What it feels like when your name becomes a meme: 'Even though my name is Karen, I'm not a Karen'

Jenny Miller

“Karens” have been represented on the internet as short-haired, middle-aged white women acting with a sense of entitlement. The name has been used as a moniker to represent women who act out or mistreat others publicly.

As tensions continue to rise amid Black Lives Matter protests and the coronavirus pandemic, the cultural phenomenon of being a “Karen” has adopted worse connotations. The slang term is now broadly applied to a growing group of white women who have been exposed on social media for racist and privileged behavior caught on video.

This new wave of viral “Karens” do not all act the same. One viral video shows a St. Louis couple, the man holding a semiautomatic rifle and the woman, deemed a “Karen,” pointing a handgun at protesters who march by their home on the way to the mayor’s house in late June. Another shows a white woman from San Francisco confront a man who is writing “Black Lives Matter” in chalk outside his own home. Countless viral videos show “Karens” refusing to wear masks in public.

Amy Cooper, now known as the Central Park Karen, was caught on video ranting and placing a 911 call after a Black bird-watcher in Central Park asked her to put her dog on a leash in May. The video recorded of the incident shows her claiming that an “African-American man is threatening my life.”

The "CAREN Act" (Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies) was recently introduced at a San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting. The act would make it illegal to make discriminatory and racially biased 911 calls, such as the one placed by Cooper.

What is it like to actually be named Karen in this climate and how do real Karens feel about their name being dragged through the mud? Karen Leem, 22, shares that she has recently decided to go by her Korean name instead. 

Another woman, Karen Shore, tells Yahoo Life, “I feel like it's stereotyping a name just as much as the name stereotypes that kind of behavior ... Even though my name is Karen, I'm not a Karen, there's a difference.”

Video produced by Jenny Miller

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