A Closer Look at Blackfishing

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Blackfishing is a term created to describe non-black people adopting ethnic features, including tan skin, hairstyles, fashion, and other traits, that come from black people for personal gain. Most commonly, blackfishing is seen via celebrities or online presences with social media posts to gain popularity for such features. However, blackfishing is not exclusive to social media and can be harmful in many different circumstances. 

Many people have accused celebrities, including Iggy Azalea, Kim Kardashian, and Ariana Grande, of blackfishing. Through photo shoots, music videos, and day-to-day life, these celebrities seemed to be appropriating black features or using ethnic traits. Aga Brzostowska, accused of blackfishing, stated, “With things like tanning, I don’t think I’ve done anything in a malicious way. So I don’t feel like I need to stop doing something because… why would I stop doing something that’s benefitting me or that I enjoy doing?” This quote displays how black features are used for non-black people’s gain with little respect for discrimination against black people. 

Though some may believe adopting black features is a way of honoring black people, this is not the case. The professor of Asian American studies at the University of Wisconsin, Leslie Bow, says that blackfishing is “a racial masquerade that operates as a form of racial fetishism.” To be seen as racially ambiguous is desirable for many Caucasian celebrities due to the representation of certain ethnicities as exotic. Bow added, “In reality, Blackfishing situates that style as a commodity. It has the effect of reducing a person with a specific history to a series of appropriable traits or objects. Blackfishing is one form of racist love, how we appropriate otherness.” Additionally, while these non- black celebrities may benefit from using such features for a limited time, black people do not have the same advantage. 

Statistics show that black women make 63% of what white men earn while white women make 79% of what white men earn. Additionally, black women have higher rates of living in poverty and unemployment, a few of the many disadvantages black women face. Many black people face discrimination due to specific black hairstyles or other ethnic features. Thus, when non-black people steal such characteristics for profit, they disregard the struggles people face for having the same features. While non-ethnic people can change their tan, hairstyle, and more when seen conveniently, black women do not have this privilege. Thus, black women are at a much higher disadvantage for having the same features non-black people steal for benefit. 

While blackfishing is different from cultural appropriation, they are both similar in that they disregard the discrimination and racism that people of color face. Another version of adopting stereotypical black traits includes blaccents, which involves non-black people using black accents or speaking mannerisms to stay relevant. Other types of racefishing include East Asian baiting, regarding a similar premise for East Asian features getting stolen through the fox eye makeup trend, which mirrors East Asian eyes. All in all, every version of adopting ethnic features, voices, character traits, or culture is harmful and racist.  

Black people face much discrimination every day, yet non-black people continue to disregard this struggle for self-benefit. It’s time such practices of racefishing are called out as racism instead of lifted as a pursuit to honor a race. Stealing traits without any regard for hardship is not in any way a form of appreciation or honor.

Works Cited

Staff, The Week. “What Is Blackfishing?” The Week UK, The Week, 13 Oct. 2021, https://www.theweek.co.uk/98291/what-is-blackfishing. 

Karimi, Faith. “What ‘Blackfishing’ Means and Why People Do It.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 July 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/08/entertainment/blackfishing-explainer-trnd/index.html.