The Kardashians have weathered their fair share of scandals, and then some. After all, the family reached new heights of fame first with a murder trial, and then, years later, with an infamous sex tape leak. If anyone has turned scandal into an empire, it’s the Keeping Up With The Kardashians clan. Yet, it sometimes feels like the Kardashians forget their years of of crisis management training, and fumble an unexpected scandal. It’s uncomfortable and infuriating to watch. That’s why it was so satisfying to see the Kardashian machine working at full power during Sunday night’s episode of KUWTK, “Beauty Queen.” During the episode, Kim Kardashian was slapped with blackface accusations, and she actually responded in a laudable, responsible manner.
The racist controversy begins when Kim announces her upcoming contour-touting KKW Beauty line. She’s excited to finally go from “licensor” — think the family’s Sears fashion “Kollection” — to actual owner. But, her happiness is dashed when the Internet drags the KKW launch image, claiming Kim is actually doing blackface in the photo. In between Kim’s description of the uproar, we see the originally-released picture, where Kim is legitimately much darker than usual.
It’s easy to see why the Internet At Large believes the middle Kardashian sister, whose family happens to accidentally appropriate cultures more often than nearly anyone else on the planet, could be guilty of such a gaffe. Kim, however, immediately denies the accusation, telling right-hand woman Steph Shepard, “I would never in a million years be disrespectful and do that.” Kim has a counter explanation, saying the KKW team simply wanted “moody” photos that would really “show the contour.” And, Kim was just “really tan.”
It would be easy for Kim to avoid the controversy completely. Sticking one’s head in the social media sand is obviously far less taxing than dealing was a problem head on. Still, Kim hops into action. She calls her KKW director of communications, Jennifer Cohan, and relays the PR nightmare. “I just think I have to address it,” Kim admits. “Because if I don’t, then it’ll turn into one of situations [where] people think I’m trying to ignore something serious.” This means Kim actually understands allegations of blackface are something serious in the first place. Soon enough, the offending images have been deleted from the internet and updated to show Kim’s skin tone as something far closer to her real-life, white, complexion.
There’s a maturity to this entire ordeal that oftentimes feels lacking in Kardashian controversy. Throughout the whole process, Kim maintains alleged blackface wasn’t “intentional,” but repeatedly says she can see why people would get the wrong idea from the dark photos. In a confessional interview she says of her thought process, ”When you’re running shit you literally have to own up to it, and you have to change it and fix it and not hide and [not] not understand. I fully understood what people were saying.” At the end of Kim’s explanation, we see the revised promotional photo, which is decidedly less faux melanin-heavy. Soon enough, the scandal is neutralised, and Kim can peacefully host roughly 1 million beauty influencers in her home to celebrate the KKW Beauty launch.
This entire response is a far cry from the other, arguably larger, scandal KUWTK has recently weathered. Earlier in season 14, we see Kendall Jenner’s tear-stained response to her controversial Pepsi ad. Uncomfortably, the “Cleveland Show” panic marks the first time the top model has ever publicly dealt with the polarising, and quickly pulled, advertisement. which was accused of commercialising the Black Lives Matter movement while silencing actual people of colour in favour of featuring a white woman. And, of course, there’s that cringeworthy moment in the commercial where Kendall yanks off a wig and practically tosses it at a baffled Black woman, whom the KUWTK star doesn’t even look at. While Pepsi eventually released a statement apologising for the offensive video, Kendall never personally did. In fact, Kendall’s first tweet following the backlash was a promotion for her latest magazine cover. All together, the optics were tone deaf at best.
So, seeing, nearly half a year later, how Kendall felt in April 2017 feels far too little too late. This is especially true since much of the episode deals with protecting the young woman from the fallout rather than encouraging her to deal with it head on. As Kim says in “Beauty Queen,” if you’re going to run shit, you also have to own up to backlash. With Kendall, however, she’s upset the news is lasting more than 24 hours. While everyone recognises Kendall didn’t mean to upset people, there’s no subsequent understanding as to why people are upset. In the “Cleveland Show,” it’s simply a lot of Kardashian family members lamenting how the situation “sucks” for “sensitive” Kendall. On the other hand, during Kim’s blackface scandal, she owned up to the entire kerfuffle in a lengthy New York Times interview.
Despite Kim’s responsible handling of her first KKW social media storm, that didn’t stop her from finding herself in another blackface controversy a mere four months after the events of “Beauty Queen.” The KUWTK star dressed up as the beloved late R&B superstar Aaliyah for Halloween. While Kim did not darken her skin for the costume, many viewed the choice as blackface due to the simple fact Aaliyah is a Black icon, and Kim is a white woman. Again, she made an immediate statement explaining the polarising choice and apologising.
It’s clear Kim is following her own advice by “owning up” to her perceived bad behaviour. Now, if only she could truly live up to the second half of her business mantra: changing it and fixing it for good.
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