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Viral justice and the demented war on Karens

In practice, calling someone a Karen is just an excuse to abuse a middle-aged woman

June 23, 2020

1:37 PM

23 June 2020

1:37 PM

If you are on the internet you have no doubt heard of ‘Karens’. ‘Karens’ are middle-aged white women who have a fondness for reporting people, especially black people, to the authorities. ‘The archetypal “Karen”,’ says Vox in one of its invaluable explainers, ‘Is blonde, has multiple young kids, and is usually an anti-vaxxer.’ She ‘has a “can I speak to the manager” haircut and a controlling, superior attitude to go along with it.’

In practice, calling someone a ‘Karen’ is generally an excuse to abuse a middle-aged white woman and make it seem woke. In May, a New York woman was filmed telling a black man that she would call the police and ‘tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life’ after he tried to teach her a lesson for illegally letting her dog off her leash by tempting the animal with treats and saying:

‘Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it.’

No one, I think, could maintain that woman’s reaction was not hysterical and wrong — though being fired from her job and internationally disgraced was also a ludicrous overreaction.

The video caught the ‘Karen’ wave as it crested and exposed a huge market for public shamings of what one Instagram page called ‘Karensgoingwild’. In the wake of the death of George Floyd, such shamings have grown even more popular, and even less scrutiny is being applied to them. Jon Ronson wrote So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed five years ago, and if he wanted to write a sequel all he would need for a pitch is to tell his publishers to take a quick glance at Twitter.

Enter Karlos Dillard. Dillard is a young black man who was cut off while driving by a middle-aged white lady who then, according to him, showed him her middle finger. Mr Dillard followed her home and began to film her. Clearly, this woman had encountered the ‘Karen’ trend. She knew the rage of the internet could be turned on her, her family and her livelihood. She had what one can only describe as a breakdown, shaking, screaming and desperately trying to hide her face and her license plate.


Passers-by attempted to intervene to dissuade the young man from filming a woman in such obvious distress. Suddenly, Dillard insisted that she had called him the n-word. Really? Why he had not accused the woman herself of that is curious, given that no one would suggest that a raised middle finger is more hostile than the slur? Meanwhile, the woman continued to shake and cry.

Mr Dillard uploaded this video to Twitter, where he sports the unusual handle ‘wypipo_h8’. It took off, and has currently accrued 46,000 retweets and 97,000 likes. Commenters are laughing at the woman’s distress. ‘That’s extreme Karening,’ says one. ‘I wonder how they end up like this,’ says another, ‘Is it a defective gene or do they go for training?’

I thought that this was in itself disgraceful harassment and a lurid demonstration of the very worst tendencies of social media. But the story goes deeper than this. Mr Dillard, who describes himself as an ‘author’, ‘entrainer’ [sic] and ‘public speaker’, soon began selling t-shirts based on the woman’s desperate cry that she had a black husband. I don’t often use the word ‘grifter’ — but how much griftier can you get?

If this makes you doubt Mr Dillard’s sincerity then you might be interested in his past. Just a few years ago, Dillard was being interviewed online as, of all things, a gay black MAGA guy. Yes, @wypipo_h8 voted for Donald Trump. Whether Mr Dillard actually supported the President is arguable given that he obviously craves attention. As well as being an author, entertainer, public speaker, actor et cetera he appeared on an episode of Divorce Court.

Well, the Trump thing did not work out and now Dillard is all in for Black Lives Matter. He has odd ways of campaigning for the movement. You might almost think that he has only ever wanted to go viral, and was just trying to create the right circumstances in which to do so. Here he is blowing bubbles in the face of the police, who, perhaps to his chagrin, are unresponsive.

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But another of Dillard’s recent escapades is more interesting. One interaction that he recorded and uploaded to Twitter featured him loudly complaining that an Asian chef had asked to see his ID to verify that he was, as he is, a delivery driver. Afterwards, Mr Dillard stormed outside and told people who had been watching that the Asian woman had called him the n-word. Is this fame-starved would-be e-celeb who hopped from backing Donald Trump to posting under the handle ‘White People Hate’ really being called racial slurs by a series of middle-aged women at convenient off-camera moments, or is he making it up? Let the viewer decide.

What is undeniable, though, is that we have a dangerous trend of social media boosting vindictive and violent videos under the guise of vigilante justice. Opportunists and sociopaths are basking in the chance to make sadism seem righteous. Just last week, a young man launched a vicious assault on a Macy’s employee on film and received praise on social media after it was claimed that the victim had called him the n-word. The store denies this.

So intense are the feelings that have exploded in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death that no evidence of even the slightest provocation is required before people cheer on bullying and assault. She’s white? She’s middle-aged? She’s scared? She deserves it! She deserves anything! Twitter, do your thing!


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