Black bloggers explain why #BlackGirlMagic isn't up for sale

Asha Hussein explains why ‘blackfishing’ is not ok. Published on Friday 4 January 2019 at The Evening Standard, United Kingdom

Instagram influencers are being accused of ‘blackfishing’. It’s a term used to describe someone mimicking black or mixed-race people and trying to emulate it on themselves.

The controversy began when one Twitter user posted two images of Instagram influencer Emma Hallberg – one showing her with darker skin, fuller lips and curly hair. Critics compared the starkly different “before & after” images accusing the teen of pretending to be black.

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This sparked a debate on race and cultural appropriation as users turned the spotlight on other public figures like the Kardashians, accusing them of profiting off of blackness and posing as black to gain popularity.

For a lot of black women, including myself, this is especially frustrating. The same features being exploited are what black women have been told make them seem ‘ratchet’ or not up to global beauty standards.

While black women risk losing their jobs over how they style their natural hair, ‘blackfishers’ enjoy the privilege of wearing braids and appearing racially ambiguous without having to fight to be accepted.

Aisha Ibrahim

Aisha Ibrahim

For some bloggers, it’s equally as frustrating that the spaces paved by black women for other women of colour to flourish are being taken by these blackfishers. I spoke to fashion and beauty blogger Aisha Ibrahim, 24, who explained: “Black bloggers don’t get as many opportunities as white bloggers do, so we barely get representation anyway. When we are fighting for representation its harder to get that when other people are imitating blackness.”

Many black bloggers have taken to social media to express their anger that while these women can borrow blackness, they don’t have to deal with what it means to be a black person. Aisha has been blogging for the past two years and pointed out she has often felt marginalised due to her race, “you don’t see many black girls at largescale events or international trips with brands.”

“I feel like you have to work harder just to be recognised.”

“When there are serious issues that are affecting the black community, the same individuals who blackfish do not use their platforms to shed light on these injustices.”

While colourism, discrimination of dark skinned people typically from the same ethnic group, remains a major issue in the black community, it’s interesting that these women appear to emulate racial ambiguity and not blackness. These women aren't trying to pose as dark skinned black women with course skin and broader noses, instead they borrow from the 'desirable' aspects of black women to appear mixed race. 

Asha Hussein, the author

Asha Hussein, the author

I've been a blogger for two years and personally blackfishing has never directly impacted me. My brand is about empowering Muslim women, challenging misconceptions and making dark-skinned women visible in mainstream fashion and beauty platforms. Unless women begin posing as hijab wearing Muslims, it’s not really something I’m concerned will put my brand at jeopardy. However, as someone who uses their platform to represent women with deeper and darker complexions and discourages colourism, it’s frustrating that racial ambiguity is being established as the new pretty.

I've noticed over the years of blogging that I am not always afforded the same opportunities as other bloggers. For example earlier this year black bloggers were overlooked at one of the biggest events in modest fashion at Dubai Modest Fashion Week. It was frustrating for me that bloggers like Hodan Yusuf who helped pave the way for modest fashion continue to be snubbed at major events like this. Aisha adds that it's fairly commonplace in the world of modest fashion: "Anti-blackness is more evident in the modest fashion community," she says. "For example, the new face of Islamic beauty is a woman with fair skin or with blue and green eyes.”

‘Blackfishing’ has been dubbed as the modern example of black face - the cartoonish portrayal of black people, and considered a racially insensitive caricature. Although some people accused of blackfishing disagree.

Speaking to the BBC, 20-year-old Aga Brzostowska says: “I really appreciate the culture and I really just love the look - that was literally it."

"So I don't feel like I need to stop doing something because... why would I stop doing something that's benefiting me or that I enjoy doing?"

It’s worth noting that these women don’t seem to be trying to portray themselves as ethnically African or Caribbean, rather biracial. For me, it’s an obvious acknowledgment of colourism and perpetuates the fetishisation of mixed-race people.

It’s no secret that for decades, fairer skin has been favoured as the ideal skin tone across various industries. So, when black women like model Duckie Thot and actor Viola Davis dominate their respective fields, encourage women to step into their blackness and fight for representation so that we don’t have to; it’s only frustrating that these spaces are filled with people impersonating black women while black bloggers struggle for inclusion.

In 2015, while accepting her Emmy for outstanding actress in a drama series, Davis delivered a powerful and inspirational speech in which she says “The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity.” Apart from the obvious issue with blackfishing, it promotes the erasure of black women.