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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
“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.”