What Is Blackfishing?
Jessica Krug, a George Washington University associate professor who is white and Jewish, admitted earlier this month that she had posed as a black woman and apologized profusely on Medium for her actions.
If she were accused of “blackfishing,” she would not be the first white person accused of doing so.
In a viral tweet last month, Rita Ora, the British pop artist, had her ethnic identity called into doubt.
Tweeted that she had also been accused of black flying: feigning or modifying one’s appearance to resemble black. However, many admirers felt betrayed by Ora’s admission that she was white Albanian.
Many more celebrities have been accused of blackmailing. Many celebrities, like Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, and TikTok star Addison Rae, have also been criticized for their racially incongruous appearances.
It’s a word invented by Wanna Thompson, a hip hop writer, to describe the phenomena of non-Black influencers and prominent personalities attempting to resemble Black or mixed-race by using bronzer, tanning, Photoshop, or even cosmetic surgery.
In the racist practice of blackface, a person wears dark makeup to mimic the characteristics of a black person to make a joke. A similar use of Black features as a costume may be seen in blackfishing.
This isn’t only a problem for celebrities. The use of a digital blackface by Instagram influencers to mislead their fans has also been brought to light.
Two famous influencers, Emma Hallberg and Aga Brzostowska, both denied they were born in the Black community and have been called out for it.
Gail Saltz, MD, a clinical psychiatrist, explains, “You’re talking about dishonesty when you speak about ‘fishing’ of any kind.”
“If you’re intentionally deceiving people or doing it for your own benefit, the issue is whether it’s conscious or unconscious, and both are possible in a variety of circumstances.”
Is there any reason to blackfish, whether or not you want to mislead other people? According to specialists in psychology and culture, these are some reasons why.
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Deep insecurity about how they look.
According to LaToya Gaines, PsyD, a New York-based psychologist, major fears are likely to blame someone’s desire to drastically alter their physical appearance to that of another race.
For an example, she cites the case of Rachel Dolezal. When she was NAACP Spokane’s president in 2015, Dolezal made news for posing as a black lady while being a white woman with no Black ancestry.
For someone like [Dolezal], I can imagine there wasn’t a lot of love and respect for who she was as a person growing up,” LaToya Gaines says.
There may not have been much celebration of what was inherent to her family and culture, which may have led to her adoption of [Blackness].”
He adds, as per Dr. Saltz: “Anyone who decides to adopt a new identity, even a different race, is typically doing so because they are very unhappy with their existing one.
Whether it’s a result of your own self-doubt or a desire to feel better about yourself, [you think] that the other identity will provide you with what you lack.”
Dr. Leslie Bow argues that people’s urge to “objectify otherness” leads to their desire to adopt characteristics of another race.
Bow shows why fetishizing a culture by reducing it to a single kind is wrong. As she puts it, “You reduce an entire culture to something you can take advantage of.
People that engage in blackfishing may see Blackness as a product that can be customized as they see fit. “I want this whole people and population to be one thing and to stand for one thing.”
This is Bow’s reasoning. She goes on to say that it’s a cut. A black woman may “create this—their hair, dress and style,” “and I’ll take it for myself,” she says.
Dr. Saltz believes non-Black people “trivialize it and glamorize features of it that are actually a fraction” when they commodify the visual profile of persons of color.
For example, if you have black hair. A recent Dove/Crown poll found that 80 percent of Black women felt compelled to modify their natural hair in professional situations.
However, those who blackfish can easily transition between their natural hair textures and traditional “Black” hairstyles without discrimination, making these hairstyles a trend or commodity.
In our society, “coolness” and “Blackness” have long been equated, but without the implications of being Black, such as racism and state brutality, Alisha Gaines, an associate professor of English at Florida State University and author of Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy, tells Health.
A chance for progress or a source of social currency
Blackfishers, according to Dr. Saltz, might benefit professionally or socially from the increased depiction of persons of color in media and entertainment because of the popularity of artists like Rihanna and Beyoncé.
There is the possibility that Dr. Saltz is malingering, “duplicitously putting myself up like this other persona.”
“I need this position, this salary, and this chance, and my new identity will help me acquire it. To get anything, they’re using sociopathic malingering.”
It’s a sort of “passing,” a practice that dates back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow, in which lighter-skinned people of color would strive to pass for white to achieve political and social advantages.
For Black people who had to live in a racist society, giving meant that they could avoid being seen as a threat.
“Blackfishing for followers on social media is not about survival or negotiating the fear of racial terror, it’s [about] social media likes,” says Alisha Gaines.
In the minds of black fishers, black characteristics are a commodity that can be used to market anything from films to music to beauty goods.
More importantly, one does not have to deal with any of the difficulties of being a Black person in the modern world while blackfishing.
According to Alisha Gaines, the executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, there are several reasons why people choose to market and sell blackfish.
“It’s building a market that perceives the aesthetics of Blackness as hip and profiting on that,” he says.
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Racism is a desire to blend in with another race.
In a more diverse society, non-Black individuals become more aware of racial inequity and injustice. They’re also more likely to interact with people of color in the workplace.
This may be a method for people who don’t identify as Black to demonstrate their concern and support or compensate for their genuine identity, says Dr. Saltz.
Dr. Saltz argues that people who are emotionally attracted to or associated with someone of a different race or culture are more likely to take their traits from that person. When someone thinks they’re doing it to get sympathy or to be viewed as empathetic, they may overestimate the value of that quality..”
Wearing the traditional haircuts and clothing of another ethnic group has been a way to declare kinship or support for that group—but without realizing the implications—from white individuals in 1960s counterculture wearing afros and dashikis to today’s streetwear explosion.
As explained by Dr. Saltz, a cultural proclamation of one’s ideological position was made by appropriating certain styles. When I saw her, I was struck by her beauty, her strength, and my own need to be loved.
Blackfishing isn’t the best method to show support or compassion, but it’s understandable. More and more people of color embrace their natural hair and darker complexion, which has a narrative behind it, says LaToya Gaines, an advocate for black women’s rights.
“White people may utilize their white privilege to copy these pictures and our methods of making themselves feel attractive, without truly knowing the narrative or hardship behind it,” says a white woman in an article on the phenomenon.
What you need to know about blackfishing
Professor Saltz adds that not all black fishers are conscious of the cultural ramifications of considering ethnic traits and traditions as commodities.
Dr. Saltz defines this as “feeling safe enough to do anything you would want to your body, regardless of the ramifications”
In these times, we’re beginning to see the truth that it’s never just about “fashion” and may lead to actual pain.
Bow wants blackfish individuals to realize that they have the power to end the ruse at any moment. “Any time you feel like it, you can just leave it there. That freedom does not exist for black people, “He adds Bow.
“They’re unable to choose and choose or divide and conquer. Though it looks to be an homage, like a Halloween outfit, the concept of putting it on as a masquerade or a costume is the notion of privilege.”