You’ve likely seen Brianna Holt’s name printed somewhere; she is a well-known journalist who has covered identity, race, and culture for outlets like The New York Times, The Cut, and others. In her new memoir — “In Our Shoes: On Being a Young Black Woman in Not-So ‘Post-Racial’ America,” on sale on April 11 — she explores these topics in even greater depth.
In this excerpt, Holt describes the phenomenon of “blackfishing” — when non-Black women attempt to present themselves with a Black or mixed-race appearance. It’s an important reminder of the ways in which Black beauty, culture, and trends are continuously co-opted, and a call to action to hold people who partake in this appropriation accountable.
Since the rise of Instagram, a new form of physical cultural appropriation has grown in popularity among non-Black women who make cosmetic alterations or edit their photos in ways that present themselves as less European-looking, racially ambiguous, or of mixed ancestry. The phenomenon has a name: blackfishing. Coined in 2018 by journalist Wanna Thompson after she realized a new wave of white women was cosplaying as Black women on social media, blackfishing describes someone who is accused of pretending to be Black on social media by using makeup, hair products, and in some cases surgery to drastically alter their appearance to achieve a Black or mixed-race look. With the additions of deep self-tanner and filler-injected lips, coupled with manipulated hairstyles and wigs, and sometimes surgery to widen the hips or enlarge the butt, the previous look of white women with naturally pale skin, classic European facial features, thin bodies, and straight hair has transformed into a look that appears mixed-raced of some sort. Some Instagram influencers, like Swedish model Emma Hallberg, @emmahallberg (who is infamous for being the first documented example of the practice of blackfishing), have been able to fool their fans, white and Black, into believing they are not white. Meanwhile, some non-Black celebrities, like Kylie Jenner and Ariana Grande, have quietly adopted the look, causing some fans to associate their sudden change in features with puberty as opposed to some of the alterations found in blackfishing.
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