“My grandfather came to this country with nothing and ended up owning his own business.” Start talking about how white people have inherited the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, and as such are the sole beneficiaries and administrators of structural racism, and you can be assured a white person or 100 will respond with that statement or some other one-liner about how their success is attributable to hard work and not the color of their skin. Then another white person or 100 will launch a tirade about how they are poor despite being white, asserting that fact as indisputable proof that whiteness does not give one any nonforfeitable benefits.
White people are conditioned to view themselves as individuals only. Thus, they can ignore the network of privilege their race affords them. Now that network does not guarantee them financial success, however, it does ensure that they are not strapped with the burden of inaccessibility that follows those who are poor and Black. In fact, no white person can ever be the kind of poor that Black people are because even drowning in debt with no income and no other liquid assets, they cannot be stripped of the most recognizable and universally accepted currency: whiteness.
Success under capitalism and whiteness are intrinsically linked. No, that does not mean all white people are successful under the system, nor does it mean that Black and other non-white people cannot be successful capitalists. It means that not only have white people spent four centuries at the helm of capitalism and white supremacy, gatekeeping resources, developing networks – networks which are minimally most favorable to its white members and at most purposely and explicitly exclusionary to non-white but especially Black people – essential to receiving favorable rates on and access to shipping, inventory, marketing, legal representation, patents, real estate, lobbying and all other services required to successfully run a business, but that capitalism was created to and continues to function to ensure that those most easily able to live the “rags to riches” American dream are white.
So even if her family’s money and fame hand’t provided her all the financial resources and connections she needed, Kylie Jenner could never be a “self-made” billionaire. Even without a mother who was willing to allow her to and pay for her to undergo various cosmetic surgeries and procedures before turning 18 in order create the look that would make her a credible face to sell makeup, she would still have started ahead of Black women whose aesthetic she and her sisters attempt to copy. Let’s say she wasn’t born into money and didn’t have a family who got famous by being famous, she would still be white and accordingly already standing rungs above Black women on the ladder of success. And it is most noteworthy that Kylie Jenner’s has made a fortune in the beauty industry, which centers and exalts white women as the standard of beauty, therefore, her whiteness is not only responsible for her access to financial capital, but her access to this racial capital puts her in a position to be viewed as an expert, a rightful and righteous guru in the beauty industry.
Moreover, a significant part of maintaining the racist networks that prop up white folks is pretending that those able to amass fortunes in business did so based solely on merit. This is why Forbes magazine published an article lauding 21-year-old Kylie Jenner as the “youngest self-made billionaire,” just 14 months after posting an article titled “Why Minorities Have So Much Trouble Accessing Small Business Loans.” Perhaps the posturing and brainwashing has gone on so long that white people now honestly believe that a white girl born into fame and money who had the capital to start a business on her own before she was legally able to drink actually is self-made, but believing something does not make it fact.
“Marketing is done mostly through social media, where Jenner has a massive following. She announces product launches, previews new items and announces the Kylie Cosmetics shades she’s wearing directly to the 175 million-plus who follow her across Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.” And how does one amass a following in the hundreds of millions without doing anything to be famous?
She wasn’t a Disney star. She didn’t put out albums. She gained hundreds of millions of followers by doing nothing more than being associated with a white family who capitalized on Black culture. Yet, that’s hardly the most tone-deaf part of Forbes labeling Jenner self-made since last January, Forbes noted that minority business owners are much less likely to receive a small business loan and attributed this to three factors: lower net worth, opening businesses in less than optimal locations and poor or little credit history.
“Wealth levels for Latinos and African-Americans are reportedly 11 to 16 times lower than for whites.” The article goes on to state that white business owners typically a start business with more than three times the capital Black business owners have when starting a business. Logically, banks are “biased against applicants with less money to spare.”
Now from a numbers prospective, one could argue that banks are in business solely to make money, so it would make sense and does not demonstrate any racial bias that they would deny the loans of those they believe cannot pay back loans. But that myopic assessment ignores, maliciously and intentionally, that systemic racism in employment and housing leads to Black people being significantly less likely to be gainfully employed, results in those of us who are employed being paid less across gender lines, that insecurity in employment inescapably contributes to our collective inability to earn or maintain solid credit, and makes it increasingly difficult to obtain mortgages that would allow us to own a home which is a crucial tool in building wealth.
“A great deal of minority-owned businesses are located in poorer, urbanized communities. Research from the Small Business Administration suggests that the location of a business plays a bigger role in the approval of a loan than the ethnicity of the business owner.” On a surface level, that declaration holds water, but when we factor in the fact that Black and other non-white people are more likely to live in poorer areas in the inner city and consequently more likely to open businesses that serve those communities, then we must admit that the racial bias is inherent.
And while these factors would seem irrelevant to Kylie’s success since her and her family’s money and access meant she did not require a small business loan to begin her company, she was able to secure the money and access because of her whiteness and inclusion into a white family that has mastered wielding whiteness. Essentially the same whiteness that allowed the Karadashian/Jenner clan to become wealthy in the first place makes it easier for non-famous whites of modest income to receive the cash they need to start businesses that can grow into empires. Neither a white person born into money and fame nor a white person born into poverty who works hard to build a business is self-made.
White people can never truly start from nothing because whiteness is always something. It’s less about working for it than it is about having the sense to grab what’s already set up for you. Hard work and whiteness make for the most foolproof combination for success. “Self-made” and white are antonymous because the “self” is already partially made.
Calling a white person self-made is like calling a person a good cook because they didn’t burn a frozen dinner. All of the hard work of preparing the food and building the stove has been done. When you’re white, all you have to do is watch the oven.