From Blackface to Blackfishing

By Rayiah Ross

I’ve noticed a trend in modern American history, especially in the age of an overwhelming amount of technology. It seems that many white Americans want “black” bodies and features without the struggle. We’ve seen it before with Rachel Dolezal, who believed she could chose to be black by putting in a weave. Now we are seeing a rise of Instagram and Youtube influencers who are being accused of “blackfishing,” a term used when a white person darkens their skin, alters their body, and/or textures their hair for followers, white women everywhere have been scrutinized for problematic posts.

Polish Instagram influencer, Aga Brzostowska was called out by many Instagram users for the use of blackface. She denied allegation of “blackfishing” and explained, “I might be Polish, but I’m not ‘White,’ White.” She went on to clarify, “I’ve had no surgery, so I can’t take off these lips. I can’t remove my ‘fake bum implants’. With things like tanning, I don’t think I’ve done anything in a malicious way.” That quote is exactly the problem. People hate to take responsibility for things they don’t believe are wrong. To help Ms. Brzostowska, I’ve taken the liberty to point out everything wrong with what she’s done:

In real life, being black in America is frowned upon, while online it’s praised. Our hair has to be straight and our names have to be easy to pronounce for us to get any recognition, purely because anything other than that is seen as unprofessional. Vogue writer, Reni Eddo-Lodge, explained, “a ‘perfect’ black body ideal celebrated on social media is a sorry stand in for the transformative change of anti-racism and body diversity. It’s certainly not a solution to the gross underrepresentation of black women in public life.”

Brzostowska is portraying a caricature of a black women rather than just being herself. Online, black women are represented by images of wide hips and big breasts, but that does not mean that is what every black woman looks like. Besides the fact that Brzostowska is not black at all, she still managed to get the one thing she was impersonating wrong. There is no “one size fits all” template of what a back woman looks like.

Danielle Bainbridge, a postdoctoral fellow in African-American Studies at Northwestern University, told BBC: “Appropriation happens when you have a position of power … to take the parts of a culture that you enjoy, divorce them from their original meaning, and use them for entertainment value without considering their original context or having to deal with the negative ramifications that someone from that culture would have to deal with if they were to do the same thing, . . . 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.”

The most simplistic thing I can possibly say in response to this trend of “making yourself into a black person” is just don’t. If you’re about to pick up a tanning lotion that’s way too dark for you, imagine that its black paint and put it down. If you can’t find the right shade of foundation, please just try another store. Be happy with yourself and whatever body you have instead of depending on this new body standard.


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