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Kim Kardashian’s advice on work is just another way of calling poor people lazy

OPINION: The reality show star’s views are just age-old class warfare where the rich scold the poor for not working hard enough with no clue about how difficult it is to become rich or how expensive it is to be poor.

Kim Kardashian went full Marie Antoinette when she said her best advice for women in business was to work hard. Wow, the thing separating us from her is work ethic? Really? This sort of upper-class snobbery—the rich scolding the poor for failing to become rich because they’re not trying hard enough—is a self-congratulating mechanism—I’m rich because I’ve worked hard—and it conveniently ignores the fact that in modern America, acquiring wealth often requires the help of a wealthy parent. 

Intergenerational mobility in modern America is very hard. We love the example of the person who invented something and rocketed upward financially, but very few people actually leap into a new class. Studies show most people end up in the class that their father was born into. A recent Georgetown study found, “To succeed in America, it’s better to be born rich than smart.” Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce and the lead author of the study said, “People with talent often don’t succeed. People with talent that come from disadvantaged households don’t do as well as people with very little talent from advantaged households.” 

Kardashian was born very wealthy—her late father Robert was a prominent L.A. attorney—and her rise to success was no doubt powered by the money her father left her—reportedly there was a $100 million trust fund for her and her siblings—giving her the leverage to become a prominent L.A. socialite, which gave her the leverage to create a TV show, which gave her the leverage to create a brand of undergarments that’s made her a billionaire. Surely, Kim has worked hard, but she probably hasn’t broken a sweat since Ray J while the people who actually make Skims, Kardashian’s clothing line, probably sweat every day in the shops in China and Turkey where they work. Kim’s wealthy because she had the financial leverage to build a brand. Most Americans don’t have enough financial security to know how they’ll get through the near future. This isn’t because they don’t work hard. 

The second part of Kim’s insane soliloquy included this gem that’s common among the clueless set—“It seems like nobody wants to work these days.” This is more age-old class warfare, the rich scolding the poor for not working hard enough with no clue about how hard it is to become rich or how expensive it is to be poor. But let’s assume or pretend that Kim was talking about the Great Resignation, this moment when millions of millennials and zoomers are quitting their jobs. I saw one tweet where someone said, “It’s giving shackled. I quit.” 

I don’t think millions have suddenly decided that working and having money isn’t for them. It’s that millions have suddenly decided to reject work that’s not meaningful to them. Flipping burgers or folding shirts for minimum wage is not going to cut it in a world where people don’t see those jobs as a stepping stone to anything of value. Many have left dead-end, soul-sucking jobs because the internet has made it easier than ever to reposition yourself in a job that’s more meaningful, and it’s introduced us to people who are pursuing their dreams, which has inspired us to do the same. But more than that, the Great Resignation is portending a potentially seismic shift in America.

The world that I grew up in—excuse me, the America that I grew up in, told us that life was about working. The way to get ahead was to work all the time. Puffy famously said, “sleeping was forbidden.” People bragged about how much they worked and how little they slept. My generation made movies and wrote books lionizing the captains of industry—the stars of Silicon Valley and Wall Street—people who transformed America while making giant fortunes and had no life outside of work. 

Kim Kardashian is absolutely part of that culture—she found a way to envelop her social life and family life into her work life so that there’s almost nothing separating the two. Her life is lived on camera, helping her make more money. I know the feeling. I usually work until 1 or 2 a.m. and sleep a few hours and wake up, work out, and get right back to it. I’m constantly thinking, what can I be working on? What project can I finish? What proposal can I dream up for my next big splash? If I take a break, I feel guilty. This is what I was taught. It was all I ever knew. My father was an accountant, and during tax season, from mid-January to late April, we barely ever saw him. That’s what I thought a father did; that’s what I thought an American worker did. But now younger millennials and zoomers are saying no, that’s not the only way to live.

For centuries, in Europe and in Africa, there has been a much healthier sense of work-life balance. People are supposed to do both. They’re supposed to have leisure time. They may leave work to go home and have lunch with their families. They may actually take a break on the weekends. This is part of what’s happening with the Great Resignation—people are demanding a much healthier work-life balance, and while this is a bit shocking to the older generation, it makes all the sense in the world. They’re not lazy. They understand that life should be about more than working all the time. Maybe one day Kim will figure that out.

Touré is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.

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