Karens are, to use a leftist term, “problematic.” In use as a pejorative for four or five years now, “Karen” appropriates a common Generation X girl’s name to refer to an entitled middle-aged woman who demands exceptional treatment, undeserved deference and unearned “privilege” to make her way through life or to express power through unwarranted concern for others. Karens are generally believed to be middle-class or slightly above, sport an unsmiling no-nonsense mien and favor a pert bob hairdo that stylists now routinely call the “speak-to-the-manager,” after a request Karens commonly make when they encounter disappointment.
Documented Karen misbehavior abounds on social media, where multitudes of TikTok and Instagram users can observe short videos of petulant white women losing control in a variety of embarrassing social situations. Some have argued that “Karen” has become a political slur against conservative women, but Karenhood in fact manifests across the political spectrum. The term has been applied to Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, and Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican. Karens can be pro-life or pro-choice with equal alacrity. In Covid times, they could be pro- or anti-vaccination and upbraid masked or unmasked fellow citizens alike.
Like just about everything else these days, however, Karenhood inevitably bears a racialist burden. In 2020, post-George Floyd, a white Manhattan woman named Amy Cooper was denounced as a Karen after falsely reporting that a black man was threatening her and her dog when he was merely admonishing her for letting the dog run unleashed in Central Park. Cooper was publicly identified, criminally charged, fired from her finance job and even lost custody of her dog. From that point on, a Karen’s grievances could be diverse, but Karen herself could not: she could only ever be white.
That episode notwithstanding, an honest application of the new racial sensitivity, and the ostensible principles of “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI), should address any racially derogatory term, including one referring to white females. This is apparently what Uber’s chief diversity officer Bo Young Lee thought last month when she moderated a Zoom event titled “Don’t Call Me Karen” featuring a panel of white female Uber employees for some 500 of their colleagues at the ride-hailing service’s corporate headquarters.
Lee seems to have been sincere, using only the most polished diversity jargon to describe her events as “diving into the spectrum of the American white woman’s experience from some of our female colleagues, particularly how they navigate around the ‘Karen persona.’” Her event, also billed as an “open and honest conversation about race,” seemed a logical feature of Uber’s current corporate culture, which long suffered from accusations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. After the resignation of the company’s former CEO Travis Kalanick, its current leadership found it necessary to address these issues, in part by hiring Lee as Uber’s diversity chief in 2018.
Alas, Lee swiftly learned that some grievances are more equal than others. Uber employees of color angrily denounced her Karen-themed event, with one black female employee alluding to it as “tone-deaf, offensive and triggering,” apparently because it placed white experiences of discrimination on par with non-white ones. Others objected to Lee’s cool response, which informed her critics that sometimes conversations about race can be uncomfortable.
Last week, Lee held a second event, an “all-hands-on-deck” Zoom call intended to address the growing controversy. It backfired massively, leaving other minority employees feeling “scolded” and “lectured” — reactions coincidentally not uncommon among white professionals unfortunate enough to be forced to sit through mandatory diversity training. One minority critic at Uber even wondered why “Karen” should be off limits if it describes white women who indulge in racism. “Why can’t bad behavior not be called out?” she wanted to know.
Lee could not survive this virtual struggle session. On May 18, the day after her second event, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and “chief people officer” Nikki Krishnamurthy fatefully asked her “to step back and take a leave of absence while we determine next steps.” Krishnamurthy then wrote staff to acknowledge the “pain” of those who “did not feel heard” during Lee’s Zoom events. To complete this bizarrely atavistic community healing ritual, aggrieved Uber employees expressed their satisfaction with the C-suite’s response, with one celebrating that the managers “have heard us, they know we are hurting.”
How nice of them, but it is probably of little comfort to Uber’s hardest-working employees — its drivers — who are largely minorities who frequently complain of low real wages and capricious administrative policies from which their emotionally fragile managers’ dog-and-pony show virtue signaling so easily distracts.
Lee has been purged. Her ideological deviation was to suggest that white women, too, can be the victims of stereotypes and prejudice. A fair-minded person might agree, but the true racists who run the DEI syndicate do not. According to their spiritual godfather Ibram X. Kendi, all white people are inherently racists, while non-whites are inherently incapable of racism. As they see it, anyone who refutes that rigid formula thereby only confirms his or her racism and falls far beyond the pale of acceptability, even if that person is, like Lee, a minority whose supposed devotion to white supremacy is not precluded by color or heritage.
Lee’s mistake, which will likely prove fatal to her job and career, was to embrace diversity of the wrong kind. Now, probably very afraid for her future and offering no comment to any media, she is a disgraced true believer whose exorcism will only purify the ideology she wasn’t good or loyal enough to serve. Until the whole rotten DEI system is uprooted from every corner of American institutional life, others will follow her pathetic path to ruin while the remaining ideologues fight over the finer points of their perverse doctrine. Let us celebrate their inevitable extinction… and switch to Lyft.