By Karen Hendricks
I hate memes. Images paired with catchphrases—often snarky and containing misspellings—spread virally across the internet like fire.
Like many comments on social media, they are posted without much real thought or conversation. They’re an easy, quick way to react.
People have been sending me “Karen” memes for months. You know the ones… “Karen” is portrayed as an entitled white suburban mom whose claim to fame is “asking to talk to the manager”—presumably because she likes to complain in order to assert her superiority. She’s portrayed as hostile—a blonde big-mouth, an assertive airhead. Karen is apparently the n-word for white women.
Actual women named Karen, like myself, feel blindsided. And a lot of Karens have had a lot to say, in response. I wasn’t sure I had anything to add to the discussion until now. That’s because the latest iteration of the Karen meme, depicting Karen as someone who calls the cops on black men, crossed the line and spurred this Karen into action.
My fellow Karens (actual women named Karen) deny resembling the meme and its ill-fated attempts at humor. That’s because it’s a stereotype—the very thing that is tearing our country apart right now, along the much more serious, racially-fractured fault lines. Similarly, we are also a nation divided along party lines with painful, jagged edges. We’ve even divided along politicized health lines—those who wear masks vs those who don’t, in the midst of a freakin’ pandemic nonetheless.
Karens are under attack, simply because of our name. And that’s what memes do—they assign labels, put people into boxes and make superficial snap judgements. Whether those labels are black or white, Asian or Hispanic, Democrat or Republican, boomer or millennial, bad cop or good cop, Karen or fill in the blank here with your own name.
Here in Central Pennsylvania, we even judge people dependent on whether they live on the West Shore vs. East Shore of the dividing Susquehanna River.
Privilege is a problem. But we can’t talk about privilege in this country without addressing the power and entitlement that many (not all) white men continue to exert, over women and minorities. The Me Too movement feels like it happened eons ago, thanks to all the pandemic-related issues we currently have on our plates. COVID-19 has us all frazzled, on-edge, more anxious and emotional than ever.
The reason I bring up white male privilege is because that’s presumably how this whole Karen meme thing started. Some dude with a grudge against his ex-wife started a now-deleted Reddit account to air his bitterness. Yup, his ex-wife’s name just so happened to be Karen. She apparently got the house and the kids, and he had a problem with the way it all went down.
And here’s the irony of it all. The name Karen actually means “pure” or “genuine.” We’re supposedly straightforward and sincere, the real deal. The antithesis of the meme itself.
I think the world could use a little less snark and lot more genuineness right now. I’m not saying I have all the answers, and I’m the first to admit I’m far from perfect. But if anyone is going to stand up and give voice to an issue or a cause and be genuine about it by speaking truth, it might as well be a journalist named Karen.
I can let a lot of comments go. Hello—I’m a blonde female who’s heard plenty of comments over the years. As a life-long journalist who’s worked in a variety of roles, some higher-profile than others, I honestly like “hiding” behind my byline in my current role as a freelance writer because I’m judged more for my words on the pages of my articles—hopefully my intellect—rather than my appearance. But now my byline, my name itself, is being judged.
So I can’t let this go. I refuse to be a meme. And I refuse to see anyone else as a meme or a stereotype or a target of hate.
America’s racial tension has been simmering for a long time. It feels like many of our issues, including race, paused during this pandemic. But life is somewhat resuming, businesses are reopening, and simultaneously, our Pandora’s box is reopening.
There’s something about running that also opens the floodgates.
Maybe Ahmaud Arbery knew that. Maybe running helped him cope with life’s problems as a young African American male.
So while my daughter and I ran Saturday morning, we mourned Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and all those who have lost their lives due to deadly force, racial profiling and other stereotypes. We poured out our thoughts and compared facts we had both gleaned from the morning’s news of the race riots. She explained proper police techniques for force. I prayed for her career path—law enforcement is all she’s ever wanted to pursue.
And she told me that last fall, when I visited and stayed in her apartment for two weeks, her college roommate commented that I was the least Karen of the Karens. (I think that’s a compliment.)
There’s nothing privileged about shining a light on truth. I firmly believe every human being has value. And I firmly believe in the tenets of good journalism—accuracy, fairness and ethics.
So here’s how I see it. Even though, or maybe because, my name is Karen.
I ask you to put aside your pre-conceived notions about Karens—but more importantly—about any and all names and labels based upon race, sex, orientation or fill in the blank. Let’s all strive to do better. Let’s drop the labels, stop spreading memes, have real conversations, and look beyond the surface, into the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings, and heal.
For the record: This Karen confesses that she does drive an SUV—but it is the most common vehicle in our country, after all. But this Karen has never had acrylic nails, short or asymmetrical haircuts, colored hair, or any of the other indulgent, entitled habits that the Karen meme perpetuates. I am indeed blonde-ish—but naturally. And I can count on one hand, the number of times I have actually asked to speak to a manager. But you know what? I don’t ever recall doing so in order to complain. In fact, two times in the past six months, I spoke with managers in order to share my thoughts—which were kudos and compliments.