In the third season of his streaming series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman, the former late night host chats with Kim Kardashian West about the most noteworthy moments in her life, from the time she was robbed at gunpoint during Paris Fashion Week in 2016 to her childhood memories with “Uncle O.J.” Simpson. At one point, when Letterman presses for her opinions about President Trump, she says she’s “grateful for this administration for the work that they’ve done in prison reform.”
The words, which she actually uttered–like, out loud! to an audience! on a show on Netflix!–were in response to Letterman asking how she reconciled the criticisms of and her relationship with the current administration. (Kim, who’s in the process of getting a law degree in the most privilege-y of privileged ways–“Abraham Lincoln did it this way,” she says, so it’s legit?–has personally appealed to the president to secure the commutation of several nonviolent offenders.)
OK, so let’s give her the benefit of the doubt here: maybe she didn’t want to upset a man (yes, I said “man”–I am trying to be mature) who is, at minimum, easily excitable. Maybe Kim thought, “If Trump is reelected, I want to maintain this relationship so I can continue to do this work.” And sure, maybe these hypotheticals are valid considering the volatile, if rabid reactions the president wields against anyone who disagrees with him. (Remember when he went after his own FBI director?) I guess it could be a nebulous position to be in.
What’s far less excusable, though–and, I’ll admit, also quite hurtful–is her silence when Letterman asks who she’s voting for in the upcoming election. Her silence is a luxury many of us quite literally can’t afford–this as the pandemic that’s ripped through our country surges once again, a consequence of what many say is poor handling of the spread of the virus at the federal level.
The silence is complicit; one that hides behind self-righteousness, as if to morally exempt her from a responsibility to speak on the atrocities this administration has brandished against the communities Kim has used and borrowed from to get famous–sorry to break it to you, but Black women have always had voluptuous curves and full lips–and that, she herself–through her marriage and making a family with rapper and presidential candidate (lol) Kanye West–is part of.
In what felt like the greatest offense, she proceeded to “give props where props are due” for this administration’s role in prison reform. What?! Uh, Kim, you don’t remember Trump encouraging police officers to use excessive force against Black Lives Matter protestors? Or how he led an initiative to resume the federal death penalty after a 17-year moratorium on capital punishment? (We won’t even talk about the rate at which Black men are wrongfully convicted of major crimes, and how this resumption could affect them.) Or how he reinstated Department of Justice contracts with private prisons in 2016 after the Obama administration announced plans to rely on them less? (Wait, isn’t this the opposite of reform?)
Kim’s statements are not only simply wrong, but also misleading, which especially mattered at a time many Americans were weighing presidential candidates. She could have used her influence to activate much-needed change, but instead chose silence to secure what she wanted to do, rather than–or in addition to–taking part in shaping a more equitable justice system, which is what needs to be done.
Kudos to the pop figure for lending her star power to correct some wrongs done by our justice system. But she sorely missed an opportunity, herself an astronomical platform, to talk the realities of America’s prison systems and how this administration has affected, if impeded their reformations.
There is an overwhelming sense that America is on fire right now–everyday, in every way. And that under this administration, that fire will continue to rage, louder and more destructive as it persists. And maybe Kim Kardashian West, in that moment, had a real opportunity to be a part of putting out those flames.
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