"Blackfishing" in the Influencer Community Discredits and Commodifies Black Women
Sun, April 18, 2021

"Blackfishing" in the Influencer Community Discredits and Commodifies Black Women

White people who pose as black people such as making their skin darker, having cornrows and afros, and put up dark makeup is called blackfishing. / Photo credits by Sabina Ablizina via 123rf



Have you heard of blackfishing? According to Diyora Shadijabnova of youth news site The Tab, blackfishing refers to an act commonly perpetrated by white women to appear like they are of African or Arab ancestry. To some, blackfishing is the modern version of blackface or brownface, as it capitalizes on the “exotic” appearance of “historically oppressed minorities.” 

Alisha Gaines, associate professor of English at Florida State University and author of “Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy,” highlighted the differences between blackfishing and blackface, wrote Quinn Gawronski of American broadcast television NBC News. The latter “was intended to degrade and humiliate,” while the former emphasizes on “racial impersonation and cultural appropriation.” 


Cases of Blackfishing in the Influencer Community

For example, there is 19-year-old makeup artist Chloe Wilson, who is tagged as one of social media’s blackfishers. The influencer, who has 296,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook, was accused of posing as a black individual by making her skin darker. One critic said, “Tanning to that extent appears as mockery and a form of racism.”

Describing the accusations as “cruel,” Wilson argued that she just likes to use tanning beds.

However, she is not the first influencer to make such claims. In 2018, 19-year-old Emma Halberg, a Swedish Instagram model, who amassed nearly 270,000 followers, was accused of cultural appropriation by social media users. They picked up on Halberg’s extreme tanning, dark makeup, and hair braids, asserting that the model was “pretending to be black” in her photos and videos. 



Black women initially thought she was black or of mixed race, reported Tanya Chen of American internet and media company Buzzfeed News. They felt deceived by how the influencer presented herself in her posts. An older photo of the teenager was circulated on Instagram, proving that she had a lighter complexion previously. Other users slammed Halberg for not correcting the accounts that had “celebrated and identified her as a black woman” after her selfies were reposted. Some stated that the teen literally painted on a different complexion whenever she put on makeup or intentionally darkened her skin. Her case sparked conversations on whether her act was considered as blackface. 

Unsurprisingly, Halberg strongly denied the users’ claims and said she doesn’t use self-tanners or spray tans. She never “claimed or tried to be black or anything else.” In fact, Halberg identified herself as white, adding that she got a “deep tan naturally from the Sun.” Citing her 2017 posts, the teen explained she has the “same tan” as the present. 

Of course, people did not believe Halberg’s defense. Others sided with the Instagram model, saying that she presented her authentic self on social media. Halberg herself was confused and distressed with the criticisms she received, as she just wanted to show her passion for makeup and fashion. 


Criticisms Against Blackfishing 

Wanna Thompson, 27, informed Buzzfeed News that she noticed the blackfish trend on Instagram years ago. Since then, blackfishing has been widely used to describe similar cases and its effects on the community by promoting blackness as a commodity. In her article on Paper, an independent magazine, Thompson mentioned that Instagram has been a breeding ground for white women to impersonate “racially ambiguous/Black women” for social and monetary gain. For her, white women treat the features of black women like a costume, such as having dark tans and lip fillers or manipulating their hair’s texture. 



Hence, these features dictate fashion and beauty norms and trends on social media, erasing the contributions of black women. This means that black women’s styles were co-opted by white women. Sadly, even celebrities embrace this trend. As noted by black Instagram influencer Jessamyn Stanley, the Kardashians normalized racial impersonation by sporting box braids, cornrows, or laid edges, hairstyles associated with the black community.

Black Instagram influencer and sexuality educator Ericka Hart argued, “How popular the Kardashians are speaks volumes and can’t be overlooked. They have been able to capitalize off black bodies, and people will want to emulate that.” As celebrities masquerade as black women, the trend will be adopted by influencers, which for them will yield tremendous success. 


Not Giving Due Credit to Black Women


Being black will never be a costume as this may appear to be a form of racism and mockery to their ethnicity. / Photo credits by Igor Golubov via 123rf


What’s so harmful about blackfishing? Frankly, black women need to “work twice as hard to obtain the same” or fewer benefits than white women. It’s infuriating when the latter are given brand sponsorships and partnerships while posing as a racially ambiguous influencer. 

Hart commented, “You gain a lot of followers from people who think you’re somebody who you’re not. People look up to you in a myriad of ways you might not even realize, and you’ve just been lying to them.” Janel Martinez of American women’s magazine Bustle remarked that non-white women alter themselves and their style without crediting black women or being their ally. 

She said, “Being black when convenient is not an experience afforded to black women.” Sadly, society labeled them as “moving targets” even if they have created safe spaces for self-love. Remember, being black is not a costume, yet people profit from pretending to be someone else they’re not online.