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The Internet Gave Me A Bad Name: Karen

Can we please quiet our inner Karens and give each other some grace??

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illustration, typography, Karen
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Hi, I’m Karen! I have always liked my name, it is short and easy to pronounce. Even in foreign countries, people are usually able to muster a close approximation. In fact, I’ve always felt a kind of sisterhood with other Karens. But that all changed last year when the internet began exploding with memes of “Karens”. I am a high school teacher and to my chagrin, the whole class started giggling when I introduced myself last term. In case you are wondering, no, that doesn’t usually happen. 

At first, I didn’t know what to make of it, then after questioning my high-school-aged son, I was able to decipher the gist of what a “Karen” is. Turns out, like most things on the internet these days, it all started with a meme. Initially, Karen was a busybody, middle-aged white woman with an asymmetric blond bob, she was someone who would ask to speak to the manager or someone raising hell at the school board meeting. Karen was not afraid to tell you what to do or to voice her opinion. Unfortunately, over the last few months, the appellation has transformed into a privileged, often racist, angry, white woman who throws tantrums or who calls the cops on a birdwatcher (her name was Amy by the way.) 

In the early days, the meme didn’t bother me too much, I laughed it off, another crazy internet gimmick. But now as it becomes more prevalent I am quite offended that the internet hijacked my name. I did not sign up for this. “I am a nice Karen” I find myself wanting to shout when I sense the eye-roll coming after an introduction. Granted that probably doesn’t help my case. I recognize that even writing this article is in a way an indication of me being a Karen. As the negative and racist connotations of being a Karen have emerged, I find myself casting about to find a suitable nickname. It is not easy to shorten or lengthen Karen, it’s just Karen. That's what made it such a great name for so long. It’s not like Elizabeth, for example, which easily transforms into Liz, Beth, or Eliza. You can’t do that with Karen, there is no escape from the Karen of it. 

Yes, I am aware that there are more pressing matters in the world right now than my name, but I have found the phenomenon has altered my behavior in rather unexpected ways. What started as a funny meme has had a real impact on my life. I do use a nickname at Starbucks, but that’s nothing new, Kiki is just easier to spell. Now, however, that nickname also accompanies my takeout orders. But more importantly, I find I am checking myself when I do encounter a transgression; I ask myself, am I just being a Karen? When someone is rude, I find I hesitate before confronting them, am I just being a Karen? When I feel the need to report someone for using a gas-powered leaf blower that was outlawed in my city, am I just being a Karen? Do I really need to speak to the manager? 

As I take a step back and observe my reactions, I can’t help but wonder if maybe we should all stop and check ourselves before we overreact. The spiteful behaviors exhibited by Karens are not in the best interest of our society, they are reactions to a divisive and fearful environment. In the volatile climate we are currently living in, taking that pause to make sure we are not overreacting or inciting a quarrel, could be a positive step towards civility and mending the rift that has developed in our country. Maybe now is a good time for all of us to quiet our inner Karens and give each other some grace. 

You can find me on twitter @KikiNotKaren