Is it time for the Black community to cut Kim Kardashian West some slack?
OPINION: The reality TV star gets many accusations of being a culture vulture. But she's also actually been doing something tangible to help Black people, so should she get some breathing room?
Last week news surfaced that Kim Kardashian West was planning to take the bar exam to become a lawyer, and not surprisingly the world, and the Black community specifically, rolled their eyes.
But Monday, the controversial reality star took to her Instagram account to explain her decision and also outline just how much she’s had to sacrifice to make her dreams of practicing law a reality.
“Last year I registered with the California State Bar to study law,” Kardashian West revealed to her 134 million followers. “I’ve seen some comments from people who are saying it’s my privilege or my money that got me here, but that’s not the case…I want people to understand that there is nothing that should limit your pursuit of your dreams…”
Kardashian outlined that she has enough college credits under her belt to take “reading the law,” which in short is a way to become an attorney without attending law school through a law office study program. Several states allow participants to learn law in this method before taking their respective bar exams.
Now some people read this and either dismissed it or assumed that the heartfelt message that ended with her thanking her mentors (which include CNN’s Van Jones) must have been written by someone else.
But to my surprise, I had a decidedly less cynical reaction. I was actually a bit moved by the message and found myself questioning, “Is it time we all cut Kim K some slack?”
Don’t get me wrong, I am all too aware of the myriad of ways that Kardashian West and her family’s empire have both capitalized on seemingly co-opting Black women’s aesthetics.
It’s created a testy dynamic where dark haired white girls dating chocolate brothers has become trendy; as have cornrows, name plate gold necklaces, colorful wigs, baby hair, acrylic nails and full lips. All things that we – as women of color – have been judged as “ghetto” for doing for generations, but are now suddenly considered high fashion.
But what do you do, when the most popular buzzard from a family of vainglorious culture vultures, has a Black daughter, sees the effects of racism up close, and then suddenly decides to use her platform to start strategically freeing Black people unjustly stuck in this country’s corrupt prison system?
Do you allow them to give back to the community from which they’ve mined so many precious cultural gems or do you dismiss their efforts just so you can continue to wax poetic about appropriation?
I pose this question earnestly, and without a shred of irony because it’s one I’ve had to ask myself quite often, as Kardashian West continues to make increasingly effective strides in her new role as a social justice warrior.
Now trust and believe I’m not naive enough to miss the fact that this woman is doing the same work that countless other people have done for decades and that her successes are in large part due to her white privilege and mega celebrity status. But still, does that negate the quality of the lives she’s improved? Or the laws that have now been changed as a direct result of her efforts that will help free tens of thousands of inmates, many of whom are men and women of color?
We are a prideful and tenacious race of people who despite the propaganda meant to paint us as savages, actually have a very strong disposition towards forgiveness. We are often too quick to excuse bad behavior from other races, still harbor latent desires to get the approval of the white gaze, and are quick to invite every Tom, Dick and Becky to our proverbial “family bbq” for doing the most mundane acts of kindness. So in this age of heightened wokeness, I get why people are hesitant to give white folks a pass, particular life long offenders like the Kardashians.
But once the brilliant academic think pieces have been written, and the justice marches have ended, and the news channel pundits have spit out their masterfully crafted speeches on Fox News or CNN, then what? What is our end game beyond the theater of social activism? What do we want from this?
I personally want Black lives to be treated like they matter in action rather than just in theory. I want Black and Brown people who have been thrown in jail for dime bags and non violent first offenses, to be punished to the same degree as their white counterparts and be sent home in a reasonable amount of time. I want the criminal justice system to account for its sins and right its wrongs. And as of recently I’ve discovered that yes, I also want rich white women — like Kim K — who built a brand off of being “just Black enough” to appease the masses, to use some of their culture vulture blood money to help us get the tangible change we need.
To my surprise, the pragmatist in me is actually okay with letting Kardashian West’s love of the law (which she reportedly inherited from her dad) and her unshakeable fixation on the Black community to actually be used in our favor for once. And while I know this is still an unpopular opinion, I’d strongly suggest some of y’all untwist the scowl from your lips long enough to consider doing the same.
Does this mean I’m gonna paint Kim as some sort of savior? No. That’s taking it too far and shows a lack of social intelligence. At the very least, she owes our community in ways I’m not sure she’s even fully aware of. But if our intention is truly Black liberation how can we in good consciousness begrudge anyone who is legitimately doing their part to make that a reality?
If we had to force rank our priorities, is our primary intention to shame white folks into oblivion or save Black lives? I hate to state this so crudely but the truth is Black people didn’t create racism, and as much as it may hurt some of us to admit it, we’re also not capable of systemically dismantling it on our own. If any of this is actually gonna cause deep seated, sustainable change, we will need some white folks and all types of other folks on our side as well. Even if they’re a Kardashian.
I know, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. But medicine doesn’t have to taste good to be effective. If Kim wants to act like the Harriet Tubman of Calabasas and use her resources to help bring home Alice Marie Johnson and Matthew Charles, or use her social media reach to bring national attention to the story of Cyntoia Brown — I’m lowkey here for it.
Even if her invite to my next bbq may never come in the mail.
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric