Blackfishing: What you need to know

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Blackfishing is a sort of interpersonal racism that can be detrimental, even when a person does not have discriminating or hurtful intents. This style of racism sees Black people as stereotypes and promotes Black culture as a product.

Blackfishing ignores the underlying oppression that Black people suffer and presents a simplified and often damaging depiction. The phrase derives from catfishing, which is the activity of claiming to be a different person or having a different appearance online.

Blackfishing involves a wide range of actions, such as falsely pretending to be black, co-opting the experiences of black people, or using cosmetics to appear either black or racially ambiguous. Sociologists may define it as a modern form of blackface.

Celebrities who indulge in blackfishing commodify the black experience, using it to profit without genuinely facing the hardships and oppression connected with being black. It is a sort of cultural and racial appropriation.

Keep reading to learn more about blackfishing, including its adverse societal consequences and how it can negatively affect health, mental health, and health equity.

What is blackfishing?

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Blackfishing is a kind of blackface, which is the practice of dressing up as a Black person. A person may blackfish to seek attention or money resources or to emulate Black people and culture.

Blackfishing typically occurs in digital arenas, where it is easy for a person to modify their images to appear racially ambiguous. In some circumstances, people claim to be Black, while in others, they might present themselves as racially ambiguous or absorb parts of Black appearance or culture without making any clear claims about their ethnicity.

Some instances of blackfishing behaviors include a person:

  • using image editing software to darken their complexion or alter their facial features in order to appear more black
  • claiming to be Black, especially on social media
  • speaking in a Black “accent” or using African American vernacular English
  • appropriating traditional elements of Black culture or aesthetics, such as wearing dreadlocks

Blackfishing is not accidental. A person is not blackfishing if, for example, their complexion looks darker in a photograph because of the lighting. Blackfishing happens when a person purposefully exploits racial ambiguities to profit from Blackness despite not being Black.

What are the societal implications?

Blackfishing proves that Black culture can be valuable. Critiques of the practice generally center on how non-Black celebrities commodify the Black experience. Through blackfishing, a person may exhibit a more appealing and lucrative form of Blackness. This form requires neither racial fairness nor systemic change, but it nevertheless gives the “cool” and enticing components of Blackness.

Blackfishing is Blackness devoid of context or injustice. It leaves out the experience of humans who are genuinely Black and presents Blackness as a product rather than as something that millions of people experience.

What kind of consequences may it have on one’s health?

Blackfishing displays Blackness as a commodity, which is degrading and contributes to racist prejudices about Black people, according to the organization. This may have a negative impact on the health of Black people in the following ways:

  • exposing Black people to another form of trauma that may affect their physical health
  • falsely depicting racial stereotypes, including stereotypes about Black behavior that may affect health, thereby intensifying healthcare stereotypes about Black people
  • undermining the mental health of Black people, which may also affect physical health
  • depicting an image of Blackness that is not real, potentially altering the expectations that non-Black healthcare providers have of Black people in their care
  • popularizing racial stereotypes that may undermine health and contribute to racism in medicine

Mental health

Blackfishing is a sort of racism, and racism is traumatic. Exposure to racial trauma raises the risk of a number of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These persistent repercussions of racism may plague a person throughout their life.

Moreover, chronic racial trauma may create a phenomenon named weathering. Weathering happens when intense stress, including the stress of tyranny, erodes a person’s physical health. Weathering may help explain why Black people in the United States have greater rates of various physical health conditions, such as heart disease, than white people.

Blackfishing may also impair the day-to-day mental health of Black people. The practice shows that Blackness is a commodity and that some non-Black people feel comfortable seeing Black people as products and than people. This may be humiliating and frustrating for Black people.

Additionally, seeing white people profit from the agony that Black people have experienced may be disheartening. Blackfishing indicates that consumers are interested in Black culture only when it is free of the real Black experience. For Black people wanting to earn a living in entertainment or other public endeavors, this understanding can be very detrimental.

Health equity impacts

Researchers have long observed a pattern of health disparities between Black people and those belonging to other racial groups. The influence of racism has caused Black people in the U.S. to have poorer socioeconomic position and more barriers to healthcare. Even among relatively rich Black people, racism in healthcare affects treatment and results.

Blackfishing also “takes up space” surrounding the concerns, desires, and interests of Black people. That is to say, people with a public platform who engage in Blackfishing take away the potential for real Black people to push for meaningful change, even in healthcare. The concerns of Black individuals, thus, get ignored, eclipsed, muted, and unheard.

Additionally, blackfishing often relies on racial stereotypes. It has the capacity to reinforce these prejudices, making them more prominent in the eyes of others, even doctors. This, in turn, could impair healthcare quality and results and lead to further challenges regarding health equity.

Research demonstrates that some doctors have inaccurate assumptions about the biological differences between Black and white people. For instance, a 2016 study indicated that about half of medical residents and students accept racist misconceptions about Black people, such as that they experience less pain. The propagation of racist preconceptions via blackfishing may compound this problem, exacerbating racial inequality.


Blackfishing is an extremely detrimental form of interpersonal racism, even if there are no discriminating or ill intentions.

Blackfishing views Black people as stereotypes and promotes Black culture as a product, neglecting the systemic oppression that Black people endure in favor of a simplified and often damaging image.

Black people are the legitimate owners of Black images and culture. Honoring Black culture means understanding about the effects of numerous forms of racism on Black people, particularly the effects of blackfishing. It also takes a person to care about these effects.

A practice can nevertheless be damaging even if all members of a culture do not reject it. The endorsement of a tiny number of Black people does not excuse the behavior while others continue to face damage. Black people are the experts on their own experience and should be the ones portraying it in the media.