It is 2019; in Ariana Grande’s latest single ‘7 rings’, we see her as a mixed raced woman dancing in front of a villa with her other mainly mixed-race friends. Flashback to 2010, the series ‘Victorious’ stages a girl with white skin and red hair who doesn’t look anything like the Ariana Grande from today.
Many people probably wouldn’t even believe that it is the same person. Despite her current popularity, we question ourselves what has happened within this decade for her cultural identity to become unrecognisable?
Ariana Grande is not the only one appropriating elements of other cultures pretending to be someone who she simply isn’t.
‘Blackfishing’ is a new term to describe a person pretending to be of African or Arab origin.
Blackfishing is expressed by changing the appearance using make up, choosing different hairstyles and outfits and sometimes even getting surgery to adapt their body shape. The trend is widely spread in the world of social media and the fashion industry. After the Twitter community started to call out white girls blackfishing in November 2018, many before and after pictures of influencers were tweeted displaying a clear discrepancy. In the case of Ariana Grande, the blackfishing is not limited to the appearance but also about copying the other culture’s way of speaking. She’s adopted a so-called “blaccent” using African American Vernacular English which matches her new appearance. The criticism evoked by blackfishing revolves around ‘cultural appropriation’.
Simply put, cultural appropriation means that elements of one culture are adapted by members of another culture. In itself, this is not yet problematic, however, gets very provocative when a dominant culture appropriates from an oppressed culture. ‘Blackfishing’ is one form or cultural appropriation. Although the term has only been brought up in November of last year by the increased influencers embodying it, the phenomena occurred a while ago. The Kardashians, especially Kim, have been severally accused of appropriating black culture by wearing braids and getting cosmetic surgery. Also, the fashion industry has often made use of other culture’s elements. Gucci featured models wearing turbans on the catwalk, Marc Jacob’s models walked down the catwalk with braids and Gucci was recently involved in a scandal involving their highly offensive ‘black-face’ jumper.
There is a fine line between ‘celebrating culture’ and ‘disrespecting culture’.
Some people may say that the fact that white women want to look like black women is a compliment. However, mixed-race and black women always had to fight for their identity to be accepted. They have gone a long way and are, as sad as it is, still not at a point of full recognition in Western society. Fears of presenting for example their natural hair is still present.
White women now just pick and choose elements they would like to own without considering historical and cultural backgrounds. Becoming blacker within minutes by Ariana Grande using fake tan implies that the process can be reversed just as easily. Depending on the situation, women can decide which identity fits better, therefore, having the benefits of both worlds. They never know the struggle to be accepted which makes blackfishing to a matter of missing respect.
For many people, cultural appropriation does not seem like a big deal. That makes it more important to call it out which will eventually make more and more people aware of the meaning of their actions in a broader context. Fashion designers for example, have to start
including the original population to firstly, make it more authentic, and secondly, not exploit their culture but celebrate it.