It seems the Kardashian/Jenner clan are back in the news, and as usual, for all the wrong reasons: this time it’s Kendall and Kylie Jenner. They’re under fire again for cultural appropriation.
The Kardashian/Jenner family has long been accused of appropriating Black culture and otherwise using prominent Black figures for their benefit—sporting cornrows known in White media as “boxer braids” and constantly gracing covers of tabloids with prominent boyfriends and husbands like Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, and Travis Scott. Sisters Kendall and Kylie Jenner, dating the two latter rappers named, respectively, have been under particular scrutiny for cultural insensitivity in recent months.
A brief highlight reel of some of their mishaps: Kylie continues to make millions from her makeup brand Kylie Cosmetics, started after receiving praise for her looks following a combination of her suddenly darker complexion and controversial lip filler procedure leaving her with much larger lips and several accusations of wanting to look black. If that wasn’t enough controversy, she was then accused of stealing her line of camoflage sports bras and sweatpants from a black designer named Tizita Balemlay, from whom she has ordered clothing in the past. Kendall Jenner earned her criticism by appearing in a now-infamous Pepsi commercial in which she hands a Pepsi to an officer stopping what appears to be a Black Lives Matter-esque protest, and her action suddenly makes everyone get along. The commercial was widely received as a trivialization of the Black Lives Matter movement and Kendall has been laying low since.
But not for long. In yet another bad PR move for the Jenner sisters this year, the anger recently skyrocketed as Kendall and Kylie, who just might be the reigning queen of appropriation, released a “vintage” line of T-shirts from their Kendall + Kylie clothing collection a couple of weeks ago. The shirts, retailing at $125 each, featured icons like Ozzy Osbourne, Tupac, and Notorious B.I.G. with Instagram photos of either Kendall or Kylie layered on top. Not only were the shirts laughed out of the room by many who felt it was a stretch for the Jenner sisters to compare themselves to these figures, but the Jenners are now receiving multiple lawsuits from the estates of Tupac and B.I.G., photographers who took the photos, and family members who all insist they did not give permission for the images to be used.
While Sharon Osbourne was just as enraged about her husband Ozzy’s likeness being used for one of the T-shirts, perhaps more interesting than the Jenner sisters’ blatant lack of ethical business practices is how this relates to their ongoing appropriation accusations. Defenders of the Kardashian/Jenner family, including myself at times, have wondered whether their love of black beauty and fashion trends combined with their family’s long-lived history of dating black men should get them criticized or just get them an invite to the “cookout” about which Black Twitter often debates. But PR stunts like this may prove where their loyalty really lies. Because the shirts were released without receiving permission or even giving credit or a cut of the profits to any of the parties involved, whether white or black, it is clear that to the Jenners, profits come first. When then adding this to their not-so-woke Pepsi commercials and Instagram posts covered in black beauty and fashion trends but very few genuine acts of solidarity or uses of their platform to call attention to real issues being faced by the very people from whom much of what contributes to their success originates? The use of two figures so prominent in black culture (and also unable to consent to this themselves, unlike Ozzy who could have been consulted but wasn’t) with zero permission for it brings a new meaning to what Voletta Wallace, Notorious B.I.G’s mother, calls “exploitative.”
Are Kendall and Kylie Jenner Guilty of Cultural Appropriation or Simply Admiration?
Biracial Actress Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) was pretty clear in 2015 what Kendall and Kylie Jenner were doing back that was cultural appropriation.
Sharing and appreciating other people’s culture is beautiful and should be encouraged, but there are ways to do it while still remaining respectful. The Kardashians and Jenners enjoy such wild amounts of success that it would be so easy for them to use their platform to raise awareness to issues and acknowledge the roots (no pun intended) of many of their most profitable ventures and popular looks. One quick Google search of “cultural appropriation” clarifies that people seem to completely disagree on what counts as respectful and disrespectful which is often used in defense of this family’s actions—that it’s simply too hard to tell where to draw the line. Whether that is true or not, at the moment, it looks as if the Jenner sisters aren’t even trying.
What do you think? Cultural appropriation, admiration or unsure?