It’s been a pretty rough week in America. On Saturday, an assortment of white supremacists — including the KKK and neo-Nazis — gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a Unite the Right rally. The group came together to openly oppose a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a general in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Violence erupted when they were met with counter protesters. James Alex Fields Jr. — a white nationalist who attended the rally — plowed his car into a crowd, killing Heather D. Heyer and injuring over a dozen other people. Coverage of these incidents — including Donald Trump's controversial comments where he accused “both sides” of being in the wrong — is once again forcing America to face it’s racist reality. It’s not typically the case that we need to look at figures like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian in the midst of such turmoil. But these are strange times and, alas, here we are. The similarities and differences between these two women, and where they fall on some pretty important issues, is a great opportunity to get clarity on what allyship is and isn’t.
Kardashian is no stranger to controversy and backlash. She has made it her job to grapple with public opinion. This week, the personal quickly became political for the media mogul after some swatching gone wrong. It all started when YouTuber Jeffree Star criticised the quality of her KKW Beauty contour kit. Her fans responded by bringing up Star’s history of racism (which he apologised for in a recent issue of Allure magazine). Kardashian’s response to the fresh controversy was to defend Star, calling his past actions “negative” (that’s one way to put Black minstrelsy), implying that critiques of those actions are “petty,” reminding fans that he did indeed apologise, and insisting that they essentially get over it. And just like that, she was in the same hot seat as Star. She apologised, calling herself “naive” on racism and that she’s all about “positivity,” whatever the fuck that means.
On Tuesday, the same day that Kardashian issued her lacklustre apology, Irin Carmon tweeted a screenshot of a transcribed interview between her and Paris Hilton for this month’s Marie Claire. It contains comments that could not fit into the print version of the story, according to one of Carmon’s subsequent tweets. In those comments, Hilton calls the women who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault “opportunists” who were just looking for “attention” and “fame.” Despite identifying as a feminist in the interview (this fit into the published copy, incidentally), which was done in November, she thinks that his “grab them by the pussy” comment is simply par the course for guys. That Hilton has also been unapologetic about her family’s close friendship with Trump offers some meaningful context here as well.
In one way or another, both of these women have been on the receiving end of side-eyes by failing to show allyship in the face of such violent opposition. For Hilton, it’s an insistence that Trump is still a good person and president. For Kardashian, it’s a failure to examine intersectionality as framework for understanding race, despite her close and intimate relationships with Black people. (Refinery29 has reached out to both Hilton and Kardashian for further comment.)
Ironically, Hilton’s Marie Claire interview — which still manages to laud her as a businesswoman for her fragrance empire, DJ status, and willingness to stay “in character” for fans — dropped just two days before a Hollywood Reporter profile with the entire Kardashian family that takes a look at the expansive legacy of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Kardashian and Hilton’s journey’s through fame and fortune have diverged from their shared starting point — let us never forget that Kardashian was Hilton’s assistant, and both of them have sex tapes that helped elevate them from daughters of the wealthy to household names. While Kardashian has remained anchored to her television show as the launching platform for the rest of her business ventures and carved out space for herself in both urban and mainstream pop culture, Hilton left the TV world behind to literally keep the dance party going. As shadily referenced in the THR story, Hilton has paid for it in terms of visibility. Many people already consider her an archival figure in American pop culture. Meanwhile Kardashian sits atop Forbes’ list of the wealthiest reality television stars and still makes headlines when she sweats too much.
However, it is important, especially in light of their recent comments to remember that these women are cut from the same cloth. As public figures, they represent a conundrum that anyone who is trying to resist is familiar with: fake solidarity. The feminist who defends Trump and the woman is married to a Black man who trivialises racism pose the exact same threat to equality, even if they are packaged differently.
Hilton and Kardashian are cut from the same cloth. Both of them were born into the levels of class and racial privilege that have protected them from ever having to do the work required to get it right. I refuse to be disappointed when they don’t.