In the social media it has become common to refer to someone who scolds or punishes you for your behavior as “Karen being Karen.” It started with a stereotype of arrogant entitled white women who put down others lacking their privileged refinement. Since the return of the BLM movement many are using the label for a racist tone dismissive of white people generally.
Leaving aside the racist connotation, I am focusing on the Karen role of enforcing politically correct behavior. For example, consider the recent Central Park incident in which a woman called Amy Cooper called the cops on a black man called Christian Cooper (no relation) and claimed that he was harassing her when in truth he was reprimanding her for letting her dog off its leash in a part of the park where you’re not meant to do that. Amy behaved badly in this incident. But as Robert A George argued in the New York Daily News: ‘[Christian] is the “Karen” in this encounter, deciding to enforce park rules unilaterally and to punish “intransigence” ruthlessly.’ Amy Cooper’s life has been shattered by this Karen-shaming incident: she lost her job and her dog.
Regardless of racial or gender identity, the “Karenness Quality” is this self-righteous public shaming of others for not behaving according to Karen’s Rules. For example, note the flip-flop of the mayor of Olympia, Washington. She was fine with the Black Lives Matter protests that followed George Floyd’s death in police custody. But that was until vandals damaged her home, according to reports. Changing her mind about the BLM protests when she was damaged personally, Mayor Cheryl Selby of Olympia now refers to the protests as “domestic terrorism,” according to The Olympian. “I’m really trying to process this,” Selby told the newspaper Saturday, after the rioters’ Friday night spree left her front door and porch covered with spray-painted messages. “It’s like domestic terrorism. It’s unfair.”
Karenism has this moral purity abstracted from personal experience with the hardships involved. Karen exemplar Marie Antoinette famously responded to the plight of breadless peasants with her “Let them eat cake.”
Karens are having a field day with The Wu Flu pandemania, such that I am in violation just for referring to the Chinese origin of this contagion. The media weaponizing the virus fear factor triggers the inner Karens to confront, denounce and denigrate others as threats to personal health and well being. You can see it when in a store, another customer scolds you for not wearing your mask properly, or going the wrong direction in the aisle. Or when Governor Karen Cuomo of NY denounces Florida or Georgia for their policies, while his state sets records for Wu Flu deaths per million.
There are various ways of responding to the Karens of this world. Comedian Steve Martin was famous for his reply to PC critics.
When the scolding is related to trivial procedural details, it’s appropriate to respond with: “Whatever.”