Help! I Think I Might Be A Bit Of A Karen

Em Unravelling

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“Most popular Halloween costume last year? Have a guess what it was!” my husband chuckled over breakfast. He was flicking through the newspaper and he’d stopped at a small sidebar feature which had, as its centerpiece, this “Karen” Hallowe’en mask.

It’s the scariest costume of all, apparently. (Although if you don’t fancy blowing $180 on one quarantine-restricted night of mild amusement, you can get a T-shirt from Amazon that simply says “I want to speak to the manager; this is my Karen costume”). Brilliant, right?

Of course, I laughed right along with him. It would’ve been very Karen-ish of me not to see the funny side of this viral trope. Because isn’t it hilarious, the way that popular culture has, over the past couple of years, created and honed such a perfect and neatly identifiable vessel in which to encapsulate all the worst elements of the worst sort of racist, entitled, white-privilege-brandishing middle-class Selfish Angry Woman?

We all know a Karen. Or we know, at least, exactly who they are. They’re probably striding purposefully towards you, wearing a waterfall cardigan and sparkly ballet pumps with their skinny jeans (sorry, “jeggings”) and sunglasses. Their hair is longer at the front than the back; it’s clearly a bob that means business. The highlights are aggressive and loud. There’s no way they’re not rocking a popper-fastening quilted gilet when the weather turns, even though they drive an SUV with decent heating.

Carole F*ckin’ Baskin is the indisputable OG Queen of the Karens, and honestly, that’s basically all we need to know about 2020. (Global pandemic notwithstanding, of course, but this crisis is surely mere detail on the surface of a year defined by the rise of the Karen). Karens absolutely won’t wear masks against the virus and definitely won’t contemplate a Covid-19 vaccination, should one ever appear.

Karens enjoy tweeting about “Wine o’Clock” and they’re all about the “Live, Laugh, Love” wall decals, but they also hate you deeply for all sorts of unexamined reasons (reasons that relate more to them than to you), and they’re probably looking down on what they see as your drinking problem.

We know all of this. We’ve been clearly told.

There’s literally nowhere to go if you’re called a Karen, as I was recently by my 21-year-old daughter. I’d gone for a hike with my friend, and because I’d already been running that morning I had put a hooded sweatshirt over my running gear, along with sunglasses. My blonde hair (which is shoulder length, because it’s weak and feeble hair that won’t grow any further) was in a ponytail and I had our family dog on a lead.

Thus attired, I appeared (actually without my consent, but that’s a totally Karen thing to say, so I won’t mention it again) on my friend’s Instagram Story…and within seconds, my daughter had replied to her to say — complete with crying sad-face emoji — “OMG, why does my mother look like such a Karen?”

Where do you go from there? I mean, I did look like a Karen in that photo.

I am increasingly aware of being uncomfortably Karen-adjacent. I’ve pretty much got the hair, albeit not the highlights, and not exactly by choice. I’m also fairly sure I’m the right age to be a Karen (I was born in 1980 and there were two real-life Actual Karens in my year at school, so there’s that). I’m white. I have privilege — and not just white privilege — which is attendant to my social status; it’s a privilege I’m probably not sufficiently conscious of, although I do try to check it regularly.

And yet. I’m so not a Karen, as I wailed in protest to my cackling family. When have I ever asked to speak to the manager? I have impostor syndrome literally all the time; I have absolutely no inherent belief in my own authority. I try daily to make sure that I am alert to systemic racism so that I can be part of the efforts to turn the tide. I keep myself well informed of current affairs. I’m liberal, left-leaning, tolerant. I’d never belittle restaurant staff. I can’t bear the selfish, idiotic anti-mask movement and I’m one hundred percent Team Vaccine.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. The more I wailed, the more Karenish I sounded, even to my own ears. I just have to accept it, don’t I? Accept it and laugh along with the ribbing, because right now, the quilted gilet apparently fits.

Anything else is just, well, a bit of a Karen response.

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A lover of horizons, hills, and words. Likes to write about uncomfortable things because too many people steer round those parts of life.

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