There’s a section of white women who just can’t stand seeing black and brown women thrive. Something about the accomplishments of women of color shakes privileged and insecure people to their very core. Take for instance singer Lana Del Rey and New York Times food columnist Alison Roman, two individuals who’ve recently been called out for criticizing the success of female minorities.
Over little more than a week, the public figures found themselves caught up in an internet firestorm triggered by their responses to women of color, well... succeeding. And not just succeeding, which would be audacious enough, but prospering in fields that put them in direct competition with Roman and Del Rey.
The pair took unjustified shots at the accomplishments of several women of color, from Beyoncé to Chrissy Teigen. And doing so earned them the “Karen” crown, an award reserved only for the pettiest and most miserable and unnecessarily bothered white women who can’t stand to see a person of color do anything they believe encroaches on the privileges they feel should be reserved only for (white) people like them.
“Karens” are not always triggered by a conscious racial or class bias. Their anger often spawns from a subconscious place, as if their brain goes, “I don’t know why this particular [insert race or class] person bothers me, but I must put a stop to it,” while white and/or privileged people guilty of the same accusations go on without issue. As they seem to see it, this offers them the benefit of plausible deniability and removes the need for them to own up to their bias and admit their fault.
As “Karens,” Del Rey and Roman both now reside in the depths of public disgrace alongside the likes of Barbecue Becky, Permit Patty, Cornerstore Caroline, and many others.
Contrary to what some might think, “Karen” is not a slur. And to those whom the tag triggers, I offer one of my favorite expressions: “A hit dog will holler.”
Not all white women are “Karens,” but “Karen” is a moniker inspired by white privilege and anti-blackness/racism. Birthed in meme-culture, the name embodies the essence of entitlement and unprovoked rage, much like its male counterpart “Chad.” It’s a simple, two-syllable catch-all that instantly screams, “I want to speak to your manager!” “Karen” will interrogate or call the police on any black person she deems suspicious simply for existing.
And the last thing “Karen” wants to see are black and brown people doing better than she is, ever.
So how does a white woman end up in the “Karen” Collective?
For Roman, it started with an interview in The New Consumer where she shot herself in the foot when she stated that Chrissy Teigen’s Target line of kitchen accessories and her popular Instagram account, which Roman called a “content farm,” “horrifies” her and is something she’d “never aspire to do.” She then took on the mild-mannered organizing consultant Marie Kondo for what she construed as selling out. (Kondo debuted a line of organization accessories earlier this year.)
Roman chose to call out two women of color for doing exactly what countless white women (like Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow) have done, and conveniently never mentioned those white women in the same negative light. That’s likely because, in true “Karen” form, the anger isn’t about the act itself, but about who’s committing it. Whether overtly or subconsciously, the message is this: How dare these non-white women do what Roman has not yet been able to? Or how dare they receive recognition through tactics that only white women should be thriving with?
Roman subsequently apologized (and Teigen accepted that apology), but not before Twitter came for that ass.
On Thursday, Del Rey, in an Instagram post that happened to match the timing of her recent album announcement, named *clears throat* “Doja Cat, Ariana [Grande], Camila [Cabello], Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé,” mentioning how their provocative music receives praise while hers has been lambasted for “glamorizing” abuse. (She has admitted that her song “Cola” was partially inspired by Harvey Weinstein.)
Beyond the fact that the “Summertime Sadness” singer’s post started with the phrase “question for the culture”—girl, whose culture? Please stop—the point Del Rey seemingly tried to make about leaving room for the success of women from all corners of the feminist spectrum fell hard.
Why couldn’t “Karen Del Rey” make the same statement without calling out women of color who have had to fight for the right to earn even a sliver of the recognition white people in the music industry have received, yet who are still unable to reach the pinnacles of mainstream success? (Remember the year Beyoncé lost Album of the Year for Lemonade to Adele because the Grammy gods believed a Best Urban Contemporary Album trophy was good enough for arguably one of the best entertainers of the modern era? It was so screwed up, even Adele called it out.)
Sure, you can call it a “coincidence” that the majority of people Del Rey listed were women of color, but she just as easily could have mentioned any of the numerous white artists who have also used their sexuality as an asset in their music. (What’s worse, the women she named aren’t even performers in her genre.) But their triumphs somehow didn’t rise to a level egregious enough to be at the forefront of her mind when she wrote that ill-conceived post.
In a failed attempt to redeem herself, Del Rey replied to her post on Instagram, clarifying that her list of musicians wasn’t motivated by race (we’ve heard that one before), and that “there are certain women that culture doesn’t want to have a voice…”
You mean just like the women of color whose successes you were concerned with because they outshone your own? That’s another thing about “Karen”: She is suspicious of women of color when their successes eclipse her own, and she never seems to fully grasp where the black and brown people her comments have hurt are coming from. And if she does, it takes the fury of a thousand tweets before she even starts to understand. (Your victim card won’t work here, girl.)
In an emotional whirlwind, she’ll unleash a wrath that disregards the feelings and histories of people of color. But once she’s been called out, it’s suddenly “not about race,” and she just really wants you to know this was an isolated case and she’s not like that.
Fuck outta here, Karen.