A recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians featured an uncharacteristically socially conscious theme of racism and prejudice in contemporary society. Kim Kardashian who is famous for her highly publicized romances, is newly wed to socially conscious rapper Kanye West and a new mom to the beautiful North West. The episode showcases Kardashian’s inability to ignore the reality of a racist society, as a new mom to a black child.
It is commendable and undoubtedly under Kanye’s influence, the inclusion of such prevalent issues on a show infamous for its often materialistic and shallow content. This episode revealed contemporary anxiety with interracial relationships extending to their offspring. This episode also exposed the presence and prevalence of blackface as a current practice.
Now, the problem with this episode is that it portrays Kim Kardashian as a victim of a racist and prejudice society. While I would certainly argue that racism is harmful to everyone, the very system that fosters such prejudice and racism has made Mrs. West a star. While Kim’s romances have been a source of fascination of the public, her derriere, dark hair and “dark” features have made her a household name. The presence of traditional black features (dark hair, dark eyes and a shapely derriere) make Kim- a white woman, a source of desirability, an anomaly in a race not traditionally associated with these attributes. While black women who posses these features have been historically exploited and ridiculed, Kim is praised for these features as these features are detached from the black body. My mind drifts to Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman, an African woman who possessed the same shapely derriere, dark eyes and hair that made Kim Kardashian famous. Except, rather than the fame, praise and money that these features have provided Kim, Baartman was treated as a freak of nature, her body used to substantiate the difference between black and white women. Like Kardashian, Bartman traveled, but unlike Kardashian she was featured in a circus like showcase in which she wore little to no clothing. She only lived to see twenty-five, but would be dismembered and exploited for centuries after her death. Thus, the episode painting Kardashian as a victim of the same system that has granted her, her empire, is highly problematic and slightly hypocritical. Criticism of the system should not be reserved for part of its execution, as any failure to reject the system as a whole reflects a privilege of selectivity.
The episode ends with Kim creating a post for her blog, referencing a second sight gained through motherhood. She bravely asserts that she previously saw racism as “someone else’s problem.” While this declaration is honest, and without a doubt telling of the approach taken by many non-blacks, it was particularly interesting to hear this from someone who has dated numerous minority men. The idea that members of the majority, or anyone outside the black diaspora can profess their love for someone without properly considering the depth of their struggle or perception in a land built on ideas of their inferiority, is disturbing. Now, the black experience in America is one of no comparison, thus if you were not born with this disposition- no amount of reading or exposure can equate to the totality of experience. However, Kim’s assertion makes me consider ways in which we as blacks enable this kind of relationship. We as blacks need to demand a level of empathy and respect from those who wish for our love, affection and devotion. While an interest in the black individual may seem noble, this detachment works to continue the dismemberment of black bodies. It is not and should not be acceptable to love the features of blackness that are conveniently pleasurable to you, and turn a blind eye to acts of injustice, until they affect you personally. So while the world continues to “keep up” with the Kardashians, perhaps the Kardashians should work on “keeping up” the acknowledgement of the troubled world outside of Calabasas.