What Is 'Blackfishing'? How Some Influencers Can Insinuate They Are Black When They Aren't

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The social media practice known as “blackfishing” has made its way into the spotlight after some accused a popular Swedish Instagram model of passing herself off as black to gain more followers.

“Blackfishing” is defined as when a person, usually social media influencers or personalities, passes as black by altering their appearance – often their hair and skin tone. The practice is problematic, experts say, because it’s a deception by omission.

“Most of the people who are accused of ‘blackfishing’ don’t directly state on their profiles that they are black, but rather insinuate it through their new appearances, the way they dress, and the products they’re selling or endorsing,” Danielle Bainbridge, a postdoctoral fellow in African-American Studies at Northwestern University, told InsideEdition.com.

Model Emma Hallberg, 19, was at the forefront of the recent controversy after a Twitter user shared an image of a DM response Hallberg sent to her after she asked if she was black. The question was in response to a photo of a super-tan Hallberg alongside a much lighter photo of her had been circulating on social media as well, sparking debate.

“Yes I’m white and I’ve never claimed to be anything else. And by no way, there are no 'before' pictures, the pictures that has been spread are just two different pictures taken on two different seasons of the year,” Hallberg responded.

Appearing on "Good Morning America" last week, Hallberg insisted she hasn't done anything to make herself appear darker. 

“I cannot change the way I was born,” she said on "GMA." “The things I’ve been accused of and the things people are mad about are the things that are natural on me, like my lips and my nose and I’ve never claimed to be black or biracial or anything other than white.”

Hallberg isn’t the only one who has come under fire for allegedly passing herself off as black. Another Instagram star, Jaiden Gumbayan, was accused of wearing blackface last year.

Gumbayan, who is Filipino and white, apologized for “perpetuating a culture of appropriation” after the accusations surfaced.

Bainbridge agrees that “blackfishing” is a form of cultural appropriation. 

“Cultural appropriation is at the heart of this because isn’t solely about culture, it’s about power,” Bainbridge said. “It’s about having the relative privilege and access to selectively engage with parts of a culture that you find interesting or appealing, without having to think or engage with the broader experiences of people from that culture.

“Appropriation happens when you have a position of power ... to take the parts of a culture that you enjoy, divorce them from their original meaning, and use them for entertainment value without considering their original context or having to deal with the negative ramifications that someone from that culture would have to deal with if they were to do the same thing,” she added.

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