Kylie Jenner: The Cultural Eraser Behind Her $900 Million Brand
Kylie Jenner is here to make money, and it just so happens that appropriation sells.
We really didn’t want to do this, but here we are: writing about Kylie Jenner. When we first saw that whole “self-made” fiasco crop up on our Twitter feed, our first instinct was to mute the crap out of Forbes for encouraging the ridiculous narrative that any of the Kardashians are self-made. It’s not rocket science: without the financial supports of well-to-do parents with cultural capital, the Kardashians would not be who they are today. People can go on about how hard they work, but if my mom and dad were also friends with OJ Simpson, if I also dated a professional football player, if my friend group also comprised of Paris Hilton and similar, I’m pretty sure I’d have a better chance at succeeding than most other people. Innate talent is nothing if you aren’t well-connected.
But as we read more and more comments, we got this gnawing feeling in the back of our heads. Twitter had us covered with all the reasons Kylie Jenner is not self-made, a hilarious curation, if we do say so ourselves. But that’s just a (needed) critique of meritocracy. What we weren’t seeing, though, was commentary on the plain and simple insidiousness of how Kylie Jenner was able to “self-make” herself, which, surprise, comes back to a necessary discussion on cultural appropriation and race.
Because let’s not get it twisted: Kylie Jenner is just another white girl. A white girl who profits off of the cultures of people of color. A white girl who keeps on getting a free pass for all the exploitation she does.
In this current climate, people are paying attention to cultural appropriation. It’s top of mind. Remember that white teenager who wore a qipao to prom? Remember how she was called out for her choice? People of color are taking less bullshit from white people stealing customs close to their own communities, so it’s kind of astonishing to us that Kylie Jenner keeps on making the same offense. I suppose some kudos should be directed towards Kylie Jenner. Whether she’s doing her little “hood squat” pose, donning cornrows and other braided styles, and styling flannels, big pants, and gold earrings (a la Latinas and Xicanas) for her clothing brand, Kylie Jenner is a master chameleon, hiding her whiteness under the veil of other races. (And all the while, she gets to be “high fashion,” while women of color get admonished for wearing the exact same thing.)
But when we think about it, perhaps it’s not so astonishing. Kylie Jenner is here to make money, and it just so happens that appropriation sells. She knows this, and it’s why she doesn’t give a crap if people keep bringing it up again and again. We don’t have to get into the whole debate about cultural essentialism to see the harm Kylie Jenner does.
The traditions and customs of people of color, while a source of pride, can also be a source of continuing marginalization and stigmatization on the part of white people. So when Kylie Jenner decides to incorporate specific aspects of a woman of color’s tradition into her life, it’s not just disrespect. It’s a clear moment of Kylie Jenner telling those women that: “this part of your culture is worth me stealing from you, this part of your culture is worth my white praise, and I will profit from it while you will be ridiculed, because I am a rich, privileged, white girl.” Kylie Jenner has made herself a nice little living by erasing the cultural practices of communities of color and forcefully taking their customs for her profit. And now, because of it, she will get to call herself a billionaire. It’s the sickest kind of injustice. (Not to mention, all the white "Instagram baddies" she's seemed to inspire...)
What’s even more sick is that she seems to negate this by telling her adoring fans that “this isn’t the real me, it’s the me I show to the world.” Well, Kylie, that’s a cute excuse, but it’s an excuse nonetheless. The “you” you show to the world tells Black women day in and day out that you get to profit from their culture, sexualize Black/their men, while they get to be called “ghetto” or “ugly” The “you” you show the world shows just how much you can buy (the rumored $300 million “start up” fund your mother let you borrow or the $250,000 worth of Hermes bags, etc.) by STEALING from women of color.
Kylie Jenner is a cultural eraser, and we’re so done with this whole narrative of her being “hard-working.” Maybe once Kylie Jenner decides to own up to how much she’s stolen, we’ll have a half of an ounce more respect for her.