Like many black women, I have watched the phenomenon of ‘Karen’ – which started as a community specific term – be appropriated by pop culture and finally reach critical mass within mainstream UK discourse when journalist Julie Bindel suggested that it was a slur.
‘Karen’ originated as a term predominantly used by black women in the USA to capture the essence of a specific type of racism often headed by white women; who’s racialised fear and distrust of black people lead to them appointing themselves agents of the State. Karens have posed as police officers and shouted at young people of colour for playing in a park. Karens have called the police on black people hosting a public barbecue legally. Karens have blocked black people from entering apartment blocks with their children based on an assumption that they are thieves. More generally, Karens have repeatedly called for the managers of employees within service industries when they are challenged on their ridiculous and flagrant demands.
‘Karen’ is the archetype of white femininity that works as an agent of white supremacy all while claiming victimhood by virtue of their womanhood. While many of the examples given here are within the context of the USA (where we see these enactments of racial and gendered privilege popularised via memes and social media), to assume that they cannot or do not exist within the UK is to truly misunderstand the complex and insidious ways in which British Karens use similar tactics against people of colour in the UK.