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What is 'blackfishing' and why are some white influencers doing it to get followers?

Some influencers are being called out over the practice.

YOU MIGHT HAVE heard a lot of chatter surrounding an influencer named Emma Halberg this month.

The white Swedish influencer, who boasts over 245k followers on Instagram, has been accused of “blackfishing”. It’s an umbrella term for people who use dark facial makeup, wear their hair in cornrows and other traditionally black hairstyles, and enhance their bodies, seemingly to look like black women.

It’s a claim she’s denied on her Instagram saying that before and after photos circulating of her have been taken out of context as they were taken at different times of the year. “Yes I’m white and I never claimed to be anything else.”

“There’s a difference in my skin tone because I get very tanned NATURALLY when I’ve been in the sun!!”

The alleged before photo of Emma

“It makes me sad that I have offended people,” Emma told Teen Vogue.

My goal and intention is to look like myself and to share my makeup looks and outfits. My intentions have never been to look like a black woman.”

YouTuber Annie Nova makes the point in her video on the subject that the issue goes beyond constant tanning. There is a black aesthetic that many are attempting to capitalise – an aesthetic which many dark-skinned people are still shunned for having all on their own.

“It takes away from actual black creators on Instagram and YouTube whose job it is to promote things,” she says, using the example of brands sending natural curly hair products to white influencers.

Source: Annie Nova/YouTube

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Essentially, it’s white privilege – people using theirs to get the things that dark-skinned people have to work much harder to access as a result of prejudice. It’s grand for influencers to “play black” for the sake of a bedroom selfie spree, because they can wipe it all off after, including the stigma that continues to follow people of colour. It’s not easy for those who were born into their skin. The realm of racial ambiguity enables them to avoid the consequences of blackness.

As one Twitter put it: “People love black culture, but they don’t love black people.”

Whether you reckon this particular influencer was complicit in blackfishing or not, it’s as good a time as any to examine how we, as consumers of content, engage with black culture and beyond. When we prioritise white creatives who “cosplay” as black, it can have a detrimental effect on POC in terms of their self-esteem, confidence and emotional welfare.

Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but it isn’t when a culture is continuously misrepresented in the public sphere for profit.

 

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