When it comes to activism, a lot of people talk the talk but far fewer walk the walk. But Kim Kardashian West, a reality star turned business mogul and now a budding lawyer, is putting in the work to make real change when it comes to criminal justice reform.
And while many have mocked her efforts — because that seems to be society’s favourite social pastime — I commend the remarkable work she’s done and her savvy for getting people engaged.
Case in point. This week, Kardashian West released the trailer for her new documentary Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project, which premieres April 5 on Oxygen. Centred on the United States criminal justice system, the two-hour documentary follows the attorney-in-the-making as she attempts to “secure freedom for Americans who she believes have been wronged by the justice system,” including Dawn Jackson, Alexis Martin, Momolu Stewart and David Sheppard.
Since she posted the trailer on her Instagram and Twitter profiles five days ago, it has been viewed a combined total of over nine million times.
In contrast, the video posted on Oxygen’s YouTube page has just over 40,000 views — which is still impressive, but clearly Kardashian West has a much larger captive audience. As a businesswoman, she has used it to sell everything from makeup to fragrance to shapewear. She certainly knows how to sell the good life, and now she’s selling good policy, too.
But this endeavour doesn’t seem to be about fame or publicity. It feels much more personal. Her motivation for helping fix a broken justice system is moving to hear: she is a mother raising four Black children who could face the same situations as many of the people she is helping.
And she is handling the “haters” incredibly well.
“It can be exhausting, frustrating, but I know that we can make a difference, and so all the criticism in the world will not deter me from what I want to do,” Kardashian West told reporters at the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif., earlier this month.
“I literally do this every single day and spend time away from my work, everything else, my family, because once you get so deep into the system … you just can’t give up.”
I will be the first to admit, I am one of those people who used to roll my eyes every time I saw a “Kardashian clickbait” headline. But my biggest gripe with the KarJenner clan had always been that they had such an enormous megaphone, why on earth weren’t they using it for something meaningful to shape all those young minds?
And now Kardashian West is doing just that. Yet so many still have so much negativity to spew at her about it.
This gives me pause. Maybe the problem isn’t the Kardashians at all. Maybe the problem is society. Because what does it say about us as a society when we are so fascinated with outer beauty, the surface, the drama, the dragging through the mud … but we have such a difficult time acknowledging when good work is being done? That isn’t a reflection on the Kardashians, that’s a reflection on all of us.
“You have some celebrities who just kind of want to know the high-level talking points,” Jessica Jackson, one of the several lawyers working with Kardashian West on prison reform, told Elle in May 2019. “Kim actually really wanted to understand the strategy and understand the content and understand the reforms that were needed and why the system was that way.”
Last April, Kardashian West announced that she is studying to take the bar exam in 2022 so she can do the work herself and practise law after her four-year apprenticeship. This is no easy feat. It requires a minimum of 18 hours a week and monthly tests.
“For anyone assuming this is the easy way out, it’s not. My weekends are spent away from my kids while I read and study. I work all day, put my kids to bed and spend my nights studying,” she shared on Instagram.
And over this period of time, she was quietly also working with several lawyers and helped free 17 more inmates.
For Kardashian West, it started with social media. In 2018 she saw a story on Twitter about prisoner Alice Marie Johnson. She didn’t just retweet it. She then made it her mission to help the first-time nonviolent drug offender who was sentenced to life. She was able to help convince President Donald Trump to grant Johnson clemency.
Johnson was released after serving 21 years in prison. She didn’t do it alone, but Kardashian West had a big role in changing that woman’s life.
So much of social media is focused on cancel culture, negative narratives and attacks. Perhaps we could take a page from Kardashian West’s social acumen. Let’s commend good work and also step up ourselves for causes we care about, going beyond a retweet and puting our words into action.