Blackfish. Blackface. What next?

Katherine Waldock


At the end of 2018, Instagram influencers across the world were accused of ‘blackfishing’, a term coined to describe white people who dress up and alter the way they look in order to   appear black. This includes wearing make-up, tanning, and even having surgery, such as lip fillers or bum implants. The conversation first started when a freelance writer, Wanna Thompson, tweeted about the trend of ‘white girls cosplaying as black women on instagram’.

Social media influencer, Emma Hallberg, who has around 280,000 followers, became a focus of the phenomenon of girls using blackface as a fashion trend. Despite being of white heritage, Hallberg styles herself as a black woman, with darkened skin and makeup to appear black. She is far from alone in this trend; many other influencers have come under fire for their attempts to appear as black. Despite the fact that 2019 is the most progressive and tolerant the world has ever been some of the biggest celebrities in the world encourage this behaviour. The Kardashians have often come under fire for their surgery awareness and rumours have circulated about them in the media, with critics suggesting that they are attempting to appear black. Given that these women are significant influencers for children and teenagers alike, it encourages an acceptance of appropriation of black culture.

The Kardashians are one of the most well-known celeb families in the world, each member with millions of followers on instagram. Their aesthetic is built entirely on appearing black. Kim Kardashian is infamous for her ‘bum lift’, where it is suspected that she has had fat from other parts of her body transferred to her bottom in order to appear curvier. The other sisters are the same. Kylie Jenner, the youngest of the celebrity family, has been accused of having lip fillers due to the dramatic change in the size of her lips. As these white women benefit from appearing black, by gaining advertisement deals with beauty companies, genuine black women are left to watch white women advertise products that are meant for them.

Ariana Grande has most recently come under fire for ‘blackface’, as her recent music videos have shown her to be darker than ever. Unfortunately for Grande, this is very noticeable to most of her fans, as they watched her grow up on shows like ‘Victorious’ and ‘Sam & Cat’, where she is, without a doubt, white. In an article by the Tab, writer Diyora Shadijanova points out that in the MTV awards in 2016, Ariana Grande played ‘Side By Side’ live with Nicki Minaj, who is black, and Grande was actually darker. She has also been accused of having a ‘blaccent’, attempting to imitate black people as part of her image.

Now an excuse often given in response to these accusations is the idea that white people are not appropriatingbut appreciating black culture. On the surface this answer seems like a reasonable excuse, but in reality it falls apart. If white people appreciated black culture by utilizing it in their style and fashion, surely there would be credit and open acknowledgement of this fact given? Instead, white people are celebrated for this new fashion trend, whilst black people are sidelined. These natural aspects of black people are stolen to become another fashion trend. It is a slap in the face to black people, who are already disadvantaged, and now they must see white people steal their looks, and who they are, in order to fit a ‘trend’. Even the use of the word presents how offensive the situation is, because it reflects the fact that black people’s looks can be treated as a passing fashion fad, rather than an entire culture. Not only that, but this look is only popularized when white people are deciding to exploit it.

These celebrities have a lot of power over teenagers and children who follow them on social media platforms. By deciding to make themselves appear black because it is the latest fashion trend, they are influencing young people to do the same. Young white girls think it is okay to alter their appearance heavily, and will see plastic surgery as a normal thing for women to undergo in order to achieve this aims. It is damaging to the confidence of both young black girls and white girls, as the white girls struggle to fit yet another impossible beauty standard, and the black girls do exactly the same, because they cannot look like a white girl, even though that white girl is masquerading as black. It negatively impacts entire communities for the sake of one Instagram photo. These influencers send a message to young white girls that it is okay to steal someone’s culture, and that is just not acceptable.

The decision that these social media influencers have taken—to appear and act as though they come from a heritage not entirely white—is erasing black culture. By appearing black, and stealing the attributes of black culture that are deemed attractive: curves, big lips etc. and by still rejecting other aspects of being black that aren’t deemed attractive, these white women are taking a culture that has never belonged to them, and they do not suffer the consequences. Racism remains. Blackface, though no longer used as a form of ridicule (it has now become a fashion trend) is incredibly offensive. Black people cannot wash the colour off their skin and with it the racial prejudices and stereotyping that they face. The people of colour in today’s society, who are routinely treated worse than their white counterparts, are born that race. Only recently have black people been able to celebrate the colour of their skin and their culture, and to have it all taken away because white people find the look to be attractive is just another blow. It is 2019, and people are still attempting to whitewash the world, taking the culture of another in order to turn it into theirs because it looks nice. For hundreds of years this has been a habit of white people, and they destroy entire precious cultures and kill diversity. It seems ridiculous that it is even a topic, and yet here we are, because people just will not stop.