Sucks to be a Karen now.
Not as in a white, middle-aged woman throwing a public tantrum and thus being called a Karen on social media. No, it sucks to have been born with the name Karen and to all of a sudden in the year 2020 have that name be universally known as a synonym for a white, middle-aged woman throwing a pubic tantrum.
What if your name is Karen and you’ve never thrown a tantrum? What if your name is Karen and you are Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American?
Reminds me of the name Bruce and how it is, in some quarters, considered a gay name. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Some say it’s because of the stereotypical gay lisp that comes from saying the word Brooosss. Others—and I think this one makes more sense—trace it back to the old Batman TV show which was incredibly campy and also incredibly popular in the 1960s. It was suggested that perhaps the live-in relationship between bachelor Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) and his young male sidekick Robin was more than platonic, and so Bruce became a rainbow name. I doubt anyone had the balls back then to point that out to martial artist Bruce Lee or stern-faced actor Bruce Dern or Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner.
Okay, scratch that last one.
In the blink of an eye, through no fault of your own, you can find that your name is no longer bland and neutral. It now makes people think of something negative for which you are not even remotely responsible.
In 1953 the US government starting using female names for storms and hurricanes. For the next 25 years, tragic deaths and horrendous devastation visited upon cities from coast to coast due to Mother Nature were christened with the names of women. Over 160 dead and $30 billion in damages in the Florida Keys in 1960: thanks a lot Hurricane Donna. Over 250 dead and 5,600 homes destroyed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969: thanks to you too Hurricane Camille. But in 1978 the feds decided women should not get all the blame and they started alternating male and female names for hurricanes. Over 60 dead and 127,000 homes damaged in Florida in 1992: welcome to the party Hurricane Andrew.
The Karen incidents showing up on YouTube and TikTok and Instagram got their start with white women confronting black men about whether or not they should be in the place they unfortunately found themselves in when confronted. Apartment lobbies, hotel swimming pools, public parks, convenience stores and picnic benches were, apparently, places that middle-aged white women did not want to see black men, or black families, frequenting. Eventually, the Karen incidents broadened out and the Karen ire was directed at things like face masks, merchandise returns and speeding youngsters in the neighborhood.
The penalty for being a white Karen is, for the most part, public shaming, and, every now and then, termination from the workplace.
Being a black Karen is a whole other story.
Last week Shatavia Watts, a 33-year-old black woman in Brooklyn, went all Karen on some young men who were shooting off fireworks in a public housing complex. She was concerned that the fireworks were exploding too close to some children in a nearby park. She asked the young men to shoot their fireworks farther away.
Did those young men ask Shatavia what right she had to ask them to move? No.
Did they tell her they feared for their safety? No.
Did they pull out their cell phones to record her? No.
Did they post a clip on social media? No.
Did they ask their friends to comment on her antics? No.
No, what they did was, they shot Shatavia Watts dead.
Eight bullets. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
In some neighborhoods, cancel culture has a whole different meaning.