On May seventeenth, Kendall Jenner took to her Instagram to advertise that her tequila brand called 818 will soon be available for purchase in California with several pictures of herself in an unspecified location somewhere in Mexico. Jenner is dressed up in what can only be described as a caricature of a Mexican person designed by a racist cartoon from 1964, and riding a horse through a perfectly scenic rural area. Accompanied in these photos are several Mexican farmers, seemingly used as props for Jenner’s attempt at authenticity.
Ironically, the caption of the photo reads “what an incredible experience i have had thus far, learning about this beautiful place, it’s beautiful culture, and the beautiful people!” This series of photos was met with so much backlash from the public that Jenner had to have her comments disabled on the post, however, it is still up as I’m writing this.
The Kardashian-Jenner family is not new to cultural insensitivity and appropriation—sometimes it feels like they invented it—and Kendall herself has been in turmoil in the past for several extremely offensive incidents of cultural appropriation and just being an overall menace to people of color for a paycheck.
Most famously, in 2017 during continuous (and still ongoing) civil rights protests against police brutality exhibited disproportionately toward black people, Kendall Jenner starred in a commercial with Pepsi where she unites the police force and protesters with a can of refreshing Pepsi. The commercial was extremely poorly received by audiences and was dubbed one of the most tone-deaf attempts of a huge celebrity and a company trying to relate to the struggles of the masses. Kendall eventually apologized on her family’s reality television show, where she sat in tears claiming ignorance saying “I would’ve never done something like this, but you don’t know at the moment.” This is usually the defense that The Kardashian-Jenner clan uses when they do something horrifically insensitive: “I didn’t know, so it’s not my fault!” but the excuse gets more and more tired the more often they resort to using it.
Although collectively most of us are tired of the complete disregard for other human beings in the name of money, and the lazy apology that follows quickly after, it’s important that we regular-folk use the Kardashian-Jenner’s insensitive actions to educate ourselves and each other, and to start a discussion. So, why are people upset about Kendall Jenner’s tequila photoshoot? Why is it insensitive? This is why.
Tequila and its Cultural Significance
Tequila is very significant in Mexican culture and has been since the time of the Aztecs. Although it’s taken many forms over thousands of years, essentially tequila is harvested from the blue agave plant, and fermented. The blue agave is loaded with natural sugars and is native to Mexico, making it significant to Mexican culture since indigenous Mexican people used it to make alcohol.
According to liquor.com Mexico’s history is rich with tequila for celebration, commerce, and pride in their native land, and the ancient Aztecs actually had Gods of liquor who were said to drink and provide tequila.
In 1974, tequila became the legal intellectual property of Mexico, and thus must be made in specific parts of the country and nowhere else; this makes Tequila even more special and intimate to Mexico and its people.
Tequila was created by Mexico’s indigenous people, held tradition in religious and cultural ceremonies for centuries, and has settled into a drink with a specific significance to Mexico who now owns the drink as intellectual property, so why is Kendall Jenner making tequila? Kendall Jenner may like the taste of tequila but that doesn’t make her associated with or an expert on tequila and the surrounding culture. As a disgustingly rich white woman who has no heritage or ties to Mexico, she’s using the culture and traditions that were made on the backs of people of color to expand her empire and her wealth. Even without these images on her Instagram, the fact that she thinks she has the right and the authority to start a tequila brand is laughable and extremely disrespectful.
The Stereotypes Exhibited
As I had touched on in the beginning, we see several stereotypes about Mexico and its culture depicted in these images, including Kendall herself dressed up as if she was trying to fit into a caricature of Mexico by dressing how she assumes Mexican people dress.
I understand that it’s hot in Mexico, especially in rural fields with little to no shade so she would be most comfortable in cotton, and light, flowy garbs, but she’s not dressed how she normally dresses in the United States when it’s hot, she’s dressed in very stereotypical clothing that someone would perhaps think to see on a stereotype of a working-class Mexican immigrant. She’s wearing tough denim jeans, a ribbed undershirt, and a colorful striped cotton work shirt that—even though I’m sure she wore it just for this photoshoot—looks very much worked in and lived in.
Quite often when you see depictions in media of lower-class or working-class Mexican people, this is how they’re dressed, and for Kendall who is a multimillionaire and a white woman to wear these almost comically stereotypical clothes to try to appropriate the culture of the salt-of-the-earth expert tequila makers in Mexico is absolutely ridiculous, and it makes her look even phonier than if she were to have just worn one of her pairs of $10,000 shoes to rural Mexico.
Mexico’s People and Culture as Props
I think these images—as all advertisements and influencer’s posts are meant to do—are trying to convey a very specific, very carefully planned message. In this case, Kendall Jenner and her marketing team are trying to sell the American public her brand of tequila by painting Kendall as someone whose qualities align with that of the Mexican tequila makers. They want her to seem hardworking, strong, expert, and tough, (when she truly is none of these things) and they’re trying to achieve this image by putting her amidst the Mexican culture, people, and landscapes that evoke those kinds of assumptions from the viewer—it didn’t work.
The intention of the images was to put Kendall among authenticity to make her synonymous with the other things—the beautiful fields, the workers, the tequila—essentially using Mexico and its culture as props. I think people saw right through this, and instead, it just made Kendall look like a white woman enjoying and observing working-class POC culture from a place of privilege and not understanding nor being affected by the culture, the politics, and the negative aspects of these people’s lives. She’s observing her means of production from afar, as people much smarter, stronger, and poorer than her actually do the work; then she has the audacity to post these people and their country, and their culture on her social media to expand her wealth and to try to trick her viewers.
If these images and the ads that will follow with Kendall Jenner and her tequila brand are in any way indicative of how her tequila is going to be, I think it’s safe to assume that her tequila-like Kendall’s brand—will be inauthentic, cheap, tasteless, and built on the labor of working-class people of color who are most-likely severely underpaid.
If I could leave you with anything it would be to please just don’t buy this fucking tequila, this is just yet another fleeting incident of the Kardashian-Jenners trying to make a quick and disingenuous buck off of poor people, and people of color who they really couldn’t care less about.