The Kardashian-Jenner brood is infamous for their appropriation of black hairstyles and clothing, but keeping up with how problematic the Kardashians can be just got more exhausting.
In the series' most recent episode, Rob Kardashian is explaining to his sister Khloe and then-pregnant girlfriend Blac Chyna how he wants to reconnect with his Armenian roots as he enters into fatherhood. Things get awkward when Rob says, “I cannot wait to have an Armenian baby.” To which Khloe responds, “And probably a little bit Black.” Poor Blac Chyna can’t get a word in as Rob defensively follows up with, “It’s gonna be an Armenian baby.” Cringe.
Once again, Khloe tries to reason with her baby brother. “It’s going to be a little Northie,” she says, referencing their niece, and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s daughter, North West.
Rather than acknowledging the shared cultural background that his daughter, Dream, will have, Rob shuts downs the conversation. "Let’s not make this a race war,” he says. Double cringe.
Why must accepting the diversity of his daughter’s multicultural heritage be considered a war? Again, Blac Chyna is silent, and one can only assume what she might be feeling as the only black person in the room, as Rob tosses microagressions left and right.
The other elephant in the room is that Rob ignores the fact that Dream would only be a quarter Armenian due to Kris Jenner’s genes also being in the mix, but that’s not the issue the at hand. Of course, Rob should want his daughter to be proud of her Armenian roots, but there is a history of anti-black discrimination that biracial people have had to endure that makes his comments particularly offensive.
Race is a complex issue and for biracial people, particularly of black and white relationships, it can be even more complicated. Rights were denied to people of black and white ancestry during the Jim Crow era under the law of the One Drop Rule. This meant that having any black heritage defined a person as black, no matter how light their skin was or their ability to pass as white.
In fact, the US government came up with classifications for people of biracial ancestry to ensure the privilege of white citizens remained intact after slavery ended. Following the Civil War, census reports in the 1860s included the term "mulatto" for the first time as a catch-all for biracial people. After the 1890s, the terminology expanded to include quadroons and octoroons that denoted what fraction of black ancestry to assign an individual. The terms would fluctuate until the 1960s when people had the option to choose either black or white, but were told to choose the minority race if they identified as multiracial.
These labels, which are now considered both hurtful and archaic, were influential in oppressing black people and their mixed-race descendants. Also, the trauma of having to choose which race to identify with can affect the mental health of biracial people.
F. James Davis, author of Who Is Black? One Nation’s Definition, unpacks how the one-drop rule was used to enforce segregation. Davis says that people of known black lineage are blocked from assimilating the privileges of white people such as home ownership, unfettered voting rights or access to education.
“Barriers to full opportunity and participation for blacks are still formidable, and a fractionally black person cannot escape these obstacles without passing as white and cutting off all ties to the black family and community,” Davis writes.
Given the past of systemic oppression rooted in slavery and legalized discrimination, people of black and white ancestry often struggle with coming to terms with their racial identity. Which brings me back to Rob Kardashian and his refusal to respect Dream’s cultural identity as biracial and partly black.
Rob has to accept that his daughter is black. It’s just a fact. Sweeping her blackness under the rug isn’t an option.