In many conversations I’ve been having recently, Blackfishing and white people benefiting off of Black people has come up. Obviously, this is not a new issue or behaviour. There are many instances in history, and culturally, where white people make money off of Black culture or Black ideas. More recently Blackfishing has become a new problematic way that white people have benefitted from Black culture without claiming their sources. Of course the issue of cultural appropriation is problematic, but it becomes a different issue when white people take Black narratives and Black looks, admit it is not theirs, and still benefit financially from using Black culture. The question I am still seeking to answer is who is at fault when this happens, who is in charge of gatekeeping our culture and how do we prevent White people from using our culture to benefit them?
As I’ve already stated, white people having been taking Black culture and either benefiting from it financially or in other ways for years. We see these examples in the fashion industry, pop-culture and in the history books. The more recent way white people are stealing Black culture goes beyond getting braids when they go on vacation. Blackfishing is when white women portray themselves in Black stylistic ways. Examples of this are seen in Ariana Grande’s extreme spray tanning, models for Beyoncé’s IVY PARK line who we’re spray tanned to look extremely dark and had lip fillers but we’re actually Russian, and many other models who are cast and then made to look Black through hair and makeup and the vision of the team they are hired for. We cannot change how people perceive beauty. If a model wants to spray tan herself, and get lip fillers, then all the power to those women. My issue, and the issue of many, is when models are cast for roles because they have a “look” which is a Black look and a Black person could have been hired instead. It is a great disservice to Black communities to continue to encourage white people to portray us, when we are here, existing while underpaid and undervalued in a White Privileged society. Some scandals around this even include Gigi Hadid being accused of Blackface for a Vogue India cover.
But who is to blame for when this happens? In a recent discussion about this with a friend, I asked that question. If I am being honest, if I was a white model who was approached by Beyoncé’s team and asked to model, I would not second guess saying “YES” at the top of my lungs. I don’t know that white people are able to perceive that they are taking Black beauty standards when they tan, get lip injections and alter their hair texture. I think I would be so focussed on trying to be what I perceive as beautiful that I would not connect the dots as to who I am morphing myself into. It would also take someone quite selfless to turn down a job because they feel accepting it would be a betrayal to another race. If you don’t perceive that your look is Black, are you able to realize that you are a white person being hired because you look Black? If it’s not up to the model to refuse the jobs in the name of their Sisters, then who can we blame? I think we should blame the people who hire these models, who aren’t seeking Black people to do the same job. I understand that hiring Gigi Hadid means a successful magazine cover, and probably more sales, but if you have to hire Gigi then have her glammed out in something that represents her culture, not something that represents someone else’s culture she knows nothing about.
In a similar way, a white author is receiving backlash for writing about white fragility when there are plenty of Black authors who have written the same narrative. It really boils down to white people being more comfortable hearing and seeing Black perspectives told by white people. I believe that there is growth in discomfort. Being told you are racist by a white author is coddling you into admitting you have white privilege. How much of the Black perspective and Black struggle does this white person know? I don’t believe that a white person can properly educate anyone on my experiences, my struggles, and my feelings surrounding white fragility. There’s a reason why my article about White People apologizing when listening to Black stories was popular. It needed to be said. Maybe white people can expand on why they are so reluctant to listen to our stories, but they cannot tell our stories for us. If you are white and you read a white person’s book on white fragility as opposed to reading about racism from Black narratives then you are not an ally, you are still a part of the problem. Allyship means supporting Black narratives, Black businesses and Black voices. But again, I ask, how are we allowing there to be a market for white people to tell our stories? Can we fault the author for publishing a book where she tries to do what she may perceive is good allyship? Can we fault the publishers for allowing a white author to go ahead and do this? If they knew that there are white people who are so out of touch that they will read Black narratives from white people, then is capitalism at fault? Are the people buying the books at fault?
I believe the only way to continue to solve Blackfishing and white people stealing our narratives is to consistently, and as loudly as possible, promote the Black people who are doing the same thing. Show white people the books written by Black people telling our stories. Support and boost Black models, actors, artists who are being overlooked by the same white models in the same magazines using different cultures to seem interesting. And if you are a white person reading this, it is okay to be uncomfortable with seeing and hearing Black narratives (or any POC narratives) being told by their people since we are so used to having white people tell the story, white people running pop-culture and white people being given all of these opportunities. Embrace the discomfort in learning and educating yourself, and support the Black people who are trying to educate you about their own experiences. Again, education is the way to preventing ignorance.