'Blackfishing' is a worrying new trend of people pretending to be black online
Cultural appropriation is when members of the dominant culture adopt elements from the minority culture in such a way that their meaning is lost or distorted. The display is offensive because it feels like people in the majority are cosplaying as an 'exotic' minority without experiencing any of the discrimination they frequently face. Many celebrities have been accused of cultural appropriation, from Gigi Hadid to Kim Kardashian, but they insist they were just trying to show appreciation. Certainly, there's a fine line.
We're all familiar with catfishing, the act of pretending to be someone else on social media. Well, now there's a worrying new trend called 'blackfishing,' in which people pretend to be black or of mixed race. Critics accuse these 'blackfishes' of changing their features by darkening their skin and rocking hairstyles with braids or curls. They also show off fuller lips, thicker thighs and bigger butts.
20-year-old Instagram influencer Aga Brzostowska, who prefers to go by Alicja, is one such 'blackfish.' During an interview with Radio 1 Newsbeat, she claimed her natural skin is "not pale," and confessed she makes it look darker. "With things like tanning, I don't think I've done anything in a malicious way," said Alicja. "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?"
Alicja insists that critics are making the wrong assumptions about her appearance. For example, in one photo she rocks long braids, but she claims she did so because her friend's little sister started a hair company and wanted to show off her work. "I didn't really think much of it," said Alicja. "I really appreciate the culture and I really just love the look - that was literally it."
Emma Hallberg, a 19-year-old model and Instagram influencer from Sweden, has also been accused of 'posing' as a black woman online. Despite her bronze appearance, she claims she never attempted to identify as African-American. "I do not see myself as anything else than white," Emma told Buzzfeed News. "I get a deep tan naturally from the sun."
Many of her 200,000 followers felt betrayed, as they followed her for beauty tips based on the perception that she was black or of mixed race. Meanwhile, Emma profits off of her manufactured look, while real women of colour face prejudice.
Dara Thurmond is a New York-based nurse and outspoken critic of blackfishing. She told Radio 1 Newsbeat that she's frustrated about this issue because white women don't understand the struggles black women face. For example, many black people in white spaces find themselves code-switching to appear more white for acceptance.
"Even now in certain work spaces, black women can't wear their natural hair out. They have to wear weave," explains Dara. "They have to press their hair so that it's straight, because to wear an afro or to wear braids or to wear locks is seen as unclean or untidy - it's not professional."
Dara argues that 'blackfishes' take product endorsements and influencer success away from more deserving black women. Yet she understands the phenomenon's allure. "We're coming into a time where you see a lot of black women really expressing themselves and stepping into their blackness, and owning it, and not being ashamed of it anymore," she explains.
"So it makes sense why it's happening - because I guess some people who are white-presenting feel like they're not the standard anymore. So now they're trying to do things to stay relevant and keep their popularity ... It's perfectly fine to appreciate the mixed variety of people that you grew up around. But if it gets to a point where you are now trying to pass as someone of mixed race and you're not... that's when it becomes an issue."