Race and Privilege the Kardashian way

Keeping Up with the Kardashians (KUWTK) is one of the most popular reality TV shows of all time. The show chronicles the lives of the infamous Kardashian family. The cameras follow the family around all day in all places. There are cameras in all the women’s houses, cars, offices, photo shoots, etc. You name it, it’s captured on film. The show allows people to see what it’s like to be famous and in that sense the audience “lives through” the Kardashian family on screen.

But like most television shows, if you peel the superficial layer of what’s happening on screen and take a deeper look at what’s being broadcasted, it isn’t pretty or glamorous.

Kardashian-Jenner Family

Race and KUWTK

It is no secret that the Kardashians benefit from their perceived racial status. Yes, the Kardashian family says that they are Armenian, but they “pass” as White. I use “pass” to mean that their outward appearances signal to people that they could be of European descent and thus part of the majority. Despite the fact that they may be Armenian, they benefit from being labelled White.

In many sense being labelled White is a free pace to do whatever you want but that’s another issue…

The Kardashians use their race (or perceived race) to basically do whatever they want without worrying about serious consequences. For instance, Kim does several naked photo shoots during the show and is praised for “breaking the internet” and being a beauty icon, but Nicki Minaj (who is Caribbean) was chastised for releasing the music video for “Anaconda”. Kim was nude in her photo shoots while Nicki and her dancers were not nude in the music video. Kim’s photos were seen as good career moves and made her a sex symbol while Nicki’s video was shunned for being too sexual.

Something doesn’t seem to add up.

It seems that society has drawn a line between what it means to be a White woman and what it means to be a woman of color. Clearly, performing what it is to be a woman isn’t a one size fits all.

The Kardashians show that White women are allowed to express their sexuality in any way they see fit, including taking nude photos or making a sex tape and sharing them on the internet, but women of color are not allowed the same privilege. Women of color are expected to perform being a woman differently simply because of their intersection between race and gender. The rules of womanhood aren’t the same for women of color and White women.

Nicki Minaj (left) and Kim Kardashian (right)


Let’s take a look at some more examples. Kylie, the youngest member of the family, has made lip injections famous. Her signature “pouting face” has become a trademark for her and her cosmetics brand. When addressing the rumors and controversy that surrounded her when it first came out that she had lip injections, she stated, “I think big lips are awesome. I feel like everyone has been talking about it for months, so I’m kind of so sick of it. I love lip liner and over lining my lips.”

Kylie pre and post lip injections.

As a stand alone example that would be no big deal. What could be wrong with Kylie empowering herself and other women to make themselves feel beautiful any way that they see fit? Shouldn’t everyone’s appearance be embraced whether it be their natural features or not?

There’s another double standard here.

Many African American women are ridiculed because they have natural “pouting face” as Kylie would say.  Ugandan model Aamito Lagum was humiliated for her plump lips when she modeled for MAC Cosmetics. Women of color had to take to the internet to fight back and assure Aamito that her plump lips were just as beautiful as other women’s.

Why is it that Kylie can get away with her synthetic plump lips and use them to sell cosmetics but when Aamito tries to do the same thing with her natural lips she is ridiculed?

Again, it appears as though White women are allowed to express their beauty and hyperfeminize themselves, but women of color are not afforded the same steps towards hyperfeminitity. On a White woman, plump lips and a “pouting face” are cute and desirable, but on a woman of color plump lips represent her race not her beauty.

If that isn’t frustrating I don’t know what is.

Another example of how the Kardashian’s benefit from their perceived race can be seen through Khloe’s experiences. Khloe was arrested for a DUI in 2007, but got off without any jail time. The Kardashian family then downplayed the significance of the event and turned the whole thing into a joke. Now almost all the women have a framed picture of Khloe’s mugshot in their houses.

If Khloe wasn’t perceived to be White, the story could have turned out much differently because it’s no secret that White people get away with more crime than people of any other race. If you don’t believe me, check out #CrimingWhileWhite. If Khloe didn’t benefit from being White, the event wouldn’t have been turned into a joke. Many people aren’t lucky enough to have a brush with the criminal justice system and leave with just a joke.

Khloe’s mugshot has been framed by her family members

Bottom Line: White Privilege

The fact of the matter is that the Kardashians benefit from white privilege (even if they identify as Armenian) and broadcast it to the world. Essentially, the White women do whatever they want to do without having to worry about the repercussions for their actions. Of course, this also plays into the fact that the Kardashians are filthy rich and easily recognizable because of KUWTK.

But the family’s white privilege tells the audience that it’s okay to do whatever you want to do if you’re White because you will get away with it. There are minimal consequences that will come to haunt you when you’re White, even if you break the law.

KUWTK also illustrates how the performance of womanhood, especially White womanhood, is not one size fits all. The White women on the show have much more leeway than similar women of color in the media.

The audience loves seeing White privilege play out on the screen in front of them because that’s the main narrative that the media has told throughout the history of television.

Can the Kardashian’s be blamed for perpetuating the image of white privilege?

It’s definitely a tricky question, but the concept behind it is something that audiences need to be aware of every time they turn on the television and watch KUWTK. Every show portrays race in a certain light. This show in particular happens to capitalize on White privilege.

Left to right: Khloe, Kourtney, Kris, and Kim

To see several more examples of how Kardashians benefit from White privilege see this site.


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