accidentally call me ‘Karen’ in person, or on email – I get immediately triggered and uncomfortable.
Everyday I’m a black woman. So there is a sheer irony of having a name closely associated with whiteness and white women, but being a black woman with additional marginalised identities that ensures daily oppression.
Karen Hobbs, London
We’ve been living in an anti-Karen climate for a while now, with around 95% of memes bitching about someone called Karen.
‘Insult’ feels like a strong word, but I guess it is. It’s been used so often in response to something negative (whether in a light-hearted or serious way) that I think it’s sort of become part of our everyday conversation (particularly online).
A friend messaged me to say ‘glad your taking it well, unlike others that are now comparing it to the n-word’ – she is a person of colour and reading that, I immediately felt embarrassed to be part of the Karen club.
There is no way using my name as an insult (however malicious or superficial) can ever be even vaguely equated to a racial slur steeped in centuries of oppression. From one Karen to all the Karens – get over it.
I recently turned 30, and apart from being white and having (average to middling) highlights, I’m not a stereotypical Karen. The only time I have ever asked to speak to the manager, is when Virgin Media were trying to pretend they hadn’t agreed to lower my monthly internet bill, and even then I felt sick with nerves.
I conform to many assumptions in life; that all female comedians do is talk about their periods and vaginas (guilty), that all cat owners are crazy (breastfeeding my three-year-old tabby as I type this), but the Karen stereotype is something that I gladly challenge.
Despite the unfortunate combination of letters on my name badge, I am a nice person. I realise that sounds like a VERY Karen thing to say.
Karen August Rose, Baltimore
So, Initially I thought it was hilarious when Chadwick Boseman ‘blamed’ Karen for bringing potato salad with raisins to the cookout during his Saturday Night Live skit. I had about a mustard seed of annoyance whenever I saw someone blaming Karen for some horrible food, because I’m a good cook and would never!
But, to make a long story short, no way am I offended by the use of Karen as a catchall for a certain type of white women.
It’s a basic name. I love my name, but it’s basic.
And let me tell you, I work with a bunch of Karens, yet I’m the only one born Karen, if you know what I mean.
To equate Karen with the n-word is utterly ridiculous. There is no equivalent to that word.
Some white people want to be oppressed so bad they will reach for anything.
Karen Reynoso, California
I find this debate to be quite funny and very absurd.
I always find the ‘Karen’ jokes and memes funny, I was never offended in any way even though my name was being used. In certain situations, I joke around and say that I have to channel my ‘inner Karen’, or that I don’t live up to my name.
It never bothered me that my name had a negative connotation to it, or that it was being used to describe a rude and inconsiderate person, I found it funny. I saw an argument where ‘Karen’ was being compared as equivalent to the n-word and that was when I realised just how truly ridiculous this whole argument was, but I wasn’t surprised.
I knew that somehow this was going to be politicised in some way, and here we are. People who get offended and feel oppressed being called this name, I feel need to re-evaluate themselves.
Why are they being called a ‘Karen’? Could it be because they were unjustly rude to an employee? Could it be because they lashed out at a worker for a minuscule thing?
I don’t think it should be considered a slur, it’s a name. If anything, if you’re being referred to as a ‘Karen’ you should probably check yourself.