‘Karens’ have been much in the news recently. I was generally familiar with the ‘Karen’ concept as the name given to middle-aged white women who have a great sense of entitlement and do not hesitate to demand that the authorities (police, managers, and the like) immediately act to satisfy any grievance that they think they have experienced at the hands of those they think are inferiors. Very often these inferiors are black people committing the offense of living while black.
What I had not realized is that Karen is an umbrella term that covers a spectrum of people. Communications professor Apryl Williams has studied the Karen phenomenon and says that Karens can be split by age and different economic and social classes. A ‘Kylie’ is the name given to 15-20 year olds, ‘Becky’ is from 20 to the mid-thirties, the paradigmatic Karens are in the mid-30s to mid-40s range and have reached the stage of being used to getting their own way and the ones who demand that the authority figure take their side. Then of course we have the names given to people in specific cases of Kanrenism, such as BBQBecky, PermitPatty, Golfcart Gail, and most recently CentralPark Amy. Karen is a form of behavior that is not gender exclusive in that men like GymSecurity Tom also fall under the umbrella.
Here is the interview with Williams.
And the list of Karens keeps growing. Now we also have swimming pool Sarah who stopped black women from entering the swimming pool area of an apartment complex because she did not think they were residents, though they were.
Another newcomer is Spitting Stephanie, a middle-aged lawyer named Stephanie Rapkin, who came to prominence during the protests just the past week when she deliberately parked her car to block protestors, got out of the car, and then spat on a young black man who was there.
As if that was not enough to establish her Karen credentials, she later pushed another young man in the chest who was demonstrating outside her home and when police were called and went to her home to tell her that “she was under arrest for battery and disorderly conduct”, she resisted their attempts to handcuff her. During the struggle, police said, Rapkin struck one of the officers in the groin.” She was arrested and placed in Milwaukee County Jail for a short while. She was a Karen who felt so confident of her power that she attacked a police officer who did not take her side.
The latest is ChalkMonitor Lisa who, along with her husband Robert Larkin, accosted a Filipino man James Juanillo who was stenciling ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk on the wall in front of a house in the upscale San Francisco neighborhood where she lived. She accused him of vandalizing other people’s property, though he actually lived in that house.
A white couple call the police on me, a person of color, for stencilling a #BLM chalk message on my own front retaining wall. “Karen” lies and says she knows that I don’t live in my own house, because she knows the person who lives here. #blacklivesmatter pic.twitter.com/rOpHvKVwgP
— Jaimetoons (@jaimetoons) June 12, 2020
After the video went viral, her husband was fired from his job and her business suffered. She issued an interesting apology, saying that seeing the video was a revelation to her about herself.
#BlackLivesMatter | Lisa Alexander says she wants to apologize directly to Mr. Juanillo: ⬇️
“The last 48 hours have taught me that my actions were those of someone who is not aware of the damage caused by being ignorant”
— Luz Peña (@LuzPenaABC7) June 14, 2020
But there is one thing in there that all prospective Karens should bear in mind and that is when Alexander says, “I should have minded my own business.” That is good advice for all of us.
In a seven-minute radio interview, sociology professor Jessie Daniels looks at the “long and painful history to the phenomenon of white women using the power that comes from their perceived vulnerability against black men”, something that goes all the way back to slavery times but more recently in 1955 in the case of Emmitt Till, a 14-year old black boy who was brutally murdered by the husband of Carolyn Bryant and his half brother after she falsely made the accusation that Till had “grabbed her, made lewd advances and wolf-whistled at her”. An all white jury in Mississippi took less than an hour to find the two men not guilty. It was only in 2017 that Carolyn Bryant admitted that Till had not done any of the things she had accused him of.
Here is the interview with Daniels about how powerful the narrative of white woman victimhood is.
On the lighter side, Karens have also been spoofed on Saturday Night Live.