Kim Kardashian: A one-sided analysis of the not-black girl we love and hate

Kim Kardashian (6)

Pic from SourceFed

I bet you thought that title was a witty pun about her ass, didn’t you? It’s not. I swear. You probably won’t believe that writing about Kim Kardashian the day after doing a post on Kanye West was a coincidence, but it really was. I’ve been really stewing in Kanye’s commentary on the music industry, a reflection of the entertainment industry at large, and I thought today would be as good a day as any to finally articulate some of my thoughts about Kim Kardashian. I’m no fan of Kardashian, but I like talking about her because there is so much sociopolitical content to be unpacked from her media personage. Bear with me.

I call this analysis one-sided because I am aware of my position as a young, black woman in processing Kardashian as a media product and image. This racial component is important because one of my central observations about Kim K is that she is marketed to black woman. Her look is that of the exotic “other,” which we love because we fall for all of the women of color who don’t have too much color. She’s beautiful. Her body is the centerpiece of her media image and much of her fame is credited to the booty behind her–one that is supposed to be found on the back of a black woman. Her consistent dating of young, wealthy, (and needless to say, sexy) black men has also put her on the map with young black men and women. Even her hairstyle has become a popular way of styling our weaves (and it looks bomb.com).

The idea of Kim Kardashian selling and promoting black womanhood is obviously more than a little bit fucked up. But I’m  not sure if her success should be credited to her, or the black and brown folks that consume her. Either way, I find myself hyper-aware of this every time she comments on cooking soul food for Kanye West, is used to sell makeup for women of color, or when she reaches fame and becomes a household name after appearing in what was probably the most uneventful sex tape I’ve ever seen. Black women don’t get famous from stuff like that–just ask the scores of women who have been exploited on World Star Hip Hop.

But then in some weird twist, Kim Kardashian is still the woman of our slut-shaming dreams. Her dating life has driven her career, and her reputation. We hate her for making the sex tape with Ray J, for dating Reggie Bush, and for dating Kanye West before her divorce with Kris Humphries was finalized. She is idolized for being what all of us black girls should want to be, and the price she pays for it is the constant policing of her sexuality. So much race, sexuality, and gender performance tea being spilled here.

I’m interested in how coverage and dialogue about her recent pregnancy will be framed. I still can’t tell if we will like her more as the beautiful mother of Kanye’s children or his baby mama.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted February 27, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I get why you would say that– we do live in a society where black and white are presented as the only two identifying options, but we can’t erase the fact that she is Armenian. As an Aremenian American woman, it’s her right to express herself however she wants. So what if she dates black men? It’s not her responsibility to come off just “ethnic enough” but not “so ethnic” as to infringe on black identity. And who is to say that her rear is supposed to be found on a black woman? What kind of essentialist crap is that? No body type belongs to a culture. I’m not a fan of Kim Kardashian at all, but to ascribe faux- blackness to her is I think, unfair. Do you know anything about Armenian-American culture? Do you know how Armenian Americans see and present themselves? if not, it’s not for you to decide that her behaviors or ways of dressing are intended to sell black womanhood. There are so many minorities groups in the states, it shouldn’t be surprised if they all find a common way of coping with our white supremacist culture.

  2. Posted February 27, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Not too much to add here, except I totally see where you are going with this argument. I wrote a piece about KimK years ago when Keeping Up started airing (here’s a link if interested: http://flowtv.org/2008/08/keeping-up-with-the-rump-rage-e%E2%80%99s-commodification-of-kim-kardashian%E2%80%99s-assets-candice-haddad-flow-staff/). I think the framing (literally) of her backside is central, and, as I point out in my piece, this framing has a long history of dehumanizing, sexualizing, othering practices. Obvi, though, I know her persona is more complex than reducing her to merely a hottentot reincarnation.

  3. Posted February 27, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    “She is idolized for being what all of us black girls should want to be…”

    wait… what? should want to be?!!!!!?!!!

  4. Posted February 27, 2013 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I can think of a lot more interesting “sociopolitical content” to pay attention to than Kim Kardashian’s media niche and it’s supposed association with an abstract, stereotypical idea of “black womanhood,” defined by weaves, sex tapes, big booties, glamorous black men, cosmetics, soul food, and one-sided love-hate relationships with vapid celebrities.

  5. Posted February 28, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    As a preface, I don’t know very much of anything about pop culture, and it is entirely new to me that Kim Kardashian has become a media icon for black culture. I am part Armenian, so, in spite of knowing nothing about her, I’ve always kind of liked knowing that an Armenian woman has finally made an imprint on our media, even though I’ve been a bit ashamed that she is the person who represents Armenians in the media. Either way, I find it more than a little strange that she has been marketed to the black media. In terms of racial history, the history of Armenians can probably be best compared to the history of the Jewish people, in that Armenians were geographically distributed in small enclaves mostly throughout the Middle East and Russia. Armenians, like the Jewish people, were persecuted in part because they tended to be business owners and wealthier than the majority ethnic groups in the regions they lived. They were also persecuted for being Christian in Muslim-majority nations. At the beginning of the 20th century, Turkey committed mass genocide against the Armenians in Turkey and the survivors fled predominantly to Russia and Iran. My family escaped to the U.S. At one point, while planning the genocide against the Jewish people in Germany, Hitler said “Go, kill without mercy . . . for who today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians.” I suppose I just find it funny that she is being treated as an icon in the black media because the history of persecution of African Americans and Armenians just seems very different, but, perhaps, the histories aren’t actually that different, and I suppose its all persecution, so what do I know. Either way, your article was interesting, and I just thought I’d give a quick history about Armenians.

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