Kim Kardashian is an easy punching bag for anyone seeking to make a lazy point about the “celebrity culture” we’ve been soaking in, in one form or another, for decades. Kardashian hardly invented the notion of being “famous for being famous,” she’s just extremely good at it — a feat that gets her pilloried when a fashion magazine celebrates her icon status or when she has the audacity to simply exist. But the latest incarnation of Kardashian-bashing is yet more unexpected — she’s in trouble for expressing her opposition to racism.
The star, who’s engaged to outspoken rapper Kanye West, wrote on her blog that she’s been thinking about racism since becoming a mother. (Kardashian is white; West, with whom she has a daughter, is black.) To wit:
To be honest, before I had North, I never really gave racism or discrimination a lot of thought. It is obviously a topic that Kanye is passionate about, but I guess it was easier for me to believe that it was someone else’s battle. But recently, I’ve read and personally experienced some incidents that have sickened me and made me take notice. I realize that racism and discrimination are still alive, and just as hateful and deadly as they ever have been.
Seems like a pretty reasonable way for a famous figure to quite literally check her privilege — to realize how lucky she’s been throughout her life to not have confronted racism and to readjust her perspective based on new experiences. (Although, OK, her description of Malala as “teenage blogger” is a little funny.) Not everyone agrees. Jezebel produced a characteristic non-response: “Idk [I don't know], everyone. I have plumbed the depths of my soul, and I cannot come up with a coherent response. Congrats on recognizing that systemic racism and sexism and homophobia exist in the world? Thank you for joining the fight against hate?”
The thing is, sans question marks, those are actually completely reasonable responses to Kardashian’s letter. There are people who visit Kim Kardashian’s blog not merely for quick blog fodder but because they are actually her fans, and those people have some food for thought. Not everyone is on the same level at all times. (The fact that the next item in Jezebel’s gossip roundup addresses Angelina Jolie, a woman who has actually been outspoken about social issues, solely on the terms of her physical appearance and personal life should be lost on no one. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!)
It’s similar to what recently happened with the popular young actress Shailene Woodley, who explained why she does not consider herself a “feminist” despite believing, strongly, in what she called “sisterhood,” mutual respect among women. The Internet leapt into action to condemn the “Divergent” star and tell her how wrong she is for not knowing what feminism really means. What it really means, evidently, is waiting for celebrities to explain their sympathetic beliefs then picking away at them incessantly. It’s unfortunate that the word “feminism” has developed a toxic valence — but if its current incarnation is so obsessed with tearing down women in the public eye who are trying their best, what star would want to put their name to the movement?
Kardashian’s point-of-view — discovering a social issue when it affects her — is hardly new, though she gets uniquely pilloried for it. A journalist I follow on Twitter noted that Beyoncé claiming to have more robustly discovered feminism when she became a mother was widely hailed. And, in the political world, Rob Portman’s evolution on gay rights only happened when his son came out. Good for him for having an open mind! Bad for Kim because … she … was in a sex tape once?
Kardashian, believe it or not, has long been interested in issues of race as they personally affect her; an Armenian-American, Kardashian has spoken publicly since her rise to fame about Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide. Finding out about things as they cross your transom is how change works — whether it’s because the issues affect your family or because, if you’re young and impressionable, a star you idolize speaks out. There’s nothing wrong with Kim Kardashian decrying hate, even if it really is the least she could do. Maybe she’ll even talk about social issues on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” Now that, blog posts aside, would be amazing.