The "Kurse" of Kim K.: Blackness, Beauty, and Big Behinds11/22/2014
by Saaraa Bailey Way before the world was “keeping up” with her and her family, Kim Kardashian was just another the young, wealthy girl ...
by Saaraa Bailey
Way before the world was “keeping up” with her and her family, Kim Kardashian was just another the young, wealthy girl living in Southern California. As the former girlfriend of Michael Jackson’s nephew and the goddaughter of O.J. Simpson, Kim was able to enjoy the fruits of white privilege amidst the company of high profile black men, way before her days as an A-lister. And her high profile relationships with a number of black athletes and celebrities would also help her transition from Beverly Hills beauty to international superstar.
With her sextape with Brandy’s brother Ray J. as her introduction to Hollywood, many see Kim’s fame as bearing a dark shadow. This “dark shadow” may be attributed to her raven locks or dark eyes, but in many ways it references Kardashian’s relationship to blackness.
What some may consider to be an exotic appeal, is actually the “kurse” (to use their own branding) of the Kardashians: embodying and impersonating black femininity for profit, while still advancing white female beauty dynamics. Interestingly, Kim’s whiteness was initially debated amidst her initial Hollywood presence. This initial query didn’t change the color of Kim’s skin, but did create a dissonance between Kim and her whiteness that allowed her to falsely align herself and her family with black people and culture.
While the alignment between the Kardashians and black males is overt, their allegiance with black women occurs silently. Although Kim and her family may disrupt the normative thin, blonde, and blue-eyed beauty standard associated with whiteness, their presence still means black women do not benefit from this new definition of beauty.
Admittedly, I initially fell into the allure of Kim Kardashian. I saw praise for dark hair, dark eyes, and a big booty, and (like many other young black women) assumed this meant there was a place for my beauty in today's world. However, this couldn't be more false. Despite the way Kim’s dark hair and big booty challenge former mainstream beauty ideals, she is still a white woman. And white women still remain the beholders of beauty in our society. Kim’s body serves as a form of black face, that—in addition to her black significant other—opens the doors for her success more than they would for black female celebrities.
Kim Kardashian represents non-black women who envy and appropriate blackness, but do not wish to endure the consequences of blackness in a racist society. Non-black women often mimic attributes of black beauty to gain acknowledgement, only to retreat into their white privilege once obtaining the spoils. Perhaps this is best illustrated through Kim’s most recent photo shoot for PAPER magazine. In the photo shoot, Kim starts with wearing a black dress that is eventually removed. The dress represents Kim's ability to remove her "blackness," as her entire image seems to displace traditional black female traits onto a white woman. Thus, Kim’s personal advancements mark a significant step backwards for the black woman, as Kim is a reminder that the value of blackness goes up when detached from a black body.
The Kardashians is that they falsely present themselves as allies to blacks. Recently, Khloe Kardashian posted an Instagram photo (which was quickly removed) of herself and her sisters that stated, “The only KKK, to let blacks in.” This act demonstrates an inappropriate comfort level not only enabled by their white privilege, but also by their associations with black people. This comfort level with blackness makes them forget that they are in fact white.
However Khloe’s Instagram post makes for an interesting comparison between the Kardashians and the notorious racial terrorist group. The post ignorantly implies that the Kardashians are an improvement to the beliefs and behaviors of the infamous group. But the very posting of this picture was an act of racism.
The exoticism achieved by non-black women with black attributes is insulting for black women, who are often ridiculed for these same traits. Perhaps this fact is best illustrated by Saartje Baartman. Despite Baartman's beauty, her derriere made her a “freak.” Her physical attributes were used to substantiate the constructs of the black woman's aesthetic inferiority, and she was the first woman to put round and protruding derrieres on the map. However, Baartman’s story was not a happy one, as she bears the painful reality of how the same attributes that made Kim an international star, made a black woman a circus attraction.
Interestingly, Kim’s climb to the top has created what she has been arguably trying to be her whole career: a black woman. Her most recent racy spread, which features her but oiled up and achieving an unusual balancing act has many wondering about how this will affect her 17-month-old daughter North, specifically as she grows up to be a black woman. This in addition to all the other young black girls who will know Kim Kardashian, not Saartje Baartman, as their first big booty girl. What does it mean for young women of color to see a white woman gain fortune and fame via spray tans and an oiled up derriere?
The true “kurse” of Kim Kardashian is the salt she places in a timeless wound of under-appreciated black beauty.
Photo credit: Getty Images
Saaraa Bailey is a regular contributor at For Harriet.