Kim Kardashian West: Just stop. Signed Black Culture

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Kim Kardashian West wants to be a Black Woman. It’s been obvious for some time now. The specific body enhancement of her backside and the constant appropriation of African hairstyles supports the theory.

Not too long ago, Vogue published the article by Patricia Garcia “The Dawn of the Butt”, which has caused some major issues between communities of color and the publication. ( side note: if you want a good laugh, go on Twitter and type in #voguearticles…amazing.)

But even before that, CNN correspondent Dr. Anthony Youn stated back in February of 2013 that “Kim Kardashian is still the poster child for a large and shapely backside.”

Now, put this along side of the hundreds of years of Even Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” song begins with one White women grossly disgusted at the size and shape of a passing by Black black woman’s physique, ending with her tirade to Becky saying “She’s so…BLACK!”

We see tangible examples of this fascination and disgust over Black physiques in history. In the early 19th century, a kidnapped and enslaved woman by the name Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman was purchased as part of a circus sideshow. Born to a Khoisan family in South Africa, Saartjie had a genetic medical condition called steatopygia, a condition caused by concentrated amounts of fat in the buttocks and sometimes extends to the front of the thighs and knees, a genetic characteristic in the Khoisan and Bantu tribes of South Africa.

Sarrtjie was convinced in 1810 by a British doctor to travel to London, England where should become very wealthy due to her extravagant looks. She instead was paraded around as a freak show oddity, usually naked.

This humiliation lasted until public attention wore thin. She then went into prostitution which, it is said, led to her dying of syphilis in December of 1815.

Her exhibition continued even in death. Instead of being given a proper burial, Saartjie’s body was dissected, then put on display for over 150 years. Museum goers could view her brain, skeleton, and even her genitals before her remains were laid to rest. Interestingly enough, during this time, White Women had begun wearing “bustles” a device that mimicked a large, round backside. How ironic that the White Women who were going to see Sarrtijie’s “gross characteristics” would have been wearing a device to mimic them.

For years, black girls were told that big butts were unsightly on one end, but on the other end there were entire albums throughout the decades dedicated to the derrière (and the ability to rhythmically bounce it). Now all of the sudden, because of Kim K and an Iggy Azelia song, it’s the “year of the booty”?

I’m just going to go ahead and say it so we can all move on from here: BIG BUTTS WERE GREAT LONG BEFORE WHITE PEOPLE DECIDED THEY WERE. And just because popular culture has decided they are ok really doesn’t affect how we currently feel about our booties. Booties will be great long after the fad of them wears off in popular culture. Before Kim K paid for hers or Iggy made everyone comfortable with the idea of the big butt, they were more than ok in the black community and they will continue to be. As far as many are concerned, every year could be the year of the booty.

Butts have been have been big for years. Curvy girls have been owning it for longer than these popular yet somewhat pretentious publications have even been around.

Beyond the booty, Kim has frequently, despite all types of backlash and outrage, continued to appropriate hairstyles from Black culture.

It seems almost ironic that as type these words, Solange’s Don’t Touch My Hair begins playing on my shuffled music.

The lyrics, “Don’t touch my hair, when it’s the feelings I wear. Don’t touch my soul, when it’s the rhythm I know. Don’t touch my crown. They say the vision I’ve found. Don’t touch what’s there, when it’s the feelings I wear. They don’t understand what it means to me, where we chose to go, where we’ve been to know. You know this hair is my shit, rolled the rod, I gave it time
But this here is mine.” are the perfect backdrop for our discussion today on Kim K and her recent appropriation.

That’s right. Another week, another Kardashian/ Jenner Black appropriation story. (I feel like since I have been writing publicly, my posts have seen more than its share of culture-vulturing from this clan, and it’s beyond enough.)

I find myself in a difficult place with Kim K. On one hand, I don’t like her because I find her problematic from a feminism stance, and from an authenticity space because I find her fake at times.

To be honest, it would be easy for me not to like her. Given the fact that I feel that she personally responsible for the demise of one of the culture’s most prolific musicians to ever rap (shout out to Kanye’s College Drop Out and Late Registration days) and sent him straight to the sunken place.

Then there are times when I am legitimately rooting for her. When she took the time to educate her followers on the Armenian genocide and donates to positive causes, how she lobbied for Alice Johnson to get out of prison, those are the times I want Kim to win.

As of this week, I don’t particularly care for her.

Kim showed up to the MTV Music Awards clad in cornrows, again.

Earlier this year, she posted this pic of her, barely clad, as we have come to expect her in all of her exhibitionism, with a head full of cornrows and beads, calling them “Bo Derek Braids”.

Insert eye-roll of all the eyeballs here.

First and foremost, those braids are called Fulani braids, or at the minimum, cornrows. They are a hairstyle popularized by the Fula people of Western Africa. They are an ancient hairstyle imbedded with meaning and identity that have been around for hundreds of years.

They certainly didn’t start in 1979 and certainly not by Bo Derek’s appropriating behind either.

Secondly, (Spoiler Alert) it’s not just a hairstyle we are talking about. Its part of African culture that children of the diaspora have been frantically reclaiming, a culture that was all but erased from us during slavery.

For Black People, it’s not just a hairstyle. This goes beyond mere aesthetics down to the cultural oppression and refusal to acknowledge privilege.

For years, Black Women were subjected to hatred due to our hair styles, being told it was messy, unkempt, and the like by popular culture. There were even laws directed at Black Women to control how we maintain our hair styles. All of that only to now have it appropriated by the same culture that deemed it all the adjectives for bad you could think of.

Black women were once forced by law to wrap their hair to “keep order”. Locs were once called dirty, and now Becky and Brittany be rocking them beneath flower crowns at Coachella. Slicked “baby hair”, once considered “ghetto” is now walking down the runways of Marc Jacobs’ shows (Like almost every season now, by the way).

Now…Bo Derek braids…

And influencers, such as Kardashian, stealing from a culture that is not their own is only fueling the cultural theft. She is a troublingly frequently and flippant cultural appropriator and, worse of all, refuses to acknowledge it as a problem ever.

Being married to a Black Man and having what the world will consider Black Children does not make you entitled to Black Culture. It will always be problematic, no matter what she does or when she does it, especially given her flippant, “deal with it” attitude.

It has become so frequent, Kardashian has become a joke to most of us.

So no, Kim. Just because Bo Derek wore them in the 70’s doesn’t mean the style can or should be attributed to her.

And for everyone who will say that this post is anti-feminism because I’m picking on poor Kim yet again: Feminism is not hand holding, singing Kum-Ba-Ya together. It is calling your sisters to a higher, transparent, authentic standard. It’s calling out problematic behaviors, of which cultural appropriation is pretty severe, and educating perpetrators on their cultural theft. No one gets a pass, not when Sarrtjie and countless other unknown women of color have paid the painful price of exploitation and suppression white women, like Kim, currently profit from.

My culture is not a costume, it’s not a trend. It is who I am, who my people are, and it’s bigger than aesthetics.

This post is a compilation of posts from The Reclaimed Blog.

Whitney Alese is a writer, podcaster and cultural commentator. Featured in WIRED Magazine (September 2020). She is based in Philadelphia.

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