Gen Z Teens Are Posing as 'Karens' on Instagram to Teach Us All a Lesson About What It Means to Be One
Teens are creating fake "Karen" accounts on social media to entertain themselves in quarantine and to mock a particular type of suburban mom who weaponizes her white privilege.
Since 2016, the internet has been familiar with a particular archetype and meme known as "Karen," described as an "irritating, entitled woman" on a mission to "speak to the manager." But in recent months, an increasing number of stories have involved next-level Karens who are weaponizing their distress and entitlement in a way that could do very real harm to vulnerable people. One of the most prominent examples is that of Amy Cooper, a woman who called 911 on a Black man who asked her to leash her dog in New York City's Central Park, threatening to tell the cops that an "African American man" was attacking her.
Now, teens all over the globe, stuck in their homes due to the pandemic, are trolling women like Cooper by creating fake social media accounts meant to role play, mock, and mimic the microaggressions of the most problematic Karens. They see these women as white, conservative Americans who are racist, in addition to loving wine, Minions memes, and essential oils, among other stereotypes. "The 'I want to speak to the manager' women are still Karens, but these are a specific type of Karen," explains a 16-year-old from the U.S. whose fake Karen account is @carolynnjanet. Her bio features an American flag emoji and describes her as a "pro-life supermom & wife."
A 13-year-old from Canada whose "Karen" account is @becky.fuller31 adds, "To me, Karen is a white, middle-aged mom who doesn't support Black people, is homophobic and doesn't like people of other ethnicities." Mimicking women like this is a "good way to have some fun" during "hard times," she says. But she also wants real Karens to see fake accounts like hers and "understand and change their behavior."
Teens running fake Karen accounts have banded together to create a community, chatting amongst themselves in Instagram DM group chats and often discussing their shared love of Billie Eilish, who they admire for her activism.
A 14-year-old from the U.K. who runs @barbarashappyfamily notes, "Being a Karen— in my case, a Barbara—made me meet so many people who share the same beliefs as me."
Here, several ways fake teen Karens define the toxic, bigoted behavior of real Karens.
1. They Use Their Voices Against People.
Women are socialized to put being perceived as nice and accommodating over their own well-being, so speaking up about your needs is imperative. Being assertive is a good trait—especially as a parent. But toxic Karens harness that characteristic and their ability to be heard by shopkeepers, community members, or police officers to take advantage of or target someone who is less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt in a tense situation.
2. They Support White Supremacy.
@Carolynnjanet shared this post, writing, "We dyed her hair brown to show more… cómö se dicè… diversity! Don’t worry, she’s all white!"
In another post, she mocked the idea that the Karen trope is sexist, sarcastically writing, "Us white moms go through so much these days!"
3. They Don't Listen to Science.
Teens see Karens as disparaging facts and science and passionately speaking out against vaccination.
4. They're Clueless About Systemic Racism.
While many Americans reflect on the country's many examples of systemic racism, such as mass incarceration of primarily Black people, toxic Karens focus on the effects on white people. Alongside this post, @karen_smithlovesherkids wrote, "Repost this on your story for all the wrongfully convicted Karen out there!"
5. They Believe They're Victims and Targets.
From calling 911 on a Black birdwatcher in Central Park to reaching out to authorities about a Black man who was painting his own property, all too many white women have been caught, as Charles M. Blow put it in a recent New York Times op-ed, "weaponizing racial anxiety, using their white femininity to activate systems of white terror against Black men." While women have a right to be assertive, direct, and defend themselves in everyday situations, the next generation has zero-tolerance for those who use their privilege to attack Black and other marginalized people. Judging from the plethora of fake Karen accounts popping up left and right, Gen Z won't stop until toxic Karens' behaviors are fully exposed.
As @barbarashappyfamily put it, "I am a normal teenage girl, and there aren't a lot of ways for me to tell everyone about the injustice and discrimination in this world, but the whole Karen joke actually gave me a chance to spread my beliefs. I will use it as much as I can and try to help everyone I can."
The prevalence of the meme has some people worrying they could be called a Karen, but the bottom line is that there are about a gazillion behaviors that might earn you the label. Teens are always going to mock and satirize older generations. But anyone who weaponizes their white privilege and exhibits blatantly racist behaviors probably has a lot bigger fish to fry than being called a toxic Karen.