Becky is a pejorative American slang term for a young white woman. The term has come to be associated with a "white girl who loves Starbucks and Uggs and is clueless about racial and social issues", according to the New Statesman. For this reason, "Becky" is often associated with the slang term "basic" which has many similar connotations.
In 2019, dictionary publisher Merriam Webster wrote that "Becky" was "increasingly functioning as an epithet, and being used especially to refer to a white woman who is ignorant of both her privilege and her prejudice." The term "Karen" has a similar connotation but is associated with older women.
In USA Today in 2016, Cara Kelly suggested that the term dates to the social climber Becky Sharp, protagonist of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair (1848) and the 2004 film of the same name. In Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Tom Sawyer falls in love with Becky Thatcher, with her "yellow hair plaited into two long tails." "Becky" is the title and subject of the fourth segment of Jean Toomer's Harlem Renaissance novel Cane (1923), about a white woman with two black sons. Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca (1938) features another woman "who will always be in a man's head", Kelly wrote.
Meaning and use
According to Damon Young in The Root, the term denotes "a certain type of privileged young White woman who exists in a state of racial obliviousness that shifts from intentionally clueless to intentionally condescending". The modern term, the "ur-Becky", is thought to date to Sir Mix-a-Lot's song "Baby Got Back" (1992), where one woman says to another: "Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt". Both women are white and, according to Kelly, "mildly racist, as they do not understand the appeal of a woman's shapely posterior or wider definitions of beauty than their own. And thus adds the connotation that a Becky has a narrow, condescending world view, and we're graced with the idea of a 'dumb Becky'."
Beyoncé's song "Sorry" (2016), from her album Lemonade, brought the term to wider attention. "He only want me when I'm not there / He better call Becky with the good hair" appeared to refer to a white woman with whom the narrator's partner had had an affair. "Good hair" refers within black communities to long, straight hair. Karsonya Wise Whitehead, professor of African-American studies, offered two interpretations of Becky: a woman the speaker does not respect, and a clueless white woman "who is kind of racist, [and] who makes statements without knowing what she's saying". Whitehead did not see the term as a racial slur, pointing out that the "good hair" part of the lyric was the more racially significant piece, referring to the idea that straight hair is preferable to Afro-textured hair. The meaning settled on a young white woman, unaware of her racial and social privilege, who loves Starbucks and Uggs, and who might take photographs of her Frappuccino.
In 2017 Rebecca Tuvel, the author at the center of the Hypatia transracialism controversy, was labelled a Becky by critics. The following year, a white woman in California became known as "BBQ Becky" after calling the police because two African-American men were using a charcoal grill in a park. In 2020 an edited volume, Surviving Becky(s): Pedagogies for Deconstructing Whiteness and Gender, examined what its editor, education professor Cheryl E. Matias, called the "increasing phenomenon of Beckyism: the behaviors and rhetoric that Becky(s) engage in which uphold whiteness at the expense of people of color's humanity, dignity, and expertise". Media-studies professor Aimée Morrison argues that white supremacy makes whiteness invisible and that use of the term Becky thwarts this.
The term Karen serves a similar function to Becky, with the added implication that a Karen is likely to engage in aggressive actions against people of color, such as asking to see a manager or calling the police. As media researcher Meredith Clark put it: "Karen has gone by different names."
- "What does Becky mean? Here's the history behind Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' lyric that sparked a firestorm". USA Today. 27 April 2016. Archived from the original on 3 May 2016. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
- Tait, Amelia (24 January 2018). "Karen, Sharon, Becky, and Chad: How it feels when your name becomes a meme". New Statesman. Archived from the original on 23 December 2019. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
- "Words We're Watching: 'Becky'". Merriam Webster. 2019.
- Tiffany, Kaitlin (6 May 2020). "How 'Karen' Became a Coronavirus Villain". The Atlantic.
- Toomer, Jean (2019) . Cane. New York: Penguin Books. p. 6ff. ISBN 0393956008.
- Bazelon, Emily (13 June 2018). "White People Are Noticing Something New: Their Own Whiteness". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 18 March 2019.
- Young, Damon (27 April 2016). "Where 'Becky' Comes From, And Why It's Not Racist, Explained". The Root.
- Morrison, Aimée (2018). "Laughing at Injustice: #Distractingly Sexy and #StayMadAbby as Counternarratives". In Parry, Diana C.; Johnson, Corey W.; Fullagar, Simone (eds.). Digital Dilemmas: Transforming Gender Identities and Power Relations in Everyday Life. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 42 (23–52).
- Hobson, Janell (2019). "Getting to the roots of 'Becky with the good hair' in Beyoncé's Lemonade". In Brooks, Kinitra D.; Martin, Kameelah L. (eds.). The Lemonade Reader: Beyoncé, Black Feminism and Spirituality. Abingdon and New York: Routledge. p. 33 (31–41). ISBN 978-1138596788.
- Weiss, Suzannah (29 April 2016). "Is 'Becky' really a racist stereotype against white women?". Complex. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
- Brean, Joseph (3 May 2017). "After 'In Defense of Transracialism' sparks outrage, editors of philosophy journal castigate its Canadian author". National Post.
- Hunt, Ellie (13 May 2020). "What does it mean to be a 'Karen'? Karens explain". The Guardian.
- Tom Cleary (2018-06-23). "Jennifer Schulte, 'BBQ Becky': 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy.
- Leah Asmelash (2020-05-30). "How Karen became a meme, and what real-life Karens think about it". CNN.
- Matias, Cheryl E. (2020). "Introduction", in Matias, Cheryl E. (ed.). Surviving Becky(s): Pedagogies for Deconstructing Whiteness and Gender. Lanham: Lexington Books, p. 5 (1–10). ISBN 978-1498587624