The term “blackfishing” stems from the term “catfishing”, which describes people who are pretending to be something they are not online. With “blackfishing”, people alter their racial appearance to appear Black to gain followers and capitalise off of the “coolness” of appearing Black. This is often done by fake-tanning several shades darker than their natural skin tone, adopting Black hairstyles, such as cornrows or dreadlocks, and can even go as far as getting surgery to gain typically Black features, like bigger lips and a curvier figure. The phenomenon is particularly pervasive on Instagram amongst the influencer community, where white women “blackfish” for monetary gain, exploiting the image of Black women without experiencing any of their real-life struggles. It is loving the culture, without actually loving the people.
Celebrities such as the Kardashians have been accused of taking advantage of the Black image, and are known for their various surgeries including lips fillers and butt implants. This has caused people to question their motives in presenting themselves in such a racially ambiguous way. Many of the accused Instagram influencers have claimed that they are not causing any harm by tanning themselves in such a way, and that they should be allowed to wear any hairstyle they please. This proves just how damaging the appropriation of the Black image is, as there is little consideration for the Black women whose faces are being stolen.
Not only are these women pretending to be an entirely different race, but they take up online space that Black women already struggle to claim. Especially darker-skinned women, who are often made to feel ugly for the same features that these influencers are pretending to have, are dubbed “ghetto” or dirty for wearing braids and sporting their natural hair. It also lessens the reach of Black influencers and content creators, as the online space is instead saturated with white women masquerading as Black, meaning that sponsorships and brand deals often do not reach Black women with smaller follower counts. Blackness is treated as a commodity that can be picked up while it is profitable only to be discarded when it no longer benefits them, while real Black women are left dealing with the realities of being Black, facing racism both on and offline.