Lisa Nakamura is the director of the Digital Studies Institute at the University of Michigan, and has studied feminist theory and digital media theory.

How Karen became a meme, and what Karen thinks about it

With the exception of a shared first name, Sun – a 23-year-old Sino-American – middle-aged, middle-class white woman who doesn’t exactly match the stereotype of using Sun’s words, “get what she wants by acting like him.”

Sun, however, who has spent years working in the fast food industry, has faced a fair share of their “currents.”

But where do these terms come from and what do they represent? And what does that mean for people of color, people like Sun who find themselves sharing a name with this stereotype?

How the word “Karen” started

Although these names have become popular recently, thanks to the cultural power of Black Twitter, these names are nothing new.

It’s certainly not “Karen”. There are also names like “Becky” which come as a symbol of a certain simplicity to and Susan. And Chad

Andre Brock is an associate professor at Georgia Tech, and he has spent many years studying the intersections of race and digital culture.

The modern repetition of these names comes from entertainment, he said. Even comedian Dan Cook, since 2005, used “Karen” as a joke, but no one really liked her as a friend’s successor.

Brock cites Sir Mix-a-Lott’s 1992 hit song, “Baby Got Back” as an example. The song’s inclusion doesn’t refer to the anonymous “Becky,” as it insults an unnamed black woman: “Oh, my God, Becky, look at her butt. It’s such a big rap girlfriend.”

And who can forget the line from his album “Lemonade” in 2016 to the iconic Beyonc “” You’ll call Becky better with better hair “?

But history goes further back. He said blacks also named whites who wanted to be in charge but had no control over them.

Miss Ann is an example from the time of slavery. BRAC said black slaves would use it specifically to refer to white women who wanted to exercise power over them,

Even though the names have changed now – we basically replaced “Miss Ann” with “Becky” and “Karen” – the idea behind the names is still the same.

The pattern of using these original names continues. In 2018, the term “BBQ Becky” was coined after a white woman called police at a group of black people barbecuing in a public park. In 2020, when Amy Cooper called a black man in Central Park who told her to hang her dog, the word “Karen” spread on social media.

“It’s always in sight,” Brock explained. “And the desire to control what is in sight.”

In other words? He said that some white women wanted to control blacks – as was the case with slavery, as it was in 1992, and still is today.

Names like Karen, or Becky? It’s a work of resistance by blacks, Brock said. It puts a name to behavior and acts as a way to solidify against injustice, perhaps to laugh about it and surround your day.

What a “Karen” symbol

Part of its appeal to the word “Karen” is that the name, for the most part, is in antiquity. And with that respect, it’s a powerful moniker for anyone who touches out.

View only baby name data from the Social Security office. Between 1951 and 1968, the name “Karen” looked final – sitting pretty well in the top ten for the most popular baby name in the United States.

In 2018, however, the most recent year available, “Karen” was ranked 635th among the most popular names, quite a fall from grace.

Lisa Nakamura is director of the Institute for Digital Studies at the University of Michigan and she has studied feminist theory and digital media theory.

Lisa Nakamura, director of the Institute for Digital Studies at the University of Michigan, put it bluntly, “Karen is a name that will no longer be named after their child.”

Thus, Nakamura explained, the use of names like “Karen” is part of the search for someone and their activities in a reactive period.

The Back in 2018, the incident is being shown by the “BBQ Becky” incident, the viral video showing how a white woman called a group of black people to the police in a public park, claiming that they were breaking the law. At the beginning of the video, the woman asserted herself, but in the end, when the police arrived, she burst into tears and said, “I’m being harassed.”

A white woman calls a black man a policeman on a barbecue. The community responded in this way

White women – “Karen” in particular – were able to gain sympathy for their fragility, Brock explained, adding that they had done something wrong and would be called for focus.

“They are fleeing with behavior that is not done by anyone else,” he explained.

How Karens is feeling about the word

So how do real people named Karen feel about this?

Sun told CNN that no one seriously called them “Karen.” Definitely it came up, they said and sometimes they use it for fun. But they don’t think it smells good.

They said, “There is virtually no systemic repression.” “It won’t stop you from getting married or getting health care, you’re just behaving right and rude and that’s why you’re being called ‘Karen’.”

Karen Sun:

Still, Sun noted that naming Karen had some effect on the way they navigated the world, at least in the way they chose to speak.

Karen Shim, 23, of Philadelphia, has similar feelings.

Although he knows that no memes or comments are specifically directed at him, he said it may still feel a bit personal – simply because it is his name.

Now, Shim said that in some situations he may feel less comfortable talking, fearing that anyone might make fun of his “Karen” move and even joke.

He said Korean and Chinese Shim also said his name was not the first that people would probably judge by him – that would be his race, he said.

Sun agreed.

They said, “I have already come up with a way in the world that is not white and white as” even adding another layer to the name association, but I am certainly not defined by that layer. “

Karen Chen, 20, of North Carolina, told CNN that the combination of her name with the stereotype made her feel a little uncomfortable, saying she was good at using it.

Karen Chen:

“I know that obviously it’s a name and it’s somehow my representative and how people think I don’t represent this,” he said.

More than the name, what really bothers Chen is the impact of Karen’s activities and how their opportunities can come at the expense of marginalized groups.

Brock, although not significantly Karen’s name, summed it up by saying: “If you are offended by an archaeologist who says more about your insecurities being a generous ally, it is more likely than not to use the term to describe an unfair situation.” Too much to say. “

In other words, you can be Karen instead of “Karen”.

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