How the 'Karen Meme' Confronts the Violent History of White Womanhood

If you look up the hashtag #Karen on Instagram, a search that delivers over 773,000 posts, the image shown on the page is a screenshot of a white woman staring intently at the camera and pursing her lips with a smile while holding a finger touches her chin, a movement that is both condescending and seductive.
The woman's name is Lisa Alexander, but she is most widely recognized as "San Francisco Karen" on the Internet after a clip of her went viral last week asking if James Juanillo, the "Black Lives Matter" stenciled "In Chalk on the front of his own house, blemished private property, the video showed Juanillo identifying himself as a colored person in a social media caption and telling Alexander and her partner to call the police if they felt that he later violated the law and later told ABC7 News that the couple had called the police, who immediately recognized him as a resident, and while Juanillo was lucky enough to be recognized and intact, calls like this could result in injury or worse Cause death.
Jaimetoons
@jaimetoons
A white couple calls the police, a colored person, because they put a # BLM chalk message on my own front retaining wall. "Karen" lies and says that she knows that I don't live in my own house because she knows the person who lives here. #Black lives count
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For Alexander, however, there were major consequences of going viral as Karen. She and her partner were both identified by their full names from online annoyances, which resulted in their skin care business being boycotted and their partner being fired from his job. Both Alexander and her partner released apologies to ABC7 News. In Alexander's apology, she regrets her behavior: “When I watch the video, I am shocked and sad that I acted the way I did. It was disrespectful to Mr. Juanillo and I am very sorry. "
Alexander's video is one of countless other videos, pictures and memes that have emerged in the past few months from "Karens", a slang term for middle-aged white women (who apparently comes from the popular "Can I" talk to a manager? “Meme,) who are notorious online for their shameless advertisements of claim, privilege and racism - and their tendency to call the police when they don't get what they want.
The Karen archetype has become extremely well known in recent weeks thanks to a flood of footage that is becoming increasingly violent and disturbing. There is Karen, who spewed out several racist tirades against Asian Americans in a park in Torrance, California. The Internet then discovered that she had had discriminatory outbreaks in the past and was given the title "Ultra Karen". There is Karen in Los Angeles who used two hammers to damage her neighbors' car when she told them to "get the shit out of this neighborhood". There is Karen, who deliberately coughed up someone who called her because she wasn't wearing a mask in a café in New York.
Video: "Central Park Karen" apologizes and says "I'm not a racist".
White woman who called a black man to the police in Central Park apologizes and says, "I'm not a racist."
A viral video shows a white woman holding her dog on a collar in New York's Central Park and saying, "I'm going to call the police ... I'll tell them that an African American is threatening my life. ”
And perhaps most notable is Amy Cooper, the “Central Park Karen,” who raises a national discourse on the dangers of blacks being falsely accused of calling the police against Christian Cooper (no relationship), a black man who only asked if she should lead her dog on a leash in a part of Central Park that required it, and call his race when the call came. Within a few days of Cooper sharing the video on Twitter, Cooper was fired from her job and her dog was confiscated. In comments shared with CNN after the incident, Cooper said that she "wanted to apologize publicly to everyone" and claimed that she was "not a racist" and "did not want to harm this man in any way". In an interview with ABC7 News, Christian Cooper accepted her apology, but urged viewers to focus not only on the viral clip, but also on the "underlying stream of racism and racist perceptions".
The images of Karens, who take advantage of their privilege when things don't go their own way, have recently become an abbreviation for a certain type of racist violence that white women have instigated for centuries after a long and troubling legacy of white women in the country who have armed their victim.
Melody Cooper
@melodyMcooper
Oh, when Karens is walking her dogs on a leash in the famous Bramble in New York's Central Park, where the signs clearly show that dogs must always be kept on a leash and someone like my brother (an avid bird watcher ) politely asks her dog to be on a leash.
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Settlement begins in Central Park and Minneapolis
"One of the things that has worked throughout American history is finding a way to project whiteness that needs defense or protection," says Dr. André Brock, associate professor of black digital culture at Georgia Tech University, whose research talked about the effects of Black Twitter. "For men it is a struggle; for women this means that men help on their behalf or show that they are so frail that they cannot handle the weight. The moment we have been in our house for six weeks are trapped and have nothing else to do but feel, so when you watch these videos you have nothing else to do but watch them and see people’s reactions to them ... a complaint for white women and white people , but also a rage from people who, even if they are white, can recognize the injustice of the situation. "
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Brock said that the widespread viral response to "Karen" material is now the result of a convergence of interests that has led to the coronavirus pandemic being accompanied by collective outrage at police brutality. The weekend that Amy Cooper's video went viral in Central Park was the same weekend that George Floyd was killed after Minneapolis' former police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck and choked him. The video in Central Park only showed the extreme violence - and possibly fatal consequences - of a white woman who selfishly calls the police out of defiance and alleged fear.
In a broader sense, mainstreaming, evoking the danger that white women and their tears pose, has been building up to this moment. There is often quoted statistics that 52% of white women voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 elections. In the meantime, the constant lies of white women like Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the service of the Trump administration have made it clear that white women can and are complicit in suppression systems. In connection with the advent of social media and the smartphone camera, the long-standing portrayal of white women as helpless, vulnerable victims is now being questioned by video evidence that they depict not only as a cause of conflict but also as a perpetrator of violence.
Karens takes on new meaning during a global health crisis
The Cooper incident and Floyd's death were the result of Karen memes and videos worth a few months that were already in vogue thanks to the new restrictions introduced due to the coronavirus pandemic. The clips documented the many encounters with white women who openly violated COVID-19 health and safety measures such as wearing a mask or social distancing.
The extreme relevance of the Karen meme is currently significant since the meme has been circulating online for some time. According to Adam Downer, Associate Editor at Know Your Meme, the Karen meme appears to have existed on Reddit since at least 2017, but the current iteration of the meme takes on a new meaning that points to the sobering real consequences of what started out as a joke on the Internet about bad haircuts and claims.
"When the protests and avalanche of incidents involving white women called the police got a bit more menacing," Downer said. "I think when people pointed out who a Karen was in real life, like the number, 'Can I speak to the manager? 'And focusing on the exact type of person they were talking about made it much easier to see these types of people in real life. "
How the Karen meme relates to the violent history of white women
The historical narrative about the victim of white women goes back to myths that were constructed in the days of American slavery. Black slaves were seen as a sexual threat to white women, the women of the slave owners. In reality, slave masters were the ones who raped their slaves. However, this ideology confirmed the idea that white women, who represented the good and moral in American society, had to be protected at all costs by white men, which justified racist violence against black men or against anyone who threatened their power represented. This narrative, which was the overarching theme of Birth of a Nation, the 1915 film that was the first film to be shown in the White House, is often cited as inspiration for the rebirth of the KKK.
"If we think about it in a historical context where white women have power over black men, their word about a black man is valued, which makes it particularly dangerous, and that's the problem," says Dr. Apryl Williams, assistant professor of communication and media at the University of Michigan and fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society in Harvard, who focuses on race, gender and community in digital spaces.
“White women are positioned as a virtue of society because of their position as mother, as the guardian of virtuosity, all of these ideologies that we associate with white motherhood and especially white women. Your particular role in society gives them power and when. When you combine that with this racist story, in which white women are afraid of black men and black men are hypersexualized and viewed as dangerous, it's really a volatile combination. "
Williams says the exposure challenges this position. "Part of what people don't see is that white women have and have that power when they call the police or threaten to call them."
As expected, the Internet has found a way to joke about this power dynamic, but the nature of a humorous approach is risky by downplaying the threat. The violent story is the reason why Williams warns against letting the sometimes humorous nature of Karen memes minimize the way in which white women have long been a danger to the lives of blacks and browns.
"On the one hand, humor is a way of dealing with the pain of violence, and in this way it helps, but on the other hand, cuteness or ridicule minimizes or masks the fact that these women are essentially violent," she says. "The fact that Amy Cooper says, 'I'm going to call the police and tell them that an African American is threatening my life' is a very racially violent statement and a racistly violent act, especially if you look at it in a bigger, broader way historical context and think about how Emmett Tills Prosecutor [Carolyn Bryant] did exactly the same thing and it led to his death. "
However, that doesn't mean that memes aren't ultimately beneficial. According to Williams, Karen memes can serve different purposes for different audiences. For whites, it can help them identify a pattern of behavior that they do not want to participate in, but that may be complicit and that makes it easier to have a conversation about the fragility, aspirations, and privileges of whites. it also blames them for racism. For blacks, the memes can be used as a source of news, evidence and archive of injustices, attempts to control bodies and situations, or, as Brock puts it, “microaggressions that often scale into macroaggressions when the police are involved. ”
How the Karen meme is pushing for change offline
"Memes have power that goes beyond humor," says Brock. “We often use metaphors, which are often the focus of memes, and emotions or affects to shorten things that affect us deeply. It's often funny; often it is cathartic; and sometimes it's racist. I'm trying to push back the idea that memes are a frivolous way of articulating a certain phenomenon because in many ways it's a much stronger shortcut than I am to explain exactly how people react to a particular situation ... social media is a platform for communicating feelings and the stronger the feeling, the more viral things become. "
Brock's belief that memes have a permanent power beyond breakneck speed to go viral is confirmed by Williams Karen Karen, the police for innocent black civilians who just want to grill in the park, or 8-year-old black girls selling water on the sidewalk can be considered part of a genre that she calls "memes for black activists".
Williams said that the reports of real people who have experienced the racism documented in these memes and the hashtag #LivingWhileBlack help promote accountability and actually push legislation, such as the Oregon law passed in 2019 and punishing racists 911 callers. She compares it to a replacement for black newspapers and black presses, and comments on racial inequality in a way that may not otherwise be addressed.
"These memes actually do logical and political work to help us make legal changes or legislative changes, which is really to be said," says Williams. "Although they are of course not an independent movement, they are actively calling for white supremacy and demanding reparation. They are really doing this work by highlighting and commenting on racial inequality in a way that mainstream news doesn't capture."
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