An “Instagram influencer” (i.e. a rich woman who takes a lot of selfies) was at the center of controversy this week when she got into a heated argument with Lebron James during a Los Angeles Lakers vs. Atlanta Hawks game in Atlanta. Juliana Carlos, who had courtside seats next to her husband, claimed in a video after the spat that Lebron called her a “f***ing b*tch.” Carlos returned the favor, calling Lebron a “f***ing p***y” along with a host of other choice terms. There is no evidence that the NBA star actually said what he is accused of saying, and Carlos has since issued an apology and claimed full responsibility for the episode.
Lebron has had little to say about all of this publicly, except to tweet: “Courtside Karen was MAD MAD!!” The Courtside Karen moniker quickly caught on, started trending on Twitter, and now most of the media headlines about the story use that nickname in reference to Carlos. This has been the trend for the past year or so. Obnoxious white women — or white women who are labeled obnoxious, fairly or not — are called “Karen,” sometimes with an additional identifier like “Courtside” or “Soho.” A culture that finds nearly everything “problematic” has somehow found no problems with this.
Admittedly, in Juliana Carlos’s case, the charge of obnoxiousness certainly applies. I have no interest in defending her on a personal level. Wealthy Instagram influencers who make fools of themselves in public are not widely viewed as sympathetic characters, and I have no intention of trying to change that. But what I loathe even more than spoiled brats like Carlos are double standards, and the “Karen” meme represents a rather massive one. “Karen” is in fact a racial slur, both in its common usage and its original intent, and I can find no compelling reason to give it a pass. A racial slur is a racial slur. They are all bad — even when used against white people, believe it or not.
Anyone who doubts the racial connotation of “Karen” need only listen to the people who originated and popularized it. Articles like Time Magazine’s “The ‘Karen Meme’ Confronts the Violent History of White Womanhood” and Teen Vogue’s “Karen Is Being Used by White Women — Here’s Why They Need to Stop” make it clear not only that “the archetypal Karen is a white woman” but that those who came up with this slur are very possessive and protective of it. As the Teen Vogue piece clarifies, the “Karen” meme is “an inside joke within communities of color.” White people who adopt it or try to erase its racial connotation are guilty of a kind of slur-appropriation.
A Daily Beast essay from earlier this month says that “‘Karen,’ like the once-popular phrase ‘Becky,’ became a moniker to describe white women who were problematic.” The author expresses a desire to abandon usage of the term, but not because it’s racist. He fears instead that Karens are being dangerously “normalized.”
If you prefer to go to Wikipedia for your information, here’s what that site says about the origins of “Karen”:
There are several possible origins of the term. One theory is that it is an evolution of an African-American Vernacular English term of referring to “unreasonable white women.” The term may have originated on Black twitter as a meme used to describe white women who “tattle on Black kids’ lemonade stands”. Bitch [magazine] described it as a term that originated with Black women but was co-opted by white men.
There is no doubt that this is a racial term. That is not a question. The question is whether, though it is a racial term, it qualifies as a racist term, a slur. To answer that question we can try a very simple thought experiment. Let us imagine an exactly analogous situation. What if white people on Twitter started to refer to obnoxious black women using a stereotypical black woman name? In order to properly frame this, let’s consult an ABC News article from a few years ago listing what they call “The Top 20 ‘Whitest’ and ‘Blackest’ Names.” Near the top of the “blackest” female names list, according to ABC News, is “Shanice.” As a hypothetical example, what if there were an “inside joke among white communities” where unpleasant black women were called “Shanices”? Imagine: “Oh man, I was at the grocery store and this Shanice comes up to me and… etc.”
Would there be any doubt about whether that qualifies as racist? Would anyone dare suggest that it isn’t racist? I certainly wouldn’t. It would be absolutely clear to me that using a stereotypical black female name as a pejorative to refer to black women you don’t like is extremely bigoted, in just about every conceivable way. Everyone would be on the same page. We all would agree that “Shanice” is a slur, and obviously so. Many thinkpieces would be written with titles like “The Shanice Meme is An Attack On Black Womanhood” and “‘Shanice’ Proves Racism Is Still Alive,” and so on. The excuses offered for “Karen” wouldn’t pass muster in the case of “Shanice.” Just think:
“It’s okay because the women we call ‘Shanice’ actually are annoying and obnoxious!”
“‘Shanice’ isn’t racist. Sometimes the word is applied to white people, too!”
“Black women call each other ‘Shanice’ sometimes. That must mean it’s not racist!”
All of these justifications are offered for “Karen.” They would not work in the “Shanice” hypothetical. And they shouldn’t, because they’re weak, silly, and beside the point.
If it is so obvious that “Karen” originates as a racial slur, is intended to be a slur, is often used as a slur, and this exact kind of slur would never fly when applied to people of other races, then why do so few white people object to it? I think it is because white people in modern American culture don’t think they’re allowed to object to this kind of thing. They have come to believe, after years of brainwashing, that it would be racist for them to recoil from racism targeted at them. Or else they believe that racism towards other groups is a deep moral evil while racism towards them is, at worst, a frivolous concern. This is all wrong, of course. Racism is racism is racism. It is all bad. It is all worthy of condemnation. And we should not make exceptions in this case.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.