There are a slew of words that are misused, or fail to grasp the full significance or meaning of a word. Such is the case with “self-made”. The word self-made describes a person who successfully builds their wealth or business through their own efforts.
Calling Kylie Jenner the “youngest self-made millionaire” is a misnomer. But going further, it’s also a misnomer to label white people “self-made” in general. This word is being used to make white people believe they’ve faced incredible odds and somehow overcame insurmountable obstacles which is rarely the case.
Keeping Up With The Lie
Maybe because of the sales that a Kardashian/Jenner name brings, Forbes decided to inaccurately give Kylie the “self-made” title to cash in. Or maybe Forbes is just desperate to have an American wear the crown as their last “winner” was Mark Zuckerberg.
However, Kylie’s success did not come solely from herself, but from the wealth and infamy of her family which came via Kim Kardashian West’s sex tape. None of them were a household name before then. And fame before launching a brand, especially in today’s ‘stan’ culture, ensures sales.
Kylie, and her family, did not make something from nothing. They cashed in on scandal and continue to do that with the Jordyn/Khloe/Tristan drama.
Theirs is not a “started from the bottom now we here” story and it’s disingenuous to portray any of them in this light. Labeling her successful in her business venture is fine but classifying her as “self-made” is not only incorrect but an insult to people who actually do build their way up without family, connections or money and one other thing…
White Privilege Or Self-Made, Never Both
Another aspect that is important to consider is that white privilege plays a role.
White people hate hearing this, but your successes, no matter how much you would like them to be solely your own, would not be as easily achieved without the system of white privilege that helps maintain white people’s elevated status.
Does that mean you didn’t work hard for your achievements? No.
It does mean that you alone did not earn them.
White people have made money and held doors open for other white people to reach elevated socio-economic statuses for generations off the horrors of slavery and the continued subjugation of Black people and other minorities. Even today, doors are routinely shut when they see a minority on the doorstep.
From the education system which is still largely segregated, minority students are routinely given subpar education and often suspended and expelled at a higher rates next to their white peers for the same infractions.
Minorities are often given mediocre healthcare and their statements of pain are often disregarded to the detriment of their health and often times their lives. There’s a reason Black women die giving birth at almost three times the rate of white mothers.
Racial profiling and mass incarceration exist so that, minorities can be locked into another form of slavery — working for free to create products for companies to profit from. And when they leave the physical concrete cells they are still imprisoned in a subhuman status losing their rights as a citizen.
It’s not the white people are never arrested, never given mediocre healthcare or never disciplined at school. But they are not given this treatment, by the system, for being white.
So how can a person be “self-made”, when the societal, judicial and governmental systems are there for their benefit?
Part of the challenge of dismantling racism and white privilege/supremacy stems from the fact that white people don’t want to admit these hard truths.
White supremacy and privilege isn’t just what happens to Black people and other minorities. It’s what’s given to you. The opportunities to live as a person without being hyperaware of your race and where you are at all times. This is the crux of what minorities miss out on. The ability to exist as a human being. We can’t “let race go” or “stop talking about it” because — from transit to stores to hospitals to work to the streets — we are reminded of it.
For a person of color, despite a system built to oppress them, achieving any degree of success — that’s self-made.