Fishing Other Cultures

By Mariam Hassan

The concept of Blackfishing and Asian fishing have transgressed its measures beyond belief. It is one of the most outlandish forms of cultural appropriation, with the use of makeup and other artificial means.

The transformation includes altering oneself; your features, personality, or style, to mimic that of a minority and gaining fame or profiting off of having ethnic features without detriments like racism and discrimination. To say the least, it causes a burden on youth in ways people have absolutely no concern about.

For centuries, people of colour have been ridiculed for their features. Today, there are tutorials on TikTok on how to achieve a fox eye and the illusion of having bigger lips. All these videos have millions of views. To further the exploitation of ethnic features, world-renowned celebrities like Nicki Minaj are enabling this malpractice by attempting to debunk the controversy behind her fellow artist, Jesy Nelson.

She defends Nelson's decision to appropriate Black features like the darker skin and bigger lips in a music video for their recent song, Boyz, and attempts to justify it by stating that she wears straight blonde hair as a Black woman. Regardless of whether the rapper is doing this to promote her new song, the message she is sending out to young fans is clear.

Benazir Tom Erdimi, a human rights major at the University of Ottawa and spokesperson for the Ottawa Black diaspora coalition, explains how common it is.  

"As a Black woman, I would think she should understand what is happening, but she chooses to ignore the debacle only because that is her friend,” said Erdimi.  

“Racist encounters, ignorance and microaggression are disregarded depending on how close one is with that person and is ultimately a part of the problem,” said Erdimi. “She is gaslighting her fans to believe the artist is not Blackfishing, rather the fans are wrong. With that being said, the opinion of a celebrity is always held to a higher caliber.”  

The enabling of this madness continues, even economically speaking. Erdimi argues that Blackfishing serves as a proxy for brand deals to continuously choose white women over Black women.

“Society tends to view black women as threats. I even recall a company asking to diversify their company. Instead of asking Black women to join their team, they metamorphosed one of their white models,” said Edimir.  “So, this does serve as a stepping stone to overthrow Black women from having opportunities. Blackfishing is a serious issue, because brands typically view them as too 'aggressive' for their image. In hindsight, they are robbing Black women of these connections by trying to be them.”

This leads to an even bigger issue. Blackfishes and Asianfishes are more likely to land far more brand deals than women of colour. Businesses are typically going to seek out someone that looks potentially Black or racially ambiguous to represent their brands. It is just another example of the discrimination we see today.

“It has a crucial role on social issues affecting the youth, because there was always a racist experience taking place,” said Edimir. “Racial profiling was well established before Blackfishing, so being shamed for darker skin or bigger lips. Then, have someone turn around and not only appropriate, but monetize those features without understanding the struggle behind it. This makes one feel like they're not good enough, especially during their ripe ages.”

Edimir explains that youth are at a vulnerable stage and have the added trauma of being discriminated against for their race.

“Having someone taking your God given features and running with it, creates insecurities and inferiority complexes, and even internalized trauma,” said Edimir. “Given that Blackfishing is more of a physical concept, it somewhat extends beyond that. People of African descent have reasons as to why they act the way they do, in terms of dress code and hairstyles. These things have an extensive history, braids come from slavery, when kids see these Tik Toks online the message they are interpreting is that ‘we don’t care what’s happening and since its aesthetically pleasing I won’t stop doing it.” 

Asianfishing is also prevelant in society, with Asian features being sexualized. John-Paul McDermott, a Canadian with Asian descent is a social service student at George Brown College who was not too fond of the Asian culture being used to perpetuate sex symbols. 

“It is definitely a form of racism disguised as eroticism,” said McDermott. “The reason why it is problematic is because it creates this idea that an individual can be broken down into just a sex object based on nothing more than their race. When Asians are fetishized, although it is based on hatred, it is still a dehumanizing aspect, as it completely strips away any individuality and turns the individual into an object for another person’s pleasure. It is also a form of colonialism, because it revolves around the concept of exploiting others for personal gain based on race as well.”  

It is interesting that he mentioned colonialism, as it is per se, the deepest root of these problems. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree when discussing cultural appropriation and the art of colonizing.  

“Cultural appropriation is the act of stealing another's culture for the sake of one's own experience,” said McDermott. “It is a form of colonialism as it involves taking resources, in this case; traditions, cultural practices for the benefit of the one who is colonizing. This can relate to Asians as well in the sense that when one person steals an aspect of their culture, this is clearly a form of taking what does not belong to you, it is wrong because it normalizes robbing others of their cherished traditions.” 

All these factors eternize stereotypes, even turning a blind eye to the injustice the people have faced. Tools used to Blackfish and Asianfish still serve as a form of racism disguised as a cultural trend. There needs to be more awareness of the difference between embracing other cultures and cultural appropriation.

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