Please don’t call me Karen

People show disrespect for others in many ways.

In 2019, discord among people has reached new lows.

There were the horrific tragedies such as the 41 US mass killings in which 210 people died. Children are still being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

To shift from the obvious and massive examples to the (possibly) trivial, can we talk about what we call each other?

At the risk of earning an “OK Boomer” from you, can I just ask that you call me (and every other human being) by the name they want?

Please don’t call me “Karen,” to my face or behind my back.

“Karen” has become the go-to for anytime a white woman loses touch with her common sense and perspective and seeks out the manager.

Please don't call me Karen

Here’s Dictionary.com’s take:

Karen is a mocking slang term for an entitled, obnoxious, middle-aged white woman. Especially as featured in memes, Karen is generally stereotyped as having a blonde bob haircut, asking to speak to retail and restaurant managers to voice complaints or make demands, and being a nagging, often divorced mother from Generation X.

There’s an assumption (often deserved, sadly), that a “Karen” action reeks of white privilege.

“Karens” ask for the manager when their food is lukewarm, when their tea is not sweet enough, when their perfect angels (children) are chastised when they are behaving in a way that endangers others, etc. (There are examples at Comic Sands, on Quora and on Reddit.) It’s possible the proportion of “Karens” rushing to get the grocery divider down rapidly is higher than the general population.

Although the woman referenced here and here really is named Karen, the letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun about how Lamar Jackson should have donated to a charity rather than giving his offensive linemen Rolexes, along with its Karen-generating headlines, seems to be part of the Karen-verse. (Note: Among his charitable activities is Jackson’s $25,000 gift to the Blessings in a Backpack program last year.)

Please don't call me Karen

Here’s the thing. “Karen” behavior is egregious (usually — but also in this day and age when customer services has gotten so marginal, we all find ourselves in infuriating situations that are prone to bring out our inner Karens).

But cramming every middle-aged white woman with a bad haircut and a Volvo into the tiny compartment of a joke name only hurts us all.

Please don't call me Karen

Karen Cyphers Breaks it Down

This piece by Karen Cyphers (yes, she really is named Karen) is the one I wish I had written, to be honest. I love the way she delineates the history of this usage of “Karen” and ties in some research that tries to figure out if Karens really do get more aggravated than Dorothys, Janes and Marys.

Sarah Miller Tries to Break it Down

I didn’t love this piece as much (note the paywall, by the way), because of all the stereotypes and assumptions. “Karens are going to Karen. They are unstoppable. All they see are open doors. We should blame the Karens, but maybe we should blame the doors too?”

Names are More than Names

I wouldn’t call a black woman “Nia” (a relatively common name for black women) just because I didn’t have the mental dexterity to try to find out her correct name. If I had an issue with a black woman (or a woman of any ethnicity), I would hopefully have the good sense to try to resolve it using old-fashioned conflict resolution skills (while calling them by the right name).

The big conflicts in our society, I think, often have their seeds in the small choices we make.

If we don’t respect each other enough to call each other the right thing and refrain from stooping to stereotypes and memes, it’s possible we have already lost the battle.

10 thoughts on “Please don’t call me Karen

  1. I have intense feelings about this, given that my name is Karen. However, I also have attended a lot of events about recognizing white privilege.

    I am white, well educated, and monied, so I can walk into almost any business with confidence and NO ONE ever stops me. I often walk into restricted areas without proper credentials and NO ONE ever stops me. I have been able to talk my way out of traffic tickets and (just this month) fines for a dented bumper when returning a rental car.

    I have friends who are working class who speak with dialects that get coded as “uneducated” friends with people of color who get questioned constantly for their presence in places and are not given the benefit of the doubt. They invite me to “check my privilege” or use my privilege to give them more space to speak for themselves. (I don’t need to speak for them; I just need to be quiet and get out of the way.)

    However, I do get upset that my name is used to depict people who are blind to their privilege when I work really hard to be aware. But then again, I also try to use that pain of being stereotyped and misunderstood to have greater compassion and humility by recognizing those who suffer more greatly than I (lost housing, lost jobs, violence) when stereotyped.

    • Thanks for all this, Karen. We ended up talking about it on Facebook, so I’ll keep this reply short. But the “Karen-ing” of a meme is a symbol of something more insidious in our society, I feel. Thanks for your perspective.

    • It’s unacceptable and universal, apparently. I did not know that about India, so thanks for educating me. I think the main reason I was inspired to write this, even though I ended up going sort of a different direction, had to do with … should I just accept this kind of thing (white women being called “Karen” when they show out by asking for the manager in stupid situations) because we have so much privilege to begin with? Is it different when a black person calls a woman Karen than a fellow white woman? On the one hand, it’s a minor thing and who does it really hurt? But on the other, white people (the ones who are trying to do the right thing anyway) wouldn’t on purpose call a black person a stereotype (either a common black name or a worse pejorative) without rightly being chastised. It’s all complicated!

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