Amid the conversations around Black Lives Matter and the unique issues facing Black and brown Americans, one topic that’s resurfaced is blackfishing.
Blackfishing is the appropriation of Black features or a “Black aesthetic” to achieve a certain look. While it’s very similar to cultural appropriation, blackfishing is the act of someone overbronzing their skin, overlining their lips or using a wig that mimics Black features and hair. While this may appear as a seemingly innocent or less important concept, it’s actually a prominent issue in pop culture.
One of the most referenced examples of blackfishing is Kim Kardashian’s December 2019 cover on 7Hollywood magazine. The reality star posed with incredibly bronzed skin and an afro-esque wig. Upon its debut, she was accused of cultural appropriation, but as the conversation progressed, it later was labeled as blackfishing. The A-lister chose to sport an aesthetic, skin color and hairstyle that is different from her day-to-day look, and instead mimicked the features of a Black woman. Twitter user Wanna Thompson likened the phenomenon to “cosplaying as black women on Instagram." Influencer Emma Halberg also came under fire in 2018 after followers discovered her progressive skin journey in getting darker and darker.
Many people find the recent trend that’s surfaced among influencers and celebrities offensive because it borders on blackface, which has a painful history that includes white people painting their faces to mock Black people and serve as a form of entertainment in minstrel shows. “They put themselves out there and have all of these followers thinking they’re someone that they’re not,” Alisha Gaines, an associate professor of English at Florida State University told NBC News. Another qualm many people of color have with this trend is the fact that these celebrities and influencers essentially profit from this aesthetic and can wipe these features off at the end of the day, without having to endure many of the harsh realities Black and brown people face because of the color of their skin.
Much of it seems to stem from the desire to achieve an “exotic” aesthetic. The overarching issue with this movement is appearing more tan or exotic may be a desirable look for a photo shoot or magazine cover, but it takes one more job away from someone that naturally has these features and brings us farther from celebrating diversity.