Zibby Mag

The Webby Award-winning literary lifestyle destination.

We Need to Talk About Karen

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

By Kris Erin Clink

No, not the angsty, verbally abusive one who has become a meme.

As we look forward to reuniting with our friends (in person, I hope) I thought it was high time to address the Karen in the room.

“Which Karen?” You ask. You just made the point my husband makes each time I discuss one of the lovely Karens in my life.

No, I am not here to discuss the imperious, angsty, verbally abusive woman from all the memes and syndicated news stories. Let’s bracket the woman refusing to don a mask, insulting a police officer, coughing on her fellow customers at Trader Joe’s, or hurling racial slurs, just for a moment.

Let’s talk about the real Karens — the ones who came by the name at birth, whose parents liked the connotation of being caring, who were drawn to it as a tidier version of Katherine or appreciated its meaning (pure) in the baby name book.

I consider myself fortunate to have connected with dozens of women who share the name. Off the top of my head, there’s the Karen who shares my affection for Willie Nelson, and the Karen who joined me for a season of indoor soccer. The Karen who was my mentor during Episcopal church school and made me laugh until my belly ached. There’s the one with a wicked backhand and an English accent that makes the most mundane phrases sound elegant.

When I think of “Karen,” I don’t envision a snotty woman of privilege with an offensive haircut and let-me-speak-to-your-manager energy, the one Dictionary.com defines as “an obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to get her way or police other people’s behaviors.”

I see kindness, compassion, and generosity — someone like “Nebraska Karen.”

Married to one of my husband’s best friends, Nebraska Karen greets everyone with a bright smile. You won’t catch Nebraska Karen glancing at her phone while she’s asking, “How are you?” And she won’t curtly walk away while you’re talking.

She will inquire about your parents by name and recall the most minute details from your last conversation. She remembers the dog you lost a few months back and the day your child will graduate from high school. Honestly, she’s one of the best humans I know.

Nebraska Karen isn’t a fictional example of what the disreputable Karens should aspire to be; she’s a real person living in — you guessed it — Nebraska. She represents the opposite of the curmudgeonly meme we’ve all gotten to know over the past two years. A portrait of her hangs in her hometown hotel’s restaurant, for God’s sake.

On any given day, you can walk into the Bonfire Grill (the restaurant inside the historic Arrow Hotel), and see the smiling face of Karen at sixteen as the Central Nebraska Rodeo Queen. And if you’re elsewhere around town, you’re likely to see her in action, volunteering at the library, raising money for charities, or visiting nursing homes.

While all those retweeted videos and viral memes were circulating, real Karens continued to do their thing. While the transgressive Karens were out there fighting dirty for that front row parking spot or tossing out racist remarks, the real Karens were waving to their grandparents through nursing home windows, sewing masks, and delivering food to shut-ins. They were praying for their loved one’s recovery, and learning how to homeschool their children from their makeshift office at the kitchen table.

It’s time to redeem their good name. Real Karens represent every color, socio-economic class, and political party. They’ve faced abuse and racism. They’ve fostered children and animals. They show up when we need them, and we’re lucky to count them as our friends.

Last year was a bitch. But this year is looking up. Before long, we’ll all be back outside, sharing our unmasked smiles with friends and family again. Let’s honor the real Karens — share their stories and inspire others to be more like them.



Kris Clink called Texas home for most of her life, but now lives in Kansas, where she and her husband have filled their empty nest with two spoiled pups. Clink’s debut, Goodbye, Lark Lovejoy, is the first in the Enchanted Rock Series. Clink is the host of Kris Clink’s Writing Table, a podcast for writers and book lovers. You can visit Clink online at www.krisclink.com or on Facebook at @krisclinkbooks