Kylie Jenner has given birth to a baby girl with her boyfriend, rapper Travis Scott. She is the fifth Black child born to one of the Kardashian-Jenner siblings.
The Kardashian-Jenner family has built a brand on the backs of Black women. We can fight all day about whether their bodies and faces are natural, but there’s no denying that the popularity of their looks (aside from Kendall, and, to some extent, Kourtney), largely trade on features naturally held by Black women, that are “pretty” on non-Black women: big lips, big asses, thick thighs, etc.
And beyond their looks, their lifestyles have adopted Blackness. Kim has married and had very public relationships with a series of Black men, and is currently married to one of the most public and financially successful Black men in America. The initial flurry of their fame comes from Robert Kardashian’s involvement in the O.J. Simpson trial, a cultural moment that thoroughly engaged the United State’s race relations. Their various partners’ careers are entrenched in two of the most publicly and stereotypically successful Black enterprises: athletics (Reggie Bush, Kris Humphries, Lamar Odom) and music (Kanye West, Ray J, Travis Scott).
Their careers have been built on engagement with a Blackness that is not theirs. The issue with appropriation is not that race and culture must absolutely stay within their own spaces. Instead, appropriation becomes a problem when people in power popularize aspects of cultures they do not belong to that are often damned for those within that culture. It’s when Black women can’t be broadly beautiful, but lighter women can be beautiful for their Black features.
And yet, I can’t hate the Kardashian-Jenner family. As a person concerned with the advancement of women, I have long been a Kardashian-Jenner supporter. They are brilliant. Even if you find them obnoxious, talentless, and phony (not my feelings, but representative of many of their critics), you can’t deny that they have mass produced something the market is happy to consume. And if we’re all buying it, why wouldn’t they sell it? But as a Black person, the Kardashian-Jenner crew is infuriating.
Shortly after Keeping Up With the Kardashians began in 2007, the three eldest sisters’ bodies became the subject of much of the media surrounding them. Much of the praise and focus on their bodies was about their “curves”- large breasts and butts and small waists, with particular attention paid to Kim’s butt. People have questioned, since the beginning, whether it was real. The speculation didn’t let up, even after she had her butt scanned for implants on the show. From there, Khloe met and married Lamar, and the rumors that she may secretly be OJ Simpson’s daughter re-surfaced.
And then Kylie grew up. Kylie seemed to tip things over the edge. In 2014–2015, Kylie transitioned to a new look, one almost entirely built on looking like a Black woman. It started with her lip injections, making her pout noticeably plumper. In the brilliant Kardashian-Jenner way, she owned and reclaimed the backlash she received, and ramped up to the launch of her own, very on-trend matte liquid lipstick line. Over time, she adopted varied wigs as a trademark of her look. She found wide hips and an older Black boyfriend. She became a White Black barbie.
Every bit of the Kardashian-Jenner public image- the TV show, the headlines, public appearances, Coachella outfits, trips to the grocery store, releases of incriminating Snapchats- is somehow very transparently controlled by the family, yet incredibly engaging. Their show has the same effect as “The Hills”, in that we all know it’s fake, but that does nothing to slow down viewership. But, even more impressively, we watch everything the family does not once, but twice. Although everyone can watch the details of events in real time through the family’s constant media coverage -Kim got married, Lamar is in the hospital, Kylie got lip injections, Kim got robbed, everyone is pregnant- millions of people will tune in to see a polished, scripted version of the events a few months later.
In addition to the obvious magic of “hiding” Kylie’s pregnancy, this image management also means that the family rarely acknowledges or addresses the backlash they receive in real time. Every challenge can be ignored until they choose to address it on the show- scripted, and with ample preparation.
Kim, Kylie, and Khloe (and Rob, I guess) will raise Black children who will grow up to become Black adults. They will be responsible, with their partners, for teaching their children their history, and what their responsibility to the world is, as both Black people and people of privilege.
Kim told Interview Magazine that she is “very conscious” of raising mixed-race children. She said,
We want to raise our kids to be really aware. I think that’s all you can do. The more you talk about things and keep them out in the open, the more they won’t be taboo…if you educate them, they feel like they have this knowledge and then they feel empowered.
While the desire to raise these children in a responsibly race-conscious environment may exist, and be sincere, it doesn’t always pan out. Just last month, Kim wore Fulani braids, a cornrow style, and called them “Bo Derek Braids”. I’d love to give her the benefit of the doubt and say, “people make mistakes and learn”. But Kim, Kylie, and Khloe have all been called out for wearing traditionally Black hairstyles, popularizing them, and owning them as a new trend multiple times over the past few years. It seems, unfortunately, that there is little willingness to hear the Black community and adjust accordingly. And while for some this may feel tiny, it doesn’t for the Black women who continue to write articles, comment on their photos, tweet, and generally demand that women of such power do better by the Black community- a community that their children are a part of.
The Black Kardashian-Jenner children create a permanent tie to Blackness- Kim, Kylie, and Khloe can stop getting their lips plumped and wearing waist trainers, but they will always be the parents of Black children. The question is whether they will use that tie as a shield, or whether they will actually begin to give a damn about Black people. Identities are not singular, and being powerful women does not absolve them of their misdeeds. The Kardashian-Jenner squad has been tone-deaf to issues of Blackness, despite actively surrounding themselves with it. They hear and see their rich Black husbands and boyfriends, but ignore the articles and tweets from average Black women. So, I have no doubt that this clan of brilliant, empowered women will hustle and give their kids the world. But I don’t know if they will raise brilliant, empowered, Black children.
Also, just, this