What motivates a 'Karen'? Experts weigh in on popular term

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ByChris Nguyen KGO logo
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
What motivates a 'Karen'? Experts weigh in
You've probably heard the term 'Karen' to describe someone who uses privilege to get their way at the expense of others. Experts weigh in on the popular term and what might motivate these people.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- You've probably heard the term "Karen" to describe someone who uses privilege to get their way at the expense of others. Some people are wondering what's the logic behind their thinking, and what can we do as a community to prevent more of these hurtful incidents from happening?

"When fear goes up, implicit bias goes up, and when that taps into privilege, people are going to do this stuff," said Dr. Thomas Plante, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University. "People are very quick to think they're right... and other people are wrong."

Last week, a San Francisco woman threatened to call police on a neighbor for stenciling "Black Lives Matter" on the retaining wall in front of his home. In recent years, more of these Karen-style incidents have been documented on smartphones and then shared through social media.

FULL VIDEO: SF Man says white couple called police for stenciling 'Black Lives Matter' on his property

James Juanillo, who identifies as a person of color, posted a video to Twitter Friday showing his encounter with a white couple who called the police after they saw him stenciling "black lives matter" onto his own property.

Plante added, "One really needs to take a breath and think twice before responding to anything that you might see."

You might recall the 2018 "BBQ Becky" incident which involved a white woman who called the cops on a group of Black people barbecuing at Lake Merritt in Oakland. Not long after that was "Permit Patty," a white woman who threatened to call police on a young Black girl selling bottled water on a San Francisco sidewalk.

RELATED: 'Permit Patty' who called cops on 8-year-old selling water in San Francisco loses business

"When they feel entitled they aren't necessarily feeling very rational," said Plante.

Last month, someone in Alameda called 911 to report a Black man who was dancing in the street as part of an exercise routine. He ended up being handcuffed by police.

While it may be easy for some to make light of these situations, experts say there's no way to not contextualize this throughout the course of history.

I-TEAM: Unarmed black man handcuffed by Alameda police for 'dancing in the street'

"We've seen these kinds of incidents before, and we know already the wide ranging impacts that these kinds of innocuous events can have on the lives of Black people," said Dr. Danielle Morgan, a professor in the English department at SCU. "There is the ability to use white tears and white fear as a weapon itself against Black people, and that's what we're seeing primarily happen."

While there's no magical way to deal with all of this, some say a part of the solution isn't as complicated as one may think.

"We always got to remember that everybody is important, everybody is sacred, everybody should be treated respectfully and reverently," said Plante.