In addition to a shared name, Sun, a 23-year-old Chinese American, doesn’t exactly match the stereotype of a middle-aged, middle-class white woman who can act like her to use Sun’s words. “
However, Sun, who has worked in the fast food industry for years, encountered a fair share of “Karens”.
But where do these terms come from and what do they represent? And what do colorful people who share a name with this stereotype mean for people like Sun?
How did the term “Karen” begin
Although these names have been popular recently, these names are nothing new thanks to the cultural power of Black Twitter.
Of course it’s not just “Karen”. There are also names like “Becky” which symbolize a certain whiteness cliché. And Susan. And Chad.
André Brock is Associate Professor of Georgia Tech and has studied the intersection of race and digital culture for years.
The modern iterations of these names come from entertainment, he said. Even comedian Dane Cook used “Karen” as a joke but a placeholder for a friend that no one liked, just after 2005.
Brock was also an example to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s hit song “Baby Got Back” in 1992. The introduction to the song begins with reference to an unknown “Becky” that insults a famous black woman: “Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt. It’s huge. She looks like one of these rap guys, girlfriends.”
And who could have forgotten the iconic “If you call Becky with good hair” line from Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” album in 2016?
But history goes even further. The black people said they also have names for white people who want to be responsible but actually don’t have any control over them.
Ms. Ann is an example of slavery. This was a name Black slaves would use to refer specifically to the white women they wanted them to have – the power they didn’t actually have, Brock.
So even though the names have now changed – we’ve largely replaced “Miss Ann” with “Becky” and “Karen” – the idea behind the names is still the same.
“It’s always about looks,” Brock explained. “And the desire to control what is at sight.”
In other words? About the desire of some white women to have control over black people – just like in 1992 and as it continues today, as in slave times.
Names like Karen or Becky? Brock said that the Black nations were an act of resistance. He puts a name in the behavior and acts as a way of gaining solidarity over an injustice, maybe laugh and continue your day.
Symbol of a “Karen”
For the term “Karen”, part of his objection is that this name often existed in ancient times. And in this regard, a strong nickname for someone who is absolutely not in contact.
Just look at the baby name data from the Social Security Office. Between 1951 and 1968, the name “Karen” saw its peak – it was sitting pretty in the top 10 for the most popular baby name in the USA.
But in 2018, “Karen”, the most recent year, ranked 635th in the most popular names.
“Karen is a name that will no longer name her children,” said Lisa Nakamura, director of the Institute for Digital Studies at the University of Michigan.
Nakamura explained that using a name like “Karen” was part of finding someone and their actions in a regressive period.
The phenomenon is being exhibited by the “BBQ Becky” event in 2018, which claimed how a white woman called the police and broke the law in a group of black people barbecue in a public park. At the beginning of the video, the woman asserts herself, but when the police finally came, she burst into tears and said, “I was harassed.”
Explaining that they can collect sympathy to show their vulnerability – white women – especially “Karens” – Brock moved away by focusing on what they were doing wrong and would be called for it.
“They are running away from behavior that no one else would do.”
What does Karens think about this term
So how do real people named Karen feel this?
Sun told CNN that no one seriously called them “Karen”. It turns out, of course, they said, and sometimes they use it jokingly. But they don’t think it’s disastrous at all.
“There is no real systemic pressure there,” they said. “It does not prevent you from getting married or getting healthcare, you are just right and rude and that’s why you are called ‘Karen’.”
Still, Sun said that having the name Karen has an impact on how they use the world, at least as they choose when to speak.
Karen Shim, 23, who lives in Philadelphia, had a similar feeling.
Although he knew that any memes or comments were not specifically directed to him, he still said he might feel a bit personal – just because he has the name.
Now Shim said he might be less comfortable talking in certain situations because he was afraid that someone could joke funly in the “Karen” movement.
But Korean and Chinese Shim also said his name wasn’t the first thing people would likely judge him – it said he would be his race.
“There’s a way to move around the world as someone who’s queer, not white anyway.” “Even with the name association, it adds another layer, but I don’t have to be defined by this layer.”
Karen Chen, 20, who lives in North Carolina, told CNN that her name was good in use, even though her association with the stereotype bothered her a bit.
“Obviously I know this is just a name, and this in no way represents me and how people think I am,” he said.
More than the name itself, what really annoys Chen is how the results of a “Karen’s” actions and the use of their privileges can come at the cost of marginalized groups.
Even though Brock was not specifically named Karen, he summed up: “If you are disturbed by an archetype, it says more about your insecurities as a liberal ally, more than people who use this word to describe an unfair situation.”
In other words, you can be Karen without “Karen”.