Can the use of stereotypes ever be justified?
This year it seems the stereotype ‘Karen’ meme has particularly blown up. For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon which has been around since the Noughties, a quick google search will lead you to a white, middle aged, entitled woman usually calling the police for something harmless being done by a black person or the over-zealous soccer mom type with the ‘can I speak to your manager’ haircut.
As a Karen myself I have never been a massive fan of the name and tried desperately during my teens to get friends to use my middle name (Alexandra) but it just wouldn’t stick. It was extremely popular in 1973 (the year I was born) resulting in confusingly numerous Karens at school and at work. The Office for National Statistics Baby Names Explorer Tool shows Karen peaks in popularity in the 60s and goes downhill from there. I am preceded by 3 Catherines (mother, grandmother, great grandmother) and would have much preferred that but mum decided to ‘go rogue’ with Karen which happens to be a Danish diminutive for Catherine.
Apart from the fact that it seems counter-intuitive for a woman in my profession to share the name of a frankly racist stereotype meme, there is another reason why I am not so keen.
In May of this year, a white woman in Central Park walking her dog called the NYPD claiming that a black man was threatening her when in reality he had only asked her to put her dog on a lead as they were in an area of the park where this is required. Many online commentators used the Karen meme to describe this horrifying event but let’s call her by her name which is Amy Cooper and let’s call her what she is which is a racist. This woman exerted her perceived power in a dangerous way (this being the same day George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis) and she doesn’t deserve the level of anonymity given by a meme which belittles what she’s done. As a result of her behaviour, she lost her job and was charged with filing a false police report by the Manhattan District Attorney.
Accepting people regardless of their background means favouring more accurate fact-based descriptions rather than lazy stereotypes. Consider Inc Arts UK’s powerful #BAMEover campaign which explains better than I ever could the value in using accurate language to enhance inclusivity. Shortcuts in language (be they memes or otherwise) can never do justice to the broad spectrum of backgrounds and descriptors that more accurately describe us.
And don’t judge all Karens by these awful stereotypes – we’re not all bad honest.
To ‘meet’ Positive About Inclusion’s Karen, visit our About Us section of the website.