Summary List Placement
Since the rise of digital platforms like TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook – presence on social media isn’t just about pictures with friends or posting random thoughts. It is a calculated portrait of the best version of life.
Influencer marketing has become a billion-dollar business with a new class of millionaires rising from it – commanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.
High-profile YouTubers can potentially earn over $100,000 on average a month from advertising revenue in exchange for their millions of views coming to their channel.
In an age where more marginalized creators and influencers are marketing themselves and centering their cultural identities to speak to their audience, white influencers and mainstream companies have at times decided to take advantage – co-opting a trend to incorporate cultural traits into their branding.
“White celebrities and influencers who are choosing to blackfish are taking pieces and parts of Black culture, commodifying it, without having any understanding of the experience of what it is like to be Black in America today,” Mita Mallick, a diversity and inclusive executive, told Insider.
First defined by Canadian journalist Wanna Thompson, “blackfishing” is the act of impersonating a person of African descent for financial gain and exposure. She coined the term after noticing influencers darkening their skin and altering their appearance to look more like a Black or biracial person.
Experts told Insider white influencers can profit from ‘blackfishing’
In the last decade, the features Black women are often condemned for – full lips, round hips, and brown complexions – are now trendy accents worn by celebrities and influencers to increase social capital, turn it into lofty business deals.
When attached to a non-Black person, Afro-centric features can be extremely lucrative.
“Blackfishing is a way for white celebrities and influencers to momentarily, temporarily present themselves as stylish, unique, or exotic to their audiences,” Mallick added.
Critics point to celebrities like Kylie Jenner, who has made a billion-dollar empire modeling surgically enhanced features that many African American women have been taunted over – even subjected to racial caricatures.
Related Article Module: 12 celebrities who have been accused of blackfishing
Swedish singer Snoh Alegra, Polish influencer Aga Brzostowska and pop star Ariana Grande have all faced accusations they’ve darkened their skin, or have dodged questions about their ethnic background to gain followers and sponsorships.
Blackfishing perpetuates inequity in the beauty and business world
But the financial gain isn’t just limited to social media. Brands also use white and racially ambiguous models to leverage their marketable traits into marketing campaigns that can attract Black customers, all while not alienating their white consumers.
A report by Quartz showed how brands including Dior and Sephora have still fallen short at including darker skin tones in the campaigns and advertising after the racial injustice protests that began last year and million-dollar pledges to promote inclusivity.
After surveying 27,000 images across 34 brand Instagram feeds, findings show the median skin tone had barely changed from before the protests began.
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Advocates note that the disparity in skin tone goes back to the idea of what is perceived as attractive in American society.
In a recent study published last month by Harvard professor Ellis Monk on inequality through the lens of perceived attractiveness, Black women perceived to be the least attractive earned 63 cents to the dollar of those perceived to be the most attractive.
Monk says the way colorism plays a factor into what society perceives as a “good-looking” Black woman is based on a person’s proximity to whiteness.
“Even after you take education and family background into account, those associations are so strong that the gap among Black women along a continuum of perceived attractiveness, that earnings gap is actually larger than the Black-white race gap in earnings and is larger than the gender gap,” he told Insider.
Monk argued when “there’s profits to be had, popularity, money, attractiveness,” can both “go hand in hand with Eurocentric values around physical appearance of beauty.”
Advocates blackfishing is rooted in anti-Blackness and colorism
Mallick explained that marketing’s colorism issue and its aversion to hiring darker-skinned models to be the face of their advertising campaigns incentivizes discriminating hiring.
“There is still a strong bias that exists that says dark-skinned models don’t sell,” she told Insider via email “That’s because many of our current Western beauty standards continue to celebrate the all-American beauty, who is a thin, blonde, blue-eyed woman.”
Despite the high earning potential influencers and public figures may stand to gain from ‘blackfishing,’ Black influencers are still struggling to get paid their fair share.
Last summer, an Instagram account called Influencer Pay Gap exposed how several prominent Black influencers struggled to get paid fairly for their work. In June, Black TikTokers went on strike, stating that they were tired of being overlooked by brands while white influencers get access to profitable brand deals.
The toll isn’t just an economic and social one, but also psychological. Monk cited constant erasure as having damaging effects on young peoples’ mental health.
“As a Black woman, as a Black girl, you’re growing up in a society in the United States that is systematically devaluing how most of you look,” he says.
For many, blackfishing isn’t just offensive but also harmful to Black consumers, particularly Black women subjected to racial stereotypes for not fitting into European beauty standards.
Mallick said that, unchecked, the act renders darker-skinned Black women voiceless and invisible – stifling any “opportunity to shatter stereotypes they face, to ensure they are authentically represented, and to start shifting the cultural narrative.”
“If Black girls aren’t seeing themselves reflected in the world around them, it limits their view of what they think they can do, what they believe they can be,” she said. “You can’t create anything for a community without that community having a seat at the table, a voice at the table, and for their voice to matter and to be heard.”