We Need To Talk About Kylie Jenner's Black Friends

Photo: Brian Bowen Smith/E! Entertainment.
And so it begins. Kylie Jenner, the only Kardashian/Jenner sibling pegged to compete with Kim for personal brand recognition, has her own reality show. Life of Kylie premiered Sunday night on E!, giving fans of the youngest Jenner an intimate look into her life as an individual entity, not just “one of the sisters.” Along for the ride are Victoria, Kylie’s executive assistant; Ariel, her makeup artist; Tokyo, her hair stylist; and Jordyn Woods, a model and Kylie’s best friend. I was particularly interested in the latter two players, both of whom are Black. Kylie has been at the center of several controversies about how she has used aspects of Black culture to bolster her own public image. This provokes the question: in what ways might her personal relationships with Black people affect her sensitivity to issues of cultural appropriation?
Spoiler alert: Nothing happens in the first two episodes that lends any answers to this question. I doubt that it ever will, even if Life of Kylie follows the Keeping Up with the Kardashians formula of covering some of the negative press surrounding the family. What we know for sure is that Tokyo and Jordyn are part of a small group of people who are closest to the young celebrity. And they aren’t the only ones. Her longtime boyfriend Tyga was reportedly replaced with Travis Scott, both of them are also Black. In the traditional sense at least, Kylie does not discriminate on the basis of race alone. But that’s not enough.
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Jenner wouldn’t be the first white person to have personal relationships with Black people and still cross the lines of cultural insensitivity. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Thinking that it’s impossible to have Black friends and still offend Black people is a classic mistake that masks a misconception: that all Black people are on the same side of the fence on certain issues and are willing to confront their non-Black peers when they fuck up.
I’m obsessed with Jordyn Woods, and I like to think that she’s a woke young queen who frequently schools everyone she knows on the history of race in this country. But because I don’t know her personally, that could very well not be true. She could have silently cringed when Kylie and Kendall made those 2Pac and Biggie t-shirts. Hell, she may have thought they were a good idea. Tokyo could have installed those cornrows into Kylie’s head for some practical reason and was forced to sit idly by as his boss posted the picture to Instagram. Sometimes Black people get it wrong, too.
Again, Kylie disproves the theory that having Black friends makes you any more or less woke. But having friends who care enough to make sure you stay in your own lane definitely helps. If any of Kylie’s friends who know better just so happen to read this, I hope you’ll find it in your heart to have those hard conversations.
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