The Jeffree Star beef proves she might have a black husband, black friends, admire black style and have biracial children but it doesn’t mean she’s ready to challenge bigotry
In the last month we’ve had politicians dropping N bombs, the death of Rashan Charles, and America’s impending race war and yet still we have to explain that racism isn’t a liberal lefty myth. Racism is deeply entrenched in history, societal structures and personal attitudes and to be honest, that is all very hard to get over.
Except for Kim Kardashian. This week she sparked debate when she kindly asked for everyone to get over racism and focus on less “petty” things. Live-streaming a beauty tutorial from Instagram she addressed a bad review she had received from YouTuber Jeffree Star. “Guys, I see you being so petty bringing up things in his past where he was negative, but he’s also apologized for those things. I get it’s a serious deal if you say racial things, but I do believe in people changing and people that apologise I will give them the benefit of the doubt and accept that people change and move on. (...) Let him live.” She followed this impassioned plea by asking for everyone to “get off his ass” and to “not be so negative”. And thanked him for teaching her some new makeup tricks and sent him love. Twitter flipped.
While images of burning torches and contorted angry white faces still circulate from Charlottesville, as Deandre Harris recovers from being beaten with poles by Nazis and President Trump calls racists “very fine people”, the timing of Kim’s dismissive live stream probably couldn’t have been worse. While the idea of forgiving and forgetting seems noble I’m not really feeling Kim’s ‘kumbaya’ sentiment.
Kim K don't respect y'all, she took your culture and then told you to get over racism and support her friend the Zombie Horse King— The Braided Tornado (@DanaeLovesYou) August 15, 2017
Star, a transgressive YouTube personality, is known for his gender-bending looks and popular range of cosmetics. But he persistently finds himself embroiled in online drama with the likes of Kat Von D. Notably because many in the online community believe that his products should be boycotted due to his racist past. Back when he was just a Myspace star, there were an array of problematic videos that continue to resurface. In one he jokes about throwing battery acid on a black woman’s face, saying: “Well maybe if she wasn't wearing the wrong foundation colour, I wouldn't have HAD to splash no battery acid to lighten her skin tone girl." In others, the words “nigger bitch” roll off his tongue with ease in confrontation. Yet Star stills signs incredibly lucrative deals while black influencers lag behind.
“If she wants to look like she cares more about black lives than black trends all she has to do is use her absolutely massive platform to call out instances of racism rather criticise her fans for daring to speak out”
As a white woman (yes she is white, despite being from Armenia in the South CAUCASUS), Kardashian had no place telling her fans, or black people, to forget Star’s comments, especially as they do not affect her. Many black women saw her videos as a way of stifling legitimate criticism to curry favour with a makeup influencer in a hypersensitive racial climate.
It is no secret that Kim’s relationship with the black community is constantly under strain. She and her family are regularly accused of cultural appropriation. Their proximity to blackness (through their high profile interracial relationships with rappers and basketballers, cornrows, use of AAVE and twerking Kimojis etc.) have left them with an enviable empire and very healthy bank balance. Recently she has been accused of blackface and been criticised as her own makeup brand doesn’t even cater to darker skin tones. Therefore telling people to “get over” racism towards black people feels dismissive of a group of people, who rightly or wrongly, already feel exploited by the Kardashian family.
Other tweets expressed shock that a woman with biracial children would be so quick to delegitimize the community’s concerns. When Kardashian says she “prays to God” that racists can have a change of heart “for the sake of my children and my friends” it felt like she was using the black people in her life as props to support her viewpoint rather than people to learn from and listen to. You may think that is unfair but if she wants to look like she cares more about black lives than black trends all she has to do is use her absolutely massive platform to call out instances of racism rather criticise her fans for daring to speak out.
Star has previously apologised for his racist videos. He made a 15-minute video entitled ‘Racism’ to address the comments that have been circulating about his reputation. In the video, he blamed his racism on his age, the emotional abuse he had endured and his inability to not react to criticism. “The intent behind my words back then — it was not about race. Racism does not live inside me. I don't even know how that exists in people,” he explained. “I said really horrible, vicious things back to people to hurt them, to harm them, to shock them, and to let them know that 'You're gonna call me something? I'm gonna cut you back so hard and make you feel like a piece of shit because you made me feel low.' And that is not ok.”
However, an apology that devotes more time to making excuses rather than admitting there is never a context where “nigger bitch” is an appropriate response just doesn’t cut it. There’s a trend for public figures to quickly release apologies that are void of any meaning or reflection: I apologise for any offence caused, I did this without thinking, I am going through my own struggles/ mental health issues/ addiction. But what good is an apology without a change of heart?
He recently called black makeup influencer Jackie Aina an “irrelevant rat” for explaining that she didn’t want to use his products because she had concerns about his behaviour – hardly the actions of somebody with a reformed character. And Kardashian has already claimed to have learnt her lesson about ignoring racism before. After hearing racist comments about her child she penned an emotional blog post saying she “never really gave racism or discrimination a lot of thought” despite Kanye’s passionate anti-racist “George Bush does not care about black people” outburst after hurricane Katrina. She said she was going to “stop pretending like this isn't my issue or my problem” but has remained too quiet on police brutality, Trump and the rise of white nationalism.
Although she quickly withdrew her “naive” support for Star, presumably after doing a bit more research (or after being advised by her publicist) this 24-hour drama is emblematic of how accusations of racism are often treated. Black people deal with the hurt of being publicly degraded and white people, who pick and choose when they want to tune in, are privileged enough to decide whether it really was racism or whether it is simply a case of bad judgement which must be forgotten.
In the same way you wouldn’t tell women to get over constant harassment and objectification to eradicate misogyny, you cannot claim to hate racism but focus your attention on telling black people to move on. Being a worthwhile ally is about examining your behaviour and challenging prejudice when you see it. White celebrities like the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry often pick and choose the bits of black culture they would like to adopt to look edgy but never get their hands dirty by being a clear voice in the movement for change. They are just as much a part of the problem for not using their influence and privilege to denounce comments and call them by the right name. It is racism and it is never OK.