Alice Marie Johnson, who was pardoned by President Trump this week after relentless activism by Kim Kardashian, should not have been in prison. Like millions of disenfranchised Americans who committed low-level drug crimes, as part of a generation-long failed effort to discourage drug use. Kim Kardashian leveraged her wealth and power to achieve justice for Alice—a worthy cause, no doubt. But there are millions of people of color in the same boat (and by boat, I mean prison). Alice is free. They are not.
Ninety-nine point nine percent of the people behind bars for low-level drug crimes don't become the subject of viral videos. is in prison right now, and are considered no threat to public safety, according to a TIME investigation. Kim Kardashian made Alice the face of this issue, but unless Kim uses her own privilege to help everybody else in Alice's position, she has made little credible change.
Don't get me wrong: Kim Kardashian was courageous and persistent in her efforts to free Alice. Not only did she rescue Alice from the clutches of a flawed criminal justice system, she also brought awareness to an issue not well-understood by many Americans. Alice deserved to be released long ago, and Kim deserves credit for making that happen.
But this is a victory for Alice alone, not the cause as a whole. Kim's official statement on Alice's release only gave a passing nod to the hundreds of thousands in her position:
The risk is that Kim, and the rest of us, will consider this a victory and move on. Kim understands that her own privilege enables her to right wrongs—but if she hand-picks the subjects of her privilege without investing her considerable resources in the people whose stories she will never hear about, then Kim IS part of the problem.
It's worth mentioning the Donda's House debacle here. When Kanye West's mother, Donda West, passed away unexpectedly in 2007, Kanye co-founded a charity designed to mentor underprivileged young people (the very population, in fact, at risk of in Alice's situation). Last week, after Kanye was accused by his ex-friend Rhymefest of no longer being involved in Donda's House, Kim leapt to her husband's defense. "You better believe I will make it my mission to take Donda’s House from you and let my children run it the way it should be run!" she
Kim probably meant that the charity in Donda's name should be run by Donda's grandchildren, but the degree of her privilege is striking. When Kim threatens to "take from you" a charity, you better believe that Kim is able to—the woman is worth $175 million. When Kim swears she'll hand her children the reins of an organization, it stings of nepotism: Kim's kids, after all, have grown up with privilege and can't understand what Rhymefest and Kanye experienced in Chicago that led them to start Donda's House. If Kim uses her power to gain ownership of a charity and ultimately put it in the hands of people who have limited understanding of the community it intends to serve, she'll have once again become part of the problem: Ensuring our structures and institutions continue to be managed by the powerful and privileged.
But also of note is Kim's follow-up tweet about Alice's release, which suggests she has some understanding of this.
It's anyone's guess what's next for Kim. This much is clear: Whether your privilege comes down to whiteness, wealth, influence, being able-bodied, or something else entirely, there are responsible and irresponsible ways to use it. You shouldn't cherry-pick one person to save if the issue is systemic. You cannot advocate for certain victims and bypass others.
If you don't do that, you're doing nothing to change the power structures that you purport to fight.