The Karen bestiary

‘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.

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.

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.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    I recently learned that the Tulsa massacre was sparked when a black man stumbled against a white female elevator operator, and she accused him of assaulting her.
    And as an aside, why the heck was Tulsa never taught to us in school? It ought to be right up there with the Boston tea party and every other major American event.
    Anyway, if white people don’t get anything else out of the last few years, I hope we get the message that, if we start to say “I hope this doesn’t make me look like a racist, but …” then we need to stop right there.

  2. Matt G says

    chigau@4- It would be helpful to understand the history of the gender/race/class dynamics at work here, and how white female privilege differs from white male privilege

  3. flex says

    @ brucegee1962, #2,

    You might, as might others, want to read Richard Hofstadter’s book, American Violence: A Documentary History, co-edited with Mike Wallace (1970) ISBN 978-0-394-41486-7

    My mother had it for a class she took in 1972, but I found it on their shelf when I was a teenager and it really opened my eyes about the history and extent of American violence. It certainly doesn’t cover all the atrocities, I doubt one single book could, but there is a large section on racial violence which is worth reading. It does look like used copies on Abebooks run $40 at the cheapest, so that may be more than many people can spend. Amazon does have a kindle version for $10.

  4. says


    I have a cousin that is trying to collect all the stories we heard as a kid about police violence against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Texas before the old folk all pass away.

  5. Holms says

    #5, #6
    I’m going to suggest that white men have the greater privilege, as they are male.

  6. says

    They are male AND WHITE.
    You never wanted to get my mother started about white women. She was more in competition with them, and white women took every advantage of the racism in this country they could. things don’t seem that much different than when mom wa alive.

  7. says

    While the apologies are getting better, Lisa Alexander didn’t offer any “That’s not who I am” crap, there is still the pressure to get together with the victim who will be expected to forgive Karen and ease her conscience.

  8. witm says

    Holms @10 It’s not a competition.
    It’s not about who has most. it’s a discussion of the difference in quality. Or rather in this case, a highlighting of the specific quality that cis white middle to upper class female privilege has, and how it is displayed in the US.

    It’s not like anyone in this discussion is unaware that cis, white, male is generally acknowledged as the easiest life difficulty setting. That doesn’t mean other privileges don’t exist, or can’t be discussed, or aren’t their own special form of hell when on flagrant display.

    Gender, class, race, sexuality, sexual orientation, education etc. etc. etc. privileges all operate differently in different contexts.

  9. Holms says

    Yes? The comparison was between white men and white women.

    Of course others exist, yet it is odd to see a bestiary of entitled women but not of men.

  10. John Morales says



    All are opprobrious terms. Supposedly.


  11. John Morales says


    No. It is not at all “odd”.

    Really? I suppose if women are particularly prone to entitlement, you would have a point.

    (also, 9 is an odd number — did I miss one?)

  12. John Morales says


    White women get white men to do their violence for them.

    What about non-white women?

    (Lemme guess — they’re exempt?)

    There was Susan Smith more recently

    So… is she a Susan, or is she a Smith, or is she one of the others?

    (I do like specificity)

  13. says

    John Morales.
    Maybe we should drop the personal names and just say white women.
    Come on people! This came out of Black women’s experiences dealing with white women. Stop trying to make it anything else.

  14. John Morales says

    Right, white women. They’re entirely different to non-white women, after all.

    Stop trying to make it anything else.

    Sure. Those are exclusively white women’s names, and it’s all about how white women differ from other women.

    (Does that apply to trans women, too? Just curious as to the taxonomy)

  15. chigau (違う) says

    Really? I suppose if women were particularly prone to be relegated to a “bestiary”, I might have a point.

  16. John Morales says


    I suppose if women were particularly prone to be relegated to a “bestiary”, I might have a point.

    You mean, like this very post, which relegates women to a bestiary? 🙂

    Not exhaustive, apparently.

    (Me, were I do come up with an epithet for “entitled white woman”, I’d come up with some neologism such as Eww)

  17. antaresrichard says

    Goodness! I just found out tonight from my long time friend that Alexander and Rowland were fellow residents of his! The same apartments, where I have been a guest for over forty five years, is where the two lived. That racial encounter therefore, could have easily been mine had I, for instance, walked in from the street, and entered the same, small, lobby elevator as they. Fortunately for me, I have not had an incident in the building -- yet, but it’s a painful reality I’ve experienced elsewhere and for which I always have to be prepared.

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