Written by: Youeal Abera, Staff Writer
On November 6, a Twitter user named Wanna created a thread which showcased a number of white women partaking in the racially insensitive phenomenon of blackfishing. The act, named after the term catfishing, is the practice of white women using makeup to appear black or biracial, with the incentive of garnering online followers by appearing more “exotic”.
“Can we start a thread and post all of the white girls cosplaying as black women on Instagram?” Wanna wrote. “Let’s air them out because this is ALARMING.”
Following this tweet were posts from herself and her followers that showed a plethora of white women with cosmetically enhanced Black features, usually alongside photos of their more natural complexions to compare. With wigs and a considerable amount of makeup, their bodies began to bear darker skin tones, bigger lips, and thicker hair.
This type of imagery has been rampant online, and these pictures, aside from being extremely weird, are profoundly troubling. Under a disrespectful guise of being “trendy” and desirable, they call back to horrible discrimination.
This blackfishing trend is eerily like blackface, a practice where a white person would don dark paint and oversized red lips to emulate the stereotypical physical features of a Black person. This was done throughout 19th and 20th century to mock Black people and culture, but it still shows up in the modern day as a cheap, “comical” costume on days like Halloween. When looking at these Twitter and Instagram users, it’s difficult not to think that blackfishing sprouts from the same tree.
This is not to say that blackfishing is identical to blackface. Instead of making insubordinate caricatures of Black physicality through “comedic” face paint, these women instead aim to replicate idiosyncratic beauty traits of Black women. But while the motives might differ, the final outcome still is equally offensive.
For generations, Black people have been ridiculed for the features found on their faces and bodies. Big lips were considered clownish, thick hair distasteful, and darker skin ugly. These racist beauty standards, accentuated by the system of white supremacy within Western societies, made it so that Black physicality was considered “lesser” than typical Eurocentric bodies.
While blackfishing doesn’t intend to discriminate, it still works to emphasize and spotlight differences in skin, and disregards how white people have historically — and horribly — treated these differences.
The reality is that Black women still undergo a number of hurdles at their jobs, including the threat of termination, for wearing their hair naturally, while white women continue to be praised for adorning their heads with traditionally Black hairstyles. It speaks volumes into the harsh realities of white privilege that people so willing treat Black culture as dress-up just for popularity on social media.