The term blackfishing is relatively new, but many believe the concept isn’t. The uptick in white women using makeup and tanning to darken their skin is believed to be a modern-day form of blackface. Whether the goal is to appear to have darker skin or black ancestry, imitating the black appearance has become quite the phenomenon.
There is a host of reasons why someone would want to look black – rich skin tones, melanin, full lips, curves – but imitation is not always the highest form of flattery. It’s disheartening to be seen as merely a trend. Who’s to say that in two, five, or ten years, the trend won’t change? At which point those who now mock our beauty in admiration may then dismiss or discredit it in adaptation.
The saddest of these truths, however, is that the motive for blackfishing might be attributable to less-than-worthy benefits: money. With more businesses wanting diversity in the representation of their brands, there’s a growing need for women of color to be brand ambassadors and influencers in the social space. That said, black women are gaining more opportunities to grow their profit and popularity (followers) online.
This news could be music to the ears of someone who can pass as black. Take Emma Hallberg for example, a white female who was recently accused of blackfishing.
In a comparison photo of her with and without makeup, the complexion of her skin varies significantly. The social sphere, black women especially, felt misled to believe she was black, believing that as a result, Hallberg was able to grow her following on Instagram to more than 280,000.
Regardless of Hallberg’s reasoning, to change the natural color of your skin so drastically is concerning and off-putting. Sure, it's a woman’s prerogative to change her look, but we can’t negate the implications of those actions. From the outside looking in, her actions not only imply that she wants to look or be black, but they also imply deceit. It appears to be pretending you are something you are not. It appears to be cultural appropriation.
It could be seen as wanting our rhythm, but not our blues. Wanting to share in our beauty, but not our pain.
At the end of the night, black women cannot wash off their complexions. When it’s time for an interview or promotion, they cannot hide who they truly are. And when trends change, as they do, they’ll still have the same features.
Now let’s look at blackfishing from another angle, that of self-love. Blackfishing, whether done intentionally or not, perpetuates the idea that one race’s beauty is superior to another’s. It also furthers the notion that it's okay not to accept natural beauty from all races, or better yet, from oneself.
It’s interesting that Hallberg told BuzzFeed News she doesn’t see herself as anything other than white. So many questions can arise from that comment as it pertains to self-love. What does she see wrong with her natural skin tone? Does she see herself as white even when her appearance may suggest otherwise? Does she see herself as white only when it’s convenient for her, and then black when it’s convenient for her? Or does she see her darker skin tone as merely an accessory… which could completely devalue and offend black culture.
There are many layers to this. As individuals, we all have the right to express ourselves how we wish. But when we step outside our homes or post selfies online, we must also consider and own the implications of our choices – especially to those we closely resemble.