What is blackfishing and which celebrities are guilty of it?

By Monica Athnasious

Published Jul 6, 2021 at 04:42 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Australian-born artist Iggy Azalea—real name Amethyst Amelia Kelly—is the latest celebrity to be caught in a blackfishing scandal. The female rapper came under fire for her appearance in the music video for the song ‘I Am The Stripclub’, which she released on 2 July. Donning dark hair, a deeper skin tone and what most people assume is recent plastic surgery, screenshots of the video took the internet by storm as Azalea looked nothing like the white blonde woman people knew. She was clearly blackfishing. Before we dive into which other celebrities are guilty of the same crime, we must understand what blackfishing is and why it is criminal.

What is blackfishing?

Blackfishing is used to define when a person modifies their appearance by using makeup or tanning methods, appropriating cultural clothes or hairstyles and even having fillers or cosmetic surgery in order to present themselves as black or racially ambiguous. It is thought of as the modern blackface. Although any gender is capable of blackfishing (and it has been done), the most common culprit is—you guessed it—the white woman.

It’s not a harmless tan or some innocent plastic surgery; it’s the aestheticisation of the features of women of colour. It’s that these white women are able to fetishise the characteristics of women of colour but yet still reap the benefits of their whiteness. They get to dance this line and not have to experience the racism and mysogynoir Black women face daily. It’s pretty much a win-win situation for them.

Svetlana Onye, a musician, policy researcher and activist, told Screen Shot how hurtful blackfishing is to black people and black women especially. She states that “seeing a new era of celebrity whereby beauty is surgery and surgery is manipulating features on the body to be in likeness to blackness is disgusting. This is because it is hurtful to see what you were ridiculed for, being sexy when adorned by white people—who will never experience the racist connotations of those features they have bought.”

So, let’s have a look at some blackfishing celebrities.

 

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1. Iggy Azalea (duh)

This latest controversy is nothing new for Azalea who has been called out throughout her career for being a “culture vulture.” Valid criticism was given to her when she first appeared on the US music scene for adopting what many people called a ‘blaccent.’ After Azalea’s 2014 release of ‘Fancy’ became a viral hit, Brittney Cooper, an American author and activist, wrote that she felt “dismayed” at watching “this white girl from Australia, turned ATL-style rapper, caricatures everything I love about Southern Hip Hop.”

Rather than learning from this initial valid criticism of her, Azalea has continued to adopt African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and appropriate the styles, aesthetics and cultures of black Americans throughout her career. Reminder: she was born and raised in Australia. While Azalea makes money out of this ‘trendy’ costume, black Americans are shunned, stereotyped and mocked for the exact same things.

2. Kylie Jenner (another obvious one)

Kylie Jenner is no stranger to blackfishing either, embroiled in scandal after scandal, it’s been common throughout her career. Who can forget when she told Marie Claire: “I started wigs, and now everyone is wearing wigs.” No. Just no. Jenner, who looks nothing like her former self, denied for over a year that she’d had a lip augmentation. It was these lips that started her empire—the lips that Onye was bullied for made Jenner a billionaire.

“It came out in different ways such as searching on YouTube how black women with lips like mine should apply lipstick, if they even should. Thinking that my lips were too big to be desirable or kissable and feeling ugly for the things that I now realise, made me black,” she says.

Jenner has been accused of having even more surgery to create this racially ambiguous image; she has continuously built and profited off of the aesthetics of black women—all while doing very little to help the community. She’s a billionaire, I’m sure she’s got a few bob lying around.

3. Kim Kardashian

Jenner most probably learned from her older sister Kim Kardashian. Jasmine Wallis writing in Fashion Journal states, “The Kardashian-Jenners have inadvertently become the face of blackfishing because, over the years, they have been quick to appropriate Black culture but have often failed to use their White privilege to actively help in the fight against the oppression of the very race they’re emulating.”

Kardashian, much like her sister, has been called out for darkening her skin, appropriating black hairstyles and using that to make money.

 

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Onye further explained why this is a problem, “It makes me see clearly how racism works in beauty and how profitable it is to mimic black beauty but distance yourself from black suffering. Black women finding beauty within themselves through recognising the beauty of other black women makes me feel self-love, lip fillers on a celebrity do not.”

4. Rita Ora

During the wake up call that was 2020, Rita Ora was exposed for her years of blackfishing. The internet was shocked to discover Ora’s real roots. After donning an image that led many to believe she came from a black heritage—that’s how good at it she was. She has repeatedly worn braids, styled her baby hairs and even worn an afro.

Although Ora has never claimed to be black and continuously spoken about her pride for her Albanian background, it shows how natural it is for white celebrities to appropriate these features with no thought. Funmi Lijadu writes for The Tab that “even if she didn’t know better, ignorance doesn’t absolve her of wearing an afro, braids, and banking off her racial ambiguity.”

In a 2016 interview, Wendy Williams told Ora she thought she was half-black to which Ora replied, “everybody usually does. I might as well be. But no, I’m Albanian.”

5. Bhad Bhabie

Ora wasn’t the only celebrity who got into hot water last year, Bhad Bhabie—real name Danielle Bregoli—was also called out for blackfishing.

Also known as the cash me outside girl, Bregoli comes from a completely white background, and is constantly seen darkening her skin and adopting black hairstyles. Much like Azalea, she has used this to build her career in hip hop. She doesn’t hide it or even pretend she’s not doing it.

 

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While on an Instagram live, Bregoli, in an attempt to defend herself, said an incredibly racist statement: “Y’all say that I try to be black, because I—maybe a reason for me trying to be black is that I grew up in the hood. Tarzan, right, he—the story of Tarzan.” Bregoli is comparing Tarzan behaving like a gorilla because he was raised by them to her “acting black” because she was raised “in the hood.” Yeah, she actually said that. To make matters even worse she backtracked by saying “who wants to be black? I don’t understand that. I can’t comprehend it.”

 

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