Social Media

What is ‘Blackfishing’ and How Do We Get Rid of It?

It’s scary to think that a race that once tried to get rid of another’s culture is now taking that culture as their own. All over social media, the insulting trend of “blackfishing” is taking its toll.

The term was first coined after social media users were exposed as being black or taking on features of a black person. This includes, but is not limited to, fuller lips, curvier hips, and hairstyles often associated with African-Americans. These Instagram stars were called into the spotlight when writer Wanna Thompson took to Twitter to post a shocking thread.

The thread goes on to expose multiple white and fair-skinned women on Instagram who have posed or acted black. Most acts were believable, making them more offensive when their followers found out. The question for these models then becomes, when does appreciation turn into appropriation?

This trend first garnered major attention last year, when Instagram beauty vlogger Jaiden Gumbayan was accused of using blackface in her pictures and posing as African-American. In one tweet, her skin was noticeably darker than usual, which caught the attention of suspicious social media users.

Gumbayan was born Filipino and white, which somewhat accounted for why her skin was dark, but it didn’t make up for the fact that she was allegedly using blackface to darken it even further. The main problem with blackface, unfortunately, is that people don’t understand that it comes across as racist, in almost any use of the product. Gumbayan apologized for “perpetuating a culture of appropriation” after the accusations surfaced, but this incident was only the beginning to a growing epidemic.

Incidents of blackfishing continued into this year, with Emma Hallberg, a 19-year-old from Sweden, being one of the biggest examples. In her pictures, she looks like a light-skinned young black woman, so followers were shocked to find out about her Swedish background when a picture of her with fair skin surfaced on Instagram.

Image Credit: Instagram

It’s easy to assume that this could be from natural tanning and a bit of makeup, but the problem lies in the promotion of her account. Hallberg was featured on multiple pages promoting black women, only increasing the public’s belief that she was African-American. Twitter users replied to her exposure in complete and utter surprise.

Hallberg then went on to explain herself. “Yes, I’m white,” she admitted, “and I’ve never claimed to be anything else. And by no way, there are no ‘before’ pictures, the pictures that have been spread are just two diefferent [sic] pictures taken on two different seasons of the year.” However, the majority of people following her story were unable to accept her reasoning. In all actuality, if she noticed herself being featured on pages promoting black people, she could have spoken up then, however, she kept up the act.

In another incident, 20-year-old Aga “Alicja” Brzostowska of University of Birmingham was accused of blackfishing. A side-by-side before-and-after picture surfaced on Instagram and sparked a heated debate about her background.

Images of Miss Brzostowska now have been contrasted with one of her as a 13-year-old from her Instagram account as 'proof' she was blackfishing

Image Credit: Instagram

The photo on the right shows 13-year-old Brzostowska with straighter hair and lighter skin. On the left, she’s shown after a vacation with a curvier body and darker skin. While she explained that she does have darker than normal skin for being of Polish descent, she also admitted to using makeup darker than her skin tone. That right there is the problem that Instagram users found with Brzostowska, and that’s why she’s even facing death threats.

These few cases illustrate the disrespect that is blackfishing. In all of this, it’s important to consider the fine line between appreciation and appropriation. Where appreciation comes in the form of understanding ones’ culture and wearing it out of respect, appropriation is viewed as taking one’s culture without understanding the enormity of it. Where yes, one could argue that these individuals – and many more – were simply appreciating black culture, that doesn’t line up with how African-Americans have been treated in the past and how blatantly obvious these women have taken their culture halfheartedly.

There are many ways in which we could end blackfishing, starting with the social media platforms themselves. For every blackfish scandal, social media platforms should perform thorough investigations, and determine whether or not allegations are true. If they are, their accounts should be shut down with no hesitation. Additionally, speaking up makes a difference. For instance, all of these scandals took place by massive amounts of people calling out these racist actions. The change ultimately starts with us.

Photo via Instagram

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