Kim, Race, and Radicalness: A Conversation
Carissa Fleury is a copy editor for the Observer, and an avid fan of Black Twitter and all Black people. Morgan Freeman is a sophomore majoring in American Studies who loves TV. Ben Kesslen is the Arts and Culture Editor for the Tufts Observer, and a sophomore majoring in American Studies. This conversation is based on the selfie of Kim Kardashian picture above, posted to Instagram on March 7th.
Carissa: We are here to talk about a recent nude selfie posted by the one and only Kim Kardashian.
Ben: I think we need to talk about the nude selfie.
Morgan: Yeah, we might as well start there. Quick summary: So Kim published a nude selfie on Instagram with two censoring bars across her body. And what was the caption?
B: The caption was “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL.”
C: Okay, so Kim has posted similar nude selfies before. The reason why this one blew up was because…
M: A lot of other celebrities had stuff to say about it. Like Bette Midler…
B: And Chloe Grace Moretz, and Piers Morgan.
C: Who is Bette Midler?
M: Anyways, so Chloe Grace Moretz tweeted, “I truly hope you realize how important setting goals are for young women, teaching them we have so much more to offer than just our bodies.” Bette Midler tweeted, “Kim Kardashian tweeted a nude selfie today. If Kim wants us to see a part of her we’ve never seen, she’s gonna have to swallow the camera.”
B: And Kim was really funny in her responses. Kim responded: “Hey, @BetteMidler, I know it’s past your bedtime but if you’re still up and reading this send nudes #justkidding” and then she said to Chloe Grace Moretz, “Let’s all welcome @ChloeGMoretz to Twitter, since no one knows who she is. Your Nylon cover is cute boo.”—referencing Chloe’s Nylon cover where she appears partially naked. She then posts on her website this long speech about loving her body as a woman and a mother. And she got a lot of praise for this. And this sparked our article.
M: I feel like once you start bringing up how we consume the Kardashians as a family, it really expands to so many different things. And I hate to say that because I don’t like putting their family at the center of American pop culture, but I think they sometimes can feel representative of it.
C: So the question we want to start with is how do the responses to Kim intersect with both her status as an upper-upper-upper class woman, and her race, as a White woman—an ethnic White woman, meaning part of an ethnic group that was historically categorized as non-White but has since assimilated into Whiteness. We are basically talking about the general public and people either supporting and defending her or people not supporting her mostly because they just hate the Kardashians as a family. And my Twitter, which is mostly Black Twitter, was like ‘let her post what she wants and not censor her’…which is interesting.
M: My Twitter was similar. But I’m thinking about how this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Kim’s body, and why are still talking about it?
B: And what happens when people who aren’t Kim post pictures like that?
M: Oh, remember when Ciara recently sang the National Anthem at some game and she had on this beautiful gown that had this deep-V neckline and people were just slut-shaming her. Like ‘okay we get it you can sing, that’s why you’re here, but this is a family event.’ Meanwhile you have these cheerleaders in revealing outfits dancing right behind her. Also, she looks so good, what are you even saying? You’re so quick to sexualize this person…like hell yeah she’s going to put on a nice-ass gown that’s extravagant because she’s a celebrity, she’s famous, and she’s good at what she does.
C: And think about Amber Rose or Blac Chyna who post pictures ‘on the daily’ and people being like ‘you’re mothers, respect yourselves, you’re supposed to be role models.’ Then how come Kim Kardashian can derive her capital from her body and she’s allowed to be empowered by it, but then other women, particularly Black women, are either hypersexualized—Amber Rose and Blac Chyna—or they’re not allowed to be sexual—Ciara? It feels like they are only allowed to be sexual within the White gaze.
M: Kim is able to take ownership of her naked body, yet still be seen by some as a business tycoon. She’s able to cash in on her body as a product, but other women aren’t able to do that.
B: Yeah, some people make fun of the Kardashians and say, ‘Kim has done nothing,’ but there’s also a level to Kim now—and the Kardashians in general—that is taken a little more seriously. For example, you see selfies of Kim and Hillary Clinton.
M: Right, and obviously if they were that much of a joke, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be taking a selfie with her.
B: Yeah and you’re not seeing Amber Rose and Hillary Clinton, and I think that’s a really important point. Kim can have a sex tape on the Internet, she can post these selfies, and she still gets the picture with Hillary that Hillary proudly puts on her own social media. I cannot imagine the day I see a selfie with Hillary and Blac Chyna.
C: And think about how Kim embodies a lot of traditionally Black features, and she’s praised for them—the same features that Black women were historically put in zoos and shamed for. But with Kim, it’s #bodygoals. And then there’s Kylie Jenner and her transformation, where she injected her lips to look so large, and all of a sudden it became a “trend,” so much so that you have the birth of the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge, which was just insane. People were injuring themselves trying to achieve the same results without surgery.
M: Well, it’s not like people were actually trying to imitate that. Maybe on some level they were trying to achieve that look, but on a larger level it was a joke.
B: And I think it’s significant that people thought of big lips as a joke.
C: Right, and Mac Cosmetics instagrammed a black woman, Aamita Lagum from Uganda, and her full lips. It was a beautiful picture, but the Instagram comments were like, “Why do her lips look like that?” Or calling her a “monkey” and all of these racist things. So why is it that the magazines think Kylie is so edgy and her lips look so good? Do you remember when people were like ‘Oh, Beyoncé is trying to have Kylie Jenner lips?’ But a real Black woman, BORN with those lips, is being told she needs to fix her lips. That’s what’s frustrating for me about the Kardashians—they’re allowed to have certain features of Blackness without the hardships.
B: The Kardashians are praised for appropriating features that historically have been reasons for a lot of racism and vitriol against Black women.
C: And additionally, all these White feminists are coming in saying that Kim Kardashian is being a feminist and doing work for the revolution, but what work is she actually doing? And thinking about feminism in our generation, i.e. Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, and the ways that they’re praised as these amazing feminists, but who are only doing the work for certain populations of people, primarily White middle- and upper-class women.
B: This reminds me of the Black women who interrupted Bernie Sanders at one of his rallies. They were told that they were being disrespectful, but they were actually doing the work to ask him the hard questions and, in the process, interrupt the idea that he’s Black people’s savior.
M: So feminism is only okay when it fits into certain parameters and when it isn’t actually for liberating all women from oppression.
B: Something I’m also thinking about is the generational divide we’re seeing in the ways celebrities discuss feminism. We have this new generation of really young celebrities—Amanda Stenberg, Willow Smith, Rowan Blanchard, Zendaya—and they seem to be challenging mainstream White feminism.
M: And you asked the question: does this have to do with the Internet? And I think it does in some respect—not to give the Internet credit for the birth of new social justice culture, of course.
C: I feel like, at Tufts, I’ve found people turning to the Internet for forms of activism. Not to downplay “Twitter activism,” because people who are “Twitter activists”—DeRay McKesson or Johnetta (Netta) Elzie—aren’t just Twitter activists…they’re also on the ground. And obviously activism isn’t just protesting, but most Internet activists do more than just post on social media.
B: I’m wondering how this relates to Facebook and how students on this campus use it. I feel like “Facebook activism” on this campus is huge. Every day I see people posting articles and links—and I do this, too—but I feel like some people on Facebook are really adding to the discourse and others are just sharing articles.
C: A lot of the people I know who are sharing things on Facebook just share to feel good about themselves and alleviate guilt…which is definitely frustrating, for me at least. And then to see some of these people touted as being “super radical” or whatever. Anybody can press the ‘share’ button on a Facebook article.
B: It’s performances of radicalness. However, I think the conversation of performance is really tricky because something I often do is critique performances of radicalness—or what I see as performances of radicalness—but then, at the same time, me critiquing that is a performance of radicalness. It’s like, I’m more radical than this person because I’m calling them out for performing their radicalness.
C: I always think that when we start overanalyzing things and thinking through them so thoroughly, how often does this actually stop us from acting? Are we supposed to be thinking social justice issues through so thoroughly that we stop doing anything and become complacent—afraid we can’t do anything right?
B: I don’t know. I don’t know if we can know.
M: You just got philosophical on us, Carissa. Good chat, y’all.