But Why We Should Definitely be Worried About It.
When women like Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug make headlines for posing as Black women, it is rightfully met with bewilderment and surprise. For several reasons, many simply cannot comprehend why a white person would legitimately disguise themselves as a member of one of the most discriminated groups in the world. On one hand, some people view it as an openly racist act and on the other hand, some, namely white people are simply confused on how these women could possibly hate Black people, when they appear to successfully emulate Blackness. To figure that out, it requires looking a little deeper than the sensationalist headlines, to realise that there is something far more sinister beneath the surface that Black people have been calling out for years. This is not simply showing admiration for the Black community by darkening their skin the same way Emo fangirls dye their hair. This is a growing issue that the world is dismissing when it needs addressing.
Colourism, cultural appropriation and Blackfishing are terms that have established themselves in discourse around social media beauty standards. The founding theme that runs through each of these is mainly centred around white women passing as lighter skinned Black women through successfully appropriating styles from Black culture i.e. certain hairstyles, makeup and fashion, and how this further links to the ways in which lighter skinned Black women are treated better in society as well as in the Black community. Before you call the fashion police on what Black fashion styles are and what appropriating is, then do check out the post on “Cultural Appropriation and Why Black Culture is So Valuable”. The term cultural appropriation has been used often when calling out celebrities such as Kim Kardashian for darkening their skin to the point you might have to do a double take for failing to recognise her. The term Blackfishing, (from the term Catfish) has been directed at your average Instagram user of no notoriety, who darkens their skin to the point where there is a visibly stark contrast between their neck, hands and ankles, compared to their face, but with the right camera angle they easily convince people that they’re Black. When paired together, cultural appropriation and Blackfishing have led us to the point where it should really come as no surprise that white woman are posing as Black women, when reports of Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug hit the front page.
Both Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug have successfully utilised cultural appropriation, colourism and Blackfishing, and taken the game to the next level. Rather than using these elements of capitalising on Black culture in the beauty and social media space, they are encroaching on the limited spaces were Black people dominate, establish themselves on their own terms and in a bid to uplift other Black people. Under the false pretence of being a Black woman, Rachel Dolezal served as president of her local N.A.A.C.P chapter (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), a civil rights organisation. She wasn’t the secretary, a donor, an administrative person, an ally, no… she was the president. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about why this is wrong, then welcome to the conversation and do have a look around.
I will do my best to unpack the layered levels of unhinged racism here. Many wondered, would it be so wrong for her to work for the N.A.A.C.P. as a white person? But that’s where we have to take a step back. She was not portraying herself as a white person. If she had, it might have been beneficial to have an…I can’t even say it because let’s be honest here, the woman pretended to be Black so the idea of her being an ally is one she has strayed so far from there’s no point in indulging it. The bottom line is that she is not in fact Black. She portrayed herself as a light skinned Black woman with braids in her hair and called herself Black. It’s fair to say that she went and joined the organisation with the mindset that it would personally serve her better to be seen this way and clearly that notion paid off as her resume shows and that is the crux of cultural appropriation. It is when a dominant cultural group adopts aspects from a less dominant cultural groups for personal gain. Society heavily resists this idea because white people are the dominant culture, therefore, ultimately we are saying white people (the dominant culture) cannot easily take aspects from certain cultures without crediting or acknowledging the less dominant cultures they take from in some way. This is the pillar of cultural appropriation 101 and it’s a tough pill to swallow for some, but try and think of it this way if you want to be constructive. Imagine a white person applying for a BAME trainee scheme, ticking the Black African check box, getting accepted, showing up with a bit of a tan and then ultimately becoming the head of BAME Inclusion and Diversity. That’s cultural appropriation in a nutshell, in this instance (because it does take other forms) it is a factor of racism which economically disadvantages another race through exploitation. It takes away opportunities for the people of colour it was intended for by exploiting Blackness. A Black man or woman could have significantly improved their chances in life by adding ‘President of the N.A.A.C.P. Local Chapter’ to their CV but instead it is given to women like Rachel Dolezal, who make calculated moves and benefit from stealing these chances from Black people. Similarly, with Jessica Krug who pretended to be Black, she also capitalised on Blackness through her position as, wait for it… ‘Professor of African American History’. When Black people cry out for more Black teachers in higher education, all you end up with is a white woman in heavy fake tan and loose curls in her hair. I challenge anyone to say that allowing this isn’t sinister and unethical, and that doing so does not continue to facilitate racism. Leave a comment below.
The pattern of hiding in plain sight has been the theme of cultural appropriation and Blackfishing as seen with Kim Kardashian who tucks her cultural appropriation neatly in the world of celebrity beauty. It rapidly becomes normalised, quite effortlessly through the push of celebrity. Those wanting to capitalise simply have to choose the most obvious industry or subject with strong ties to the Black community and hey presto! You’ve got yourself a Black culture cash-cow. Furthermore, the formula requires that the Black community suffers in some way as a result of it because that is the secret recipe. Therefore, when people downplay these women’s actions and give them a mental-health pass or boil it down to culture being fluid, and us all being from the motherland, that is just the narrative that keeps on giving to white people and taking away from Black people. The effects don’t stop at full on gaslighting, even the press has crept in to create a myth around why women like Jessica Krug and Rachel Dolezal aren’t racist. The Daily Telegraph recently had the audacity to go with this headline behind their paywall “If America is racist, why did Jessica Krug claim to be Black?”. Despite the shootings of Black people, Donald Trump and the facts and stats that show racism in the cold light of day, a callous headline such as this only seeks to satisfy the thirst for comfortability and denial from a society that maintains white supremacy and racism. Ultimately, this narrative sums up why a white woman pretending to be Black will never be beneficial to Black people, as it only serves to discredit us and set us back on fighting racism.
With all that being said, the last aspect of all this is the creepiness. To know that there are women out there who determinedly study the different shades of Black from an aesthetic point of view and pick them out as if their reading through a catalogue, is a perverse image that will haunt me forever. It harkens back to images of slavery and Black people being lined up to be assessed and sold. It’s utterly disturbing. But this is racism in full effect, as ugly as it is for all eyes to see. If Rachel and Jessica genuinely wanted to help Black people and fight racism, they would scrub off their fake tan and assume their whiteness, instead of dressing up as Black and denying their role in it altogether. As long as the scare crowing continues, women like Rachel and Jessica will continue to twist notions of Black identity and real Blackness will never be appreciated.