The Phenomenon of Blackfishing
Recently, viral pictures of social media influencers accused of blackfishing—a word used to describe a modern-day blackface—have been circulating on different media platforms, specifically Twitter. Blackfishing, in simplest terms, refers to white women who noticeably alter their appearance to be perceived as black. This act is done by women who excessively tan and/or use makeup that is obviously not formulated for their actual skin tone to make them appear a lot darker.
The reality of influencers who are blackfishing is an extensive issue that has been brought to the surface through social media. Social media has been used as a gateway to openly discuss these issues that are deep-rooted well beyond the premise of influencers doing it for likes and sponsorships.
The acknowledgement of blackfishing seen on Instagram initially erupted when Toronto writer Wanna Thompson tweeted last November, “Can we start a thread and post all of the white girls cosplaying as black women on Instagram? Let’s air them out because this is ALARMING.” The tweet went viral, and many users admitted that they didn’t realize the magnitude of these occurrences.
Responses to the tweet consisted of compilations of side-by-side comparisons of older and newer pictures depicting the recognizable change in appearance—which also includes having black hairstyles, such as box braids—of various Instagram users with high following counts.
Emma Hallberg, a Swedish Instagram influencer, was named numerously in the Twitter thread and became the face of blackfishing in its early rise on media platforms. She has denied that her appearance is offensive, ignoring the outcry from black women, and told Buzzfeed that she does not “see myself as anything else than white.”
The conversation surrounding blackfishing sparked again when a video of Youtuber Amy Macedo doing a makeup tutorial with a foundation too dark for her skin tone went viral on Twitter. In the video, Macedo tried to downplay it by saying she wasn’t as tan as she usually is, but this didn’t help her case considering her tan was much darker than her actual skin color. This resulted in immense backlash online.
The dark complexion seen on these white influencers is only a glimpse into the disturbing phenomenon that is blackfishing. Its impact on black women is a facet that has been, in part, overlooked, but must be discussed.
Blackfishing is an act of cultural appropriation as white women are able to capitalize off the “exotic” look of non-white women while side-stepping the oppression that comes with being a person of color. Black women constantly face prejudice for being who they are—excluding the stereotypes surrounding them—and seeing white women exploit their culture is the equivalent of a slap in the face.
In an article published by Paper, Thompson analyzed blackfishing and the significance of what it entails.
“What makes this ‘phenomenon’ alarming is that these women have the luxury of selecting which aspects they want to emulate without fully dealing with the consequences of Blackness,” Thompson wrote. “In recent years, Instagram has become a breeding ground for white women who wish to capitalize off of impersonating racially ambiguous/black women for monetary and social gain.”
Colorism is an issue that is deep-rooted in society as a result of the continuous oppression of black women—specifically dark-skinned women—throughout history. Black women were once making their skin color lighter with makeup to be considered more attractive.
Times have changed.
Today, with black women finally accepting themselves, as well as the beauty industry now catering to their skin tone—shoutout to Fenty Beauty—these white women use their privilege to insert themselves into black culture in an obscene fashion. Blackfishing is part of a much larger picture, but acknowledging that it is a prevalent issue is necessary to educate those who may be unaware.