Slurs are one of the prickliest facets of dialogue surrounding social politics. Who gets to use them and in what context is a constant driver of social discourse, especially online.
Who’s being discriminated against now? Apparently, white women.
What began as a meme has been declared by writer Julie Bindel as a bona fide slur: Karen. Or to be charitably sensitive, K*ren.
“Can I speak to your manager?” a Karen might ask. “I don’t like rap music, it’s very urban,” a Karen might say. If you can imagine a stereotypical, upper-middle class white woman saying it, that’s Karen-talk.
This could be seen as an extension of “blancofemophobia,” an absolute mess of a word coined by Claire Lehmann, founder of the right-wing magazine Quillette. It refers to prejudice against white women which is funny in and out of context. A word for Karens, by Karens.
So why do these white women want a slur? They are not acting in good faith.
Slurs are words that are almost exclusively used to demean and belittle entire groups of disenfranchised people. It plays heavily into social power dynamics.
For example, a largely reclaimed slur such as "queer" was used to insult LGBTQ people in previous decades. In the last 30 or so years, LGBTQ people have begun using the word among themselves. It’s been so thoroughly reclaimed to the point that Netlfix named a show “Queer Eye” without controversy.
Contrast that with the n-word. It’s commonly accepted that black people have reclaimed the word to use with each other. If a non-black person uses it, that’s a massive faux pas at best, and grossly racist at worst.
Karen will never carry the weight of the n-word. As John Mulaney said in "New in Town," his 2016 comedy special, “If you’re comparing the badness of two words and you won’t even say one of them, that’s the worse word.”
There’s a certain mystique to being able to say a slur without social consequence. The fact of the matter is that there aren’t actually slurs used specifically against white women. They’ve had a high place in the social hierarchy for such a long time that there are few demographics who can create slurs to demean them in the first place. Sexist language certainly exists, but it isn’t exclusively used against white women. Sexism comes in a lot of different colors.
The strategy here seems to be to police the language of people criticizing conservatives. 53% of white women voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. Overwhelmingly, you could call these women Karens. If the left-leaning young people using “Karen” to taunt people online can be dismissed as racist, discourse can be shut down.
There we have this naked tactic of appropriating identity politics for political ends. Thankfully, precious few people seem to be taking it seriously. It’s a bit comforting that most people were able to rightfully laugh off this embarrassing episode of misguided concern.
Liam O'Sullivan (he/him) is a senior studying film and is an editor-in-chief of the Hoosier Flipside. He will stop at nothing to direct a Star Wars movie.