As of 2020, there are 3.8 billion social media users worldwide. Of those users,90.4% are millennials, 77.5% are Gen-X, and 48.2% are Boomers. With the vast amount of diverse groups, there is an ever rampant issue of over racism on social media. In a 2019 study, 52 percent of teenagers said they came across racist hate speech on social media. 1 in 4 Black social media users have been harassed online because of being Black, and that harassment included racial slurs, cultural appropriation and derogatory comments. One of the newest forms of cyber racism that is emerging is “blackfishing.”
Blackfishing is a form of cultural appropriation where white women wear darker makeup and traditional Black hairstyles to gain likes and attention. Most recently, female rap artist Danielle Bregoli (Bhad Bhabie) posted multiple photos and videos appearing darker with braids. Many of the comments praised her for transitioning “to a beautiful light skin woman” and “It was time she started appearing Black because she is.” Still, many comments severely criticized her for appropriating Black culture once again. After much scrutiny, she appeared on Instagram live, denying the accusations and adding “who wants to be Black?” Instead of withdrawing their support, many fans and “pro-Black” social media news pages continue to post her.
On the other hand, Kayla Nicole Jones (NicoleTV), a Black influencer, was harassed online for her breast size. She posted a picture in a low-cut dress, which critics felt the need to detail that her breast appeared “long.” The harassment led Jones to remove the image from her page. How does Bhad Bhabie’s racist remarks and clear signs of appropriation receive less condemnation than an innocent picture of a Black woman?
Another example of blackfishing is Iggy Azalea, whom often poses online with a darker tan, speaks in an accent similar to that of Black people and even ripped off of Nicki Minaj’s album “Reloaded”. Yet, when called out, Grammy-nominated artist Iggy Azalea says, “Can you really say sorry and then keep doing the same sh*t? (Her question.) “I’m still going to make the same type of music and still be ridiculous and larger than life.”
Most of these blackfish seek to gain attention and lure in celebrities to boost profits. Many white Instagram models receive lucrative partnerships with companies such as Fashion Nova, Flat Tummy Tea and Waist Trainer, which takes opportunities away from Black influencers.
For example, Danielle Harrington, a Black Sports Illustrated Model, has less Instagram partnerships and followers than Emma Hallberg, a Swedish woman pretending to be Black. This is a small scale representation of how Black culture continues to be stolen for monetary gain. Most individuals believe “Imitation is the best form of flattery,” but those who blackfish use these tactics to claim the culture as their own, not pay respect to it. Matter of fact, celebrities such as Iggy Azalea and Bhad Bhabie do not comment, donate, or protest when Black issues are brought to the forefront. In a 2018 interview, Azalea said “I’ve tried not to be too political because I am an immigrant, I’m not trying to go to a protest where they’re arresting celebrities”. After these comments, her last album peaked at #50 of Billboard’s top 200 and her last 2 EP’s landed on the charts.
White women receive praise for “original content” such as Black hairstyles and makeup looks but Black women of the same age are slammed for attempting to appear as an adult, even as teenagers. Former Disney star Skai Jackson posted a video rapping to a profane song which was met with the public chastising her for not “acting her age.” Bhad Bhabie, who is the same age as Skai, posted a video rapping to the same song and flipping off the camera, and no one criticized her.
The terms of service of social media websites such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook all claim to auto-hide/ restrict offensive comments, yet many Black celebrities have had to deactivate or delete posts to stop the hate comments. For Black content creators, social media can be a great way to gain exposure and escape the daily struggle of racism and micro-aggressions, cultivating a welcoming community. However, we still have still has to find ways to combat racism, even online.