The Story of Blackfishing

Blackfishing: a trend in which non-white people alter their appearance in order to present themselves as Black. (Source: theweek.co)

The setting is virtual debate camp. The question was what is something new you have tried during the stay at home order? I was expecting responses like “catching up on my favorite anime episodes” or “creating new Minecraft games” or whatever it is middle schoolers like to do these days. As I often tell my students, I am old *read 36, but ancient in the eyes of a 12-year old* and everything they talk about sounds like a foreign language to me (arguably, it is, but that’s another post for another day). So imagine my surprise when a student tells me “Oh, I want to share but I don’t want to get in trouble”. I should have just kept it moving, but my intrigue pushed to be probe further. And this is where the student became the teacher, and I just sat back and took notes.

Me: Ummm, unless it’s something dangerous or illegal, you can tell me- this is a safe space. (to be clear, she could have told me regardless, but not in front of all the students)

Student (in an effort to maintain her anonymity, let’s call her Paris)

Paris: Well…I’ve been searching online for blackfishing.

Me: Blackfishing?

Paris: Yeah, you know blackfishing.

Other students: Oh yeah! Man, blackfishing is the worst.

Me: Ummm, yeah, I’m old so you’re gonna have to explain that one to me.

Paris: Ok, well have you heard of the Hot Cheeto Girl?

Me: Definitely not.

Paris: Okay, go ahead and look that up. It’s an example of blackfishing.

Against my better judgement, I Google “hot Cheetos girl” and here’s what I find. SN: Can we just lament for a moment that Google is now both a noun and a verb now? I guess it’s an adjective now as well given all the various Google platforms the exist. Capitalism rears its ugly head once again. But I digress…

Me: 😲 😲 😲

Paris: Yeah, it’s a whole movement. So I’ve been spending my time dragging Hot Cheeto Girls on the internet.

Me: 😲 😲 😲

Student 2: Good for you! Blackfishing is the worst. Those girls are always tryna mimic Black culture!

Student 3: Yeah, the cultural appropriation is sickening.

Me: 😲 😲 😲

Paris: Yeah, it’s like Kim Kardashian wearing cornrows and box braids. It’s the worst. But anyway, there’s a video of a Hot Cheeto Girl getting beat by some Black girls who found out where she lives. It was great.

Me: 😲 😲 😲…this is crazy. But let me tell y’all, this is nothing new. Let’s take a little trip- cue up The Magic School Bus intro song

Kim Kardashian’s makeup tutorial that hipped the world to her blackfishing ways. But you know, this is nothing new for Kim K.

The link between Blackfishing and Hot Cheeto Girls is a desire for white women to perpetuate themselves as non-white. This is nothing new.

The Tab notes that “some people even consider it the modern equivalent of blackface or brownface, because it capitalises off the ‘exotic’ looks of historically oppressed minorities.”

If you’ve been hiding under a rock and don’t know what blackface is, I’ll give you a quick synopsis- in the 19th century, white men would paint their faces black with burnt cork or shoe polish and draw exaggerated features to mimic enslaved Black people. Whites would perform in minstrel shows where Black men were portrayed as imbecilic and shiftless, further perpetuating notions of their inferiority.

While some argue that Blackfishing is akin to blackface, others, like Annice Abanda of The Week argue that blackface seeks to mock Blacks, while in theory, blackfishing demonstrates acceptance and celebrates black bodies and culture, for as the old trope says, imitation is the sincerest for of flattery.

Trust me- my tribe and I aren’t flattered.

For one, this represents white women seeking to emulate black bodies and cultural traditions without taking on their oppression. It’s easy to go out and look like us, but walk a day in the shoes of a black woman and you will see that the world does not actually love and celebrate us. They celebrate us aesthetically. No scratch that, the world secretly admires our bodies but will never say so outright. White girls with a tan are considered “exotic” and “beautiful” while dark-skinned black girls are most often overlooked.

The problem goes deeper, particularly with regard to the shape of black girls bodies. Black women are actually deemed hypersexualized for their natural body type while white women are considered “on trend” cosmetically enhancing themselves to look like black women. White women have been trying to look like black women since the 19th century- did you know that bustles and crinolines derived from the natural curves of African women? Saartje Baartman, a Khoikhoi (South African) woman of the 17th century, was kept in a cage and paraded throughout Europe (in what was essentially a freak show) for people to gawk at her large buttocks. Upon her death, “scientists” dissected her and used her genitalia for “medical research” to substantiate claims that the true nature of the black female is hypersexuality. And this was purported well into the twentieth century. Remember that since slavery, black women were often blamed when white men sexually assaulted and raped them, as it was said that their inherent hypersexual nature caused men to disrespect and defile them. Not to mention that white women sought to emulate this “hypersexual” body type as early as the 19th century through fashion- European women’s fashion featured crinolines and bustles, undergarments and dresses that gave white women the appearance of having Saarjte Baartman’s “large buttocks”. Today, women get plastic surgery to have the same aesthetic.

In other words, there’s nothing new under this racist sun.

Simply put, this is about the ethics of representation- Kim K and others get to capitalize off the very things we have been suffered for. And I for one am tired of it. Thus, while I was floored when hearing about the “black cheeto girls”, I unfortunately was familiar with the phenomenon.

Overall, I think this about sums it up.

Celebrate black culture. Celebrate black women. Celebrate black life.

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