When Amy Cooper stupidly called the police on a Black man who asked her to put her dog on a leash, people didn’t refer to her as Amy on the Internet. Instead, they called her Karen.
Why? Because over the last few years, the name Karen has become commonly used to refer to white women who behave inappropriately in public, whether it’s acting entitled, rude, or being racist. More than a WASP mom, the name Karen has become a woman’s name synonymous with white privilege.
“It’s usually used as a pejorative for middle-aged white women,” said Matt Schimkowitz, a senior editor at Know Your Meme. Schimkowitz told Insider. “It’s almost like they have an entitlement, where they’re kind of lording their privilege over another.”
The name became so popular that Karen even became the white privilege Halloween costume for 2020. But more on that in a moment.
Origin of “Karen”
The police-calling Amy Cooper is far from being the lone Karen in society.
According to Insider, there’s the Karen who went viral because she blocked a car from getting a parking space, the “coughing Karen” who coughed on customers at a bagel shop, and another Karen who called the cops on a man for writing “Black Lives Matter” in chalk on his own property.
Oh, when Karens take a walk with their dogs off leash in the famous Bramble in NY’s Central Park, where it is clearly posted on signs that dogs MUST be leashed at all times, and someone like my brother (an avid birder) politely asks her to put her dog on the leash. pic.twitter.com/3YnzuATsDm— Melody Cooper (@melodyMcooper) May 25, 2020
So, where did the Karen meme come from?
Insider says it’s not totally clear, even though there are quite a few origin stories floating around. Most people think it started with a Dane Cook act from 2005. In the act, Cook says, “Every group has a Karen and she is always a bag of douche. And when she’s not around, you just look at each other and say, ‘God, Karen, she’s such a douchebag!”
But if you go back one year earlier, you’ll find the use of Karen in the 2004 movie Mean Girls. One of the film’s lines is “Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white.”
It would be years after the Mean Girls release that the Karen meme would become popular. Insider points out that an F U Karen subreddit was created in 2017, racking up over 600,000 members.
Andre Brock, an associate professor at Georgia Tech who specializes in race and digital culture, told CNN that the true history of Karen goes way, way back. He said during the time of slavery, Black people had a name for a white woman who wanted to exert power over them. They’d call her Miss Ann.
Now instead of Miss Ann, it’s Karen.
‘The Karen’ Becomes a Top Halloween Costume of 2020
Vice reports that you can find Karen wigs styled in that perfect soccer mom-bob on Etsy, shirts on Amazon that say things like, “I Want to Speak to the Manager: This is My Karen Costume,” and even a screaming Karen latex mask from Los Angeles artist Jason Adcock. His made-to-order designs run $180 and take four to six weeks to create.
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Kamorascostumes- on Etsy ! It’s never to early to shop for #Halloween #costumes . 2020 is the year of the KAREN! Scare all ur friends with ur big hair and narrow mind . Full head latex mask painted with #timgoresbloodline and @createxcolors #latexmask#rubbermask#halloweenmask#sculpting#art#scary #biggair#monster#monstermask#bridezilla#karen#karensgonwild#karensgonewild #karens#
Adcock, who works in the cosmetics industry and says he has “seen countless Karens in their natural habitat” has had mostly positive responses to the mask. In true Karen fashion, some people have offered death threats and called him racist, but as Adcock tells Vice, “…if the one thing you’re pressed up about right now is a rubber Halloween mask of an angry lady, you need to wake up. People are literally being killed every day for their race and gender identity.”
Besides a popular costume idea, it seems the Karen meme has also rung the death knell for what used to be a very popular baby name. Karen spent years in the top 10. But in 2018, it was ranked 635th.