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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Explained: Why the Chicago Mayor called Trump top aide ‘Karen’

This week, it was the turn of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany to be called 'Karen' by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Who is a 'Karen'?

Written by Neha Banka , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata | Updated: July 19, 2020 11:32:37 am
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

A search for the hashtag #Karen on Twitter will pull up thousands of results showing photos and videos of white women, mostly in North America, all of whom are engaged in some kind of confrontation with the person recording the footage or another individual on the sidelines. At the receiving end of ‘Karen’s’ wrath is usually a person of colour, who is being subjected to the confrontation for no other reason than the colour of their skin.

These ‘Karens’ seem to strike everywhere—sometimes at the supermarket or in a community swimming pool, and sometimes even when a person of colour may be trying to enter their own homes or using the building gym.

The confrontation is usually followed by threats of “reporting” the person of colour to the police and harassment. At times, these ‘Karens’ even follow through on their threats, where they call police or security personnel, where the person of colour may be further subjected to targeted racial harassment and even fatalities.

This week, it was the turn of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany to be called ‘Karen’ by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. McEnany had called Lightfoot a “derelict mayor” during a recent press briefing to which the Mayor responded by simply tweeting: “Hey, Karen. Watch your mouth.”

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Who is a ‘Karen’?

‘Karen’ is a term for an entitled white woman who can be middle-aged, sometimes younger, who threatens to call the police on people of colour if she doesn’t get her way. The term has come to represent entitled individuals exhibiting racism, entitlement and white privilege in North America.

Observers say ‘Karens’ who engage in conduct that is perceived to be racist and discriminatory have always existed in the United States. However, over the past few years, the moniker became synonymous with women in the US calling the police on African-Americans without any just cause.

The ‘Karens’ aren’t always women. When men engage in similar conduct, they’re dubbed ‘male Karens’. There isn’t any particular significance of the name ‘Karen’ itself. Think of it as a placeholder, similar to ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’; ordinary names, used to refer to a group of nobodies. Only in this case, these nobodies have a very specific set of characteristics and behaviours.

According to NPR, the term ‘Karen’ originated sometime in the 2010s in the United States. ‘Karen’, NPR says, is “convinced her way is the right way, whether it’s about charcoal grilling in the park, policing nonwhite people’s behavior or demanding to speak to a manager or higher authority who can get her what she wants.She’s the kind of person who posts on Nextdoor about a “suspicious-looking” person walking around her neighborhood or demands to be let into a grocery store without wearing a mask.”

Why are ‘Karens’ being talked about?

In May, a video went viral of a woman in New York City who called the police on a man who had told her to leash her dog in the park. The man recorded the incident and the woman, whom the internet quickly dubbed ‘Karen’, could be heard saying: “There is an African American man. I am in Central Park. He is recording me and threatening myself and my dog.”

The video went viral after the man’s sister shared it on Twitter and the woman was identified as Amy Cooper, who was accused of using her white privilege, of repeatedly identifying the man by his race, and of demanding that police be sent “immediately”, all of which was recorded by the man in the video. After Cooper was identified, she was fired from her job at Franklin Templeton, an investment management company.

The incident led to widespread discussions about white privilege and how people of colour are disproportionately, oftentimes unfairly targeted by law enforcement agencies in the US, sometimes fatally, acting on complaints lodged by white people. In this case, there were concerns about how the man may have faced physical violence, arrest and trauma, had the police acted with aggression without conducting basic investigation.

Why is this being discussed now?

The murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, which led to widespread protests against police violence and brutality against people of colour, has also resulted in a rethinking about white previldge and its manifestations in the everyday lives of people of colour and immigrants in the US.

Over the past few weeks, social media platforms have been filled with videos depicting instances where ‘Karens’ are out and about in action. In May, ‘Parking Lot Karen’ went viral on TikTok and other social media platforms where she tried to block a driver from getting a preferred spot inside a parking lot and then tried to stop the driver from filming the altercation.

In June, a white couple in San Francisco called the police on a man who had stenciled ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk outside his home, accusing him of defacing “private property”. The couple went as far as to imply that the man did not live there, and claimed to know the “real” owners.

Then there are ‘Karens’ who refuse to wear masks in the United States following the coronavirus outbreak, implying that wearing one infringes on their “rights”. A ‘Karen’ was filmed coughing on patrons inside a bagel shop in New York City, and another at a bar in an unidentified city in the US.

In June, a Twitter user decided to open an account named United Karens of America, collating videos and photos from across social media platforms of Karens in action across the country, and some even from across the border in Canada.

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