What is 'blackfishing' the phenomenon many social media influencers have been accused of?

Critics describe the movement as a form of cultural appropriation, but many of those accused of blackfishing claim that is not their intention. [Photo: Instagram/Emma Hallberg]

A row has been sparked on social media over ‘blackfishing’; a new practice that sees white women apparently presenting themselves as black.

Urban dictionary gives the definition of blackfishing as “commonly perpetrated by females of European descent (white) which involves artificial tanning (spray tanning and tanning booths) and using makeup to manipulate facial features in order to appear to have some type of Black African ancestry.”

It goes on to reveal that the general point of the trend is for a female of European descent to appear of African, Arab, or Hispanic ancestry.

“Some consider it to be equivalent to modern day ‘black face’ because it capitalises off the looks of historically oppressed groups of people by people who come from more privileged backgrounds,” the site continues.

The phenomenon picked up steam back in November, when a Twitter thread by freelance writer Wanna Thompson calling on people to share “all of the white girls cosplaying as black women on Instagram” caught fire.

Critics describe the movement as a form of cultural appropriation, but many of those accused of blackfishing claim that is not their intention.

Swedish Instagram model Emma Hallberg is just one of many social media influencers who has been labelled as blackfishing thanks to her love of having dark tanned skin, wearing dark make-up and braiding her hair.

The 19-year-old has responded to the criticism by claiming she isn’t trying to portray herself as a black person. “I do not see myself as anything else than white,” she told Buzzfeed  “I get a deep tan naturally from the sun.”

Parallels have also been drawn to the Kardashian-Jenners because various family members have also been accused of cultural appropriation.

Back in October Vogue apologised after a photoshoot starring Kendall Jenner was accused of cultural appropriation.

Earlier this year Kylie Jenner’s was criticised by activist who suggested her new billionaire status was thanks to the exploitation of black culture. 

Last year Kylie and her sister Kendall were embroiled in controversy over a bag from their clothing line, which looked like a Chinese takeout box.

The reality stars were also slammed for a now-deleted Instagram post that appeared to rip off Chola culture.

And of course who can forget the furore surrounding Kim Kardashian’s braiding and cornrow hair styling?

But the criticism of blackfishing has led some accused of it, to overhaul the image they present to the world.

Jaiden Gumbayan, a 19-year-old from Florida who has received backlash over some of her online images says she understands some of the criticism but claims she isn’t pretending to be someone she’s not.

“It could be looked at as the biggest form of flattery to some black women or people of colour, and to others it’s mimicking and taking their culture without knowing the history behind it,” she told BBC. 

“I know that there are other influencers on Instagram, and other celebrities… that is their intention.”

She believes the appreciation not appropriation is the way forward.

“We can appreciate their culture without having to do or wear their hairstyles, or trying to act or be a certain way that we’re not,” she told the broadcaster.

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