The term blackfishing is no stranger to most in the Black community. It’s something that has caused great discord in the Twittersphere, and sidenote, it’s probably much more prominent on your Instagram feed than you’d think.
If this is the first time you’re hearing about it. Blackfishing is the act of using artificial tanning, make-up, filtering or even medical procedures to manipulate one’s appearance in order to appear of Black African heritage. This newly-coined term was popularised via Twitter thread where freelance journalist Wanna Thompson shared her frustrations with the array of Caucasian women using the Black Race as a costume that they can put on and take off, as and when, after posing for yet another Instagram selfie. “White girls cosplaying as black women on Instagram? Let’s air them out because this is ALARMING,” says Thompson.
Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Rita Ora and Ariana Grande have all been accused of blackfishing and using facial and bodily characteristics from Black Women that are only appreciated if they’re not on Black Women, for monetary value and personal gain.
Although celebrities have popularised this social media trend, some of the most notorious cases of Blackfishing have actually come from women who have claimed to advance the Black community with their privilege. In fact, you might have heard of Rachel Dolezal. A former NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) chapter president, born a white woman, who identified as a Black and deceived those around her for decades, in order to climb the ranks in the social justice community. There is a whole Netflix documentary, ‘The Rachel Divide’, based on her and her ‘transracial’ experience.
The newest person to join the class of racial deceit is Jessica Krug, an associate professor at George Washington University, who in a post published this week on content platform Medium, confessed to living her life based on “a violent anti-black lie.” After many years of identifying as a Black woman, receiving financial aid from cultural institutions and taking positions of leadership designed to amplify Black voices, she revealed she was in fact a white Jewish woman.
“For the better part of my adult life, every move I’ve made, every relationship I’ve formed, has been rooted in the napalm toxic soil of lies,” she admitted. “Over my adult life, I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim.”
The ramifications of Krug’s acts are evident. It is clear that she stood to gain by assimilating this new-found heritage, all while taking opportunities from those who truly have no choice in disassociating from their race. Allyship is undeniably necessary. Celebrating us, the things we create, our excellence, our style, our culture and supporting us with our social issues and the overall picture within systemic racism is important, but to rip the ‘coolness’ of what you see in us and pass it off as your own for sole personal gain is another thing entirely.
Granted, this is an extreme case, but not as rare as you’d think. Many Caucasian women still don’t seem to understand the ramifications of Blackfishing. Why is that so bad you ask? This is because having your entire identity built on looking racially ambiguous due to your euro-centric features and striking faux dark skin is extremely damaging to the work Blacks have put in to dismantle racial stereotypes that have hindered our advancement in this modern day society. Caucasian women who appear to be posing as black don’t seem to know nor do they acknowledge the struggle that black women go through just to be accepted as who they are. The privilege that comes with monetising something that hasn’t always been celebrated within other communities is unethical in itself.
In fact Blackfishing is often linked to Black face and Xenocentrism (which is defined as an all-encompassing preference for the people, style, culture, and food of others, etc… rather than of one’s own). As with Blackface and xenocentrism, Black fishing is dehumanising, because it fails to credit group members with their individuality.
If you’re starting to get confused by all the terms, one of the differences between Blackface and Blackfishing is that the presence of Blackfishing might not seem so apparent or obvious at first. Blackface is associated with overtly racist acts of people who used to mock those of darker complexion and therefore it has more derogatory historical connotations.
In times where ‘the good Black’ is measured by the shade of one’s complexion, (unfortunately the lighter than a brown paper bag privilege was not left in the 1900s and colourism has caused major implosion and divisiveness within the black community itself), having someone Black passing as being a more palatable way of accepting Blackness, means that cannot excuse Blackfishing as acceptable. The obsession of Blackness and Black Culture without Black people is the real issue.
We will always be two steps behind if everything we have to bring to the table is ripped from us. I truly believe that there will come a day where we all agree that Blackness is not a closed cultural trope, it’s real life and on that day, we will be one step closer to dismantling racial oppression in our societies.