by Joseph Sweeney | staff writer
On the Southeast Asian peninsula, in the country of Myanmar, originates an indigenous people, famous for taking part in one of the longest lasting civil conflicts in world history against the Burmese government. The numerous tribes are collectively known as the Karen people, and have since dispersed all over the world, though in recent years, the name has taken on a new meaning all-together.
“To me, the name is used as someone who is being disrespectful towards others the moment something does not fit into their agenda,” junior Karen Flores said. “They are known to call the manager and are usually entitled and believe everything will go their way.”
The name Karen has become rooted deep in internet culture, and has gained newly-found relevance in the offline world throughout the past year.
“I mostly hear the name Karen online,” Flores said. “There are Instagram pages and TikTok videos dedicated to showing ‘Karens’ having a temper tantrum. I’ve only seen a ‘Karen’ in public once: their boba drink order was wrong, and [she] demanded to speak to the manager.”
This past May, Amy Cooper, an investment manager at Franklin Templeton holdings, was dubbed the “Central Park Karen” after she gained national attention after threatening to call the cops on a black man who recommended she put her dog on a leash while in Central Park. The 41-year-old lost her job at the firm shortly after her media spotlight began.
“I saw this on the news: some place had put in a law called the ‘Karen Law,’ but with a C instead, and it’s for when someone calls the police when the police are not needed to be called, so I was just like ‘oh, well that’s very interesting to see’,” Flores said.
Cooper has since been cited in the creation of the CAREN (Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-emergencies) Act, which was passed in San Francisco this past October and criminalizes the act of calling authorities to the scene of a non-existent crime, in cases where the alleged suspect is a minority.
“It does hurt a little for your name to be associated with those types of people, especially since I know I’m nothing like the stereotypical Karen,” Flores said. “Eventually, the name evolved to be the lady who calls the manager when a slight inconvenience is thrown into their way.”
This case, and others, however, are seen as being more extreme instances of “Karenism,” and the name continues to be used in less-derogatory ways.
“The name started as someone who is a white soccer mom who has a minivan and blonde short hair,” Flores said. “‘Karen’ is always associated as the ‘white mom’.”
Though the exact origins of the Karen meme are likely lost to time, a story perpetuated online cites the late Chadwick Boseman for the first mainstream use of the term in a popular Saturday Night Live sketch, Black Jeopardy with Chadwick Boseman, in which Boseman stars as T’Challa, his alter ego from Marvel’s 2018 blockbuster, Black Panther, and insults a hypothetical white women named Karen and her lackluster potato-salad making skills.
“Unless you act disrespectful towards others, I wouldn’t be bothered by the name. If you know you are nothing like the stereotypical ‘Karen’ then you should let other opinions of your name bother you,” Flores said “If people call you a Karen with a negative connotation to it, and you know you are nothing like the stigma, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. It doesn’t make you a ‘Karen,’ it makes you human.”
Though no other names have left as big of a social impact as Karen, several other names have since followed in suit of the Karen meme, such as Chad, the Johnny Bravo esque lady’s man, and the rebellious skater-boy Kyle.
“Honestly, the only other name I hear [used] is Kyle,” Flores said. “Kyle is someone who plays videogames all day, and always has一what was it? Monster Energy Drinks‽” Flores said.
Despite the controversy surrounding the name in the past year, Karen memes have continued growing in popularity on sites like Twitter and Reddit, and have now resonated with people beyond internet-goers and Gen-Z’ers.
“In all honesty, it will die out in the future, it probably will come up once or twice, but I don’t think the stigma is going to last forever,” Flores said. “I actually like my name and how it sounds in Spanish so I wouldn’t want to change it. Karen is a common Spanish name in Mexico, and my parents really like the way my entire name sounds in Spanish, Karen Lizette Flores. They don’t regret calling me Karen. My mom tries to call me by middle name more often now ever since the whole meme came out. Both my parents know about the stigma but honestly they don’t care about other people’s opinions towards my name.”