The Difference Between a 'Karen' and a 'Becky,' Explained

The classic Karen haircut, modeled by Kate Gosselin of Jon & Kate + 8
The classic Karen haircut, modeled by Kate Gosselin of Jon & Kate + 8
Photo: Dr. Billy Ingram (Getty Images)

Wow. Two explainers in one day? I thought you retired these years ago?

I did! Retired my explainer jersey and everything. But I have time now. Like, literally all of the time now because I’m home all day and there are only but so many pushups I can do.

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You’re doing pushups?

No.

Okay. Well, so this “Karen” thing is new, apparently. Before we get to that though: Do you mind giving a quick “Becky” refresher? I know what it means, I think, but reading the definition again will help.

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Not at all! Also, did you know that Quick Becky Refresher was the original title of Big Little Lies until HBO market-tested it?

That can’t be true.

Anyway, Merriam-Webster defines “Becky” as “a white woman who is ignorant of both her privilege and her prejudice.

Wait, a “Becky” definition is in Merriam-Webster?

Yup. Here’s more.

The modern epithet may have a bit of [William Makepeace Thackeray’s] Becky Sharp in it, but Damon Young of The Root is among those who trace the probable origin of the modern Becky to the opening lines of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s video for the 1992 song “Baby Got Back,” which begins with one white woman’s injunction to her white friend, Becky, to cast an eye on a callipygian woman’s posterior: “Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt.” (By the way, we saw what you did there with Cosmopygian, Sir Mix-a-Lot.) The posterior upon which Becky is directed to gaze at belongs to a black woman. The gazing pair do not gaze admiringly, though Sir Mix-a-Lot certainly does.

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Oh, I see now. You’re citing Merriam-Webster because they cited you. Very sneaky flex. I’m both disgusted and impressed.

Thank you! If you read further, they also cite ‘The 5 Types of ‘Becky’—a piece The Root’s Michael Harriot wrote a couple years ago. Here, a Becky is “a white woman who uses her privilege as a weapon, a ladder or an excuse”—and there are five distinct categories of them.

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Notable Beckys include Taylor Swift, each Kardashian, Trashcan Lannister, and every white woman named ‘Amber.’

Not every white woman is a Becky, of course. But all Beckys are white women.

Just five categories?

Who knows? There might be as many as 57. Think of Becky the way Howard Gardner thinks of intelligence.

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Very helpful. So what’s the deal with “Karen?” What makes them different?

A “Karen” is basically a graduated Becky who’s extremely aware of her privilege and weaponizes it. A Becky convinces herself—and attempts to convince others—that her whiteness doesn’t matter. A Karen doesn’t even bother to fake it. She knows it’s her Big Joker and plays it whenever necessary.

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Remember when Loaded Lux was like “You Gonna Get This Work!” With Karen, it’s “You Gonna Get This White!”

Also, your typical Karen is likely Republican and upper middle class, definitely a mom, maybe divorced and might even be an anti-vaxxer—which means that they’re creating little typhoid bombs and sending them to schools and churches and soccer practices. And, As Vox’s Aja Romano explained, “the chief way she manifests her class consciousness is not by, say, being a patron of the arts, but by being aggressively rude to the help.”

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So a Karen is basically an Atomic Becky?

Yes! Upcharged Becky works too.

Interesting! You have more?

Yes! Because the best way to describe a Karen is to explain why Karen is even in the news today.

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Yesterday afternoon, Professional Karen Julie Bindel tweeted the following: “Does anyone else think the ‘Karen’ slur is woman hating and based on class prejudice?”

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What makes this tweet so quintessentially Karen is that it manages to pack each Karen-ey quality in 15 words.

There’s the intentional misunderstanding of race, class and gender politics, and how they intersect. There’s the performative grievance, where she conjures personal victimhood despite not being victimized by this. There’s the bad faith query, where she asks a question when she could’ve easily just googled the answer. There’s even that awkward space between “slur” and “is” which just indicates that she was on the phone with Chico’s customer service while tweeting.

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And when she asks “Does anyone else think...” she’s not asking for the opinions of just anyone else. It’s a dog whistle to other Karens, for them to congregate and mobilize over this perceived offense. In a Karen’s world, only other Karens matter.

Anything else?

Perhaps the most perplexing quality all Karens share is time because they always seem to have it. For instance, everyone knows how aggravating it is to engage customer service, for any reason. You have to call, you have to wait and then you have to wait some more, and by the time you’re done, that 45 minutes is gone from your day. But Karens just have literally nothing else to do but be Karens.

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They say idle hands are a devil’s workshop. Well, I believe in Hell, but the only thing that scares me is Karen.

Advice on how to deal with Karens?

Just that if you see this hair, cross the street. And then, don’t take your eyes off her, because she might be calling the cops on you.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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DISCUSSION

detroitkidelo
kidelo can shoot the duck

I did a reverse Becky/Karen today! O yes I did!

I called the police on white men golfing, LMAO! Non-essential motherfuckers!