Black fishing – Appreciation or Appropriation?


I was looking at Ariana Grande’s 7 Rings music video for the first time yesterday and I before I even searched up the video, I came in with a watchful eye. I have long heard of Grande’s black fishing accusations but never discussed it publicly as I not did not know how to put down in words how I felt about her look or black fishing in general. As a result, I  have regrettably turned a little bit of a blind eye to this issue as I really do love Grande music and really do believe she’s a good person.

However as time passed and I have gotten older, I have realized that we really do have an issue here and the issue is cultural appropriation or black fishing as it is called. 

I used to be able to put my blinders on with black-fishing until Jesy Nelson, former member of Little Mix, left the group back in late 2020. If you have read my columns, you will know that I am a huge Little Mix fan. So when she announced her departure and and the drama that ensued afterwards came to light, I was devastated. However, I am not here to talk about that (in depth), I’m here to discuss about the accusations of Nelson’s black-fishing that became a hot discussion shortly after she released her debut single Boyz.

Blackfishing is a term created by journalist Wanna Thompson when she wrote in Paper back in 2018  “Black women are constantly bombarded with the promotion of European beauty standards in the media, so when our likeness is then embraced on women who have the privilege to fit traditional standards yet freely co-opt Blackness to their liking, it reaffirms the belief that people desire Blackness, just not on Black women”.

In short, the term describes how non-black women use artificial and cosmetic features such as tans and cosmetic surgery to achieve a black person look, specifically black women. Some may say (cough cough Kim Kardashian) that it is not black-fishing or cultural appropriation but “cultural appreciation”, which is when you are taking things common in other cultures and wearing them to give appreciation.

But no, nice try that’s not it.

We are still living in a world where Black people, specifically Black women are still having to deal with the colorism. We are also living in a world where black women have to deal with an even more specific issue that they don’t fit the mold of standard black beauty if they don’t fit the Instagram model look for black women that usually has features such as wavy hair and thinner noses. However, white women can put on supposed black features when they feel like and be able to take it off if and when they please. For black women, you can’t do that but they are continually pushed to the side as white women reap the benefits that white public figures make when they try to become black. 


For example, who can forget Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz era when she did nothing but brag about dating black men, stick foam fingers inside others and herself and wore that horrible black-sent. Iggy Azalea, a white woman from Australia is not too far from that. I can’t recall her sticking foam fingers in Robin Thicke but I can remember her trying and successfully mastering that black-scent that she has profited from for years. Their desire to achieve blackness is not because they want to be black, it’s because they desire the social media black look which they think will be better for their career. When Ariana Grande was in her Thank U Next era, which showed a more raw and in depth version of her. We saw her look go from knee length floral dresses and a line skirts with pale skin like she was in her debut Yours Truly era, to a much more tan look donning baggy clothes, attempted but unsuccessful twerking and dare I say it a black-sent. The days of a much more pop and normal voiced The Way were long gone for her. Usually artists like her have black co-signers which in Grande’s case was Nicki Minaj, who ironically seems to be co-signing Nelson’s black-fishing but didn’t co-sign Miley Cyrus’ back in 2015 for some reason. but what ends up happening is that this desire to be black is nothing more than a rebellious stage for these artists. They decide to move on and either return to their original look or move on to others (as Grande has now been accused of Asian culture approbation by her makeup looks).

Jesy’s music video has a number of questionable choices. From the white guys in poorly done cornrows to the fact that the majority of it was so heavily covered by Diddy’s song that it lacked originality, something was clear. Here we have a white woman from England acting as the leader of an “invasion” of a mostly white upper class neighborhood full of hooligans. The backlash the video received did more than just create controversy within the Mixer fandom but it brought up a bigger issue of blackfishing, which is what Jesy was trying to attempt with her over dramatic tan and untrue projection of black people, more specifically black women. A white woman whose tan was so dark that she was the same complexion as her featured artist Nicki Minaj who is a black woman.

As I said before, for black women there is no decision to wipe away your blackness and switch from race to race. We are who we are and when people come in to try to be us, they only stay for a little while until they decide to grow up and move on after they reap the benefits. 

Black-fishing and cultural appropriation is not cultural appreciation. Kim Kardashian might say she is taking these features and giving it thanks but in reality, she is just reaping the benefits while we continue to suffer and she continues to gain clout. There’s nothing thanks about the continued wealth gap that white people and black people have across the world and the desire for white women pretending to black rather than actual black women from black men. 

And before anyone says anything else. I do want to point out that the notion goes both ways. 

Drake for example has been hardcore cultural appropriation Caribbean men for years now. Whether it’s that cringe video he made years ago of the Trust me daddy or his extremely cringe fake Caribbean voice that refuses to give up in his music and Instagram videos and captions. There is a huge problem there. We also need to talk about Chet Hanks and not only his cultural appropriation of being a white man trying to be a black man, but his use of the five letter N word in one of his Instagram videos. A white man who grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth talking about f-ing hoes on Instagram, most of those hoes being black women. 

Now back to Jesy. Even though she received much backlash from not only her video but her accusations of black-fishing, she still denies that black-fishing is what she’s doing. In an interview with Vulture, she claims that the controversy of black-fishing was never an issue in the nearly nine years that she spent in Little Mix and that she is only receiving it since she left. Coming from a hardcore mixer and someone who spends time on the Little Mix blogs, I can tell you that her questionable fake skin tone has been a discussion long before she left. For the Sweet Melody music video, the fandom questioned why her skin color appeared to be the same complexion as band member Leigh-Anne Pinnock, a black woman. The other band members also allegedly approached Jesy regarding that issue personally. Even before then she received backlash back in 2018 when she uploaded a picture of herself wearing dreadlocks. 

Her comments are all the more ironic when you consider that the actual black member of Little Mix, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, has been vocal and critical of the treatment of black women in the music industry and the abuse she has received in her career regarding her own career. She even released her own documentary about the matter, titled Race, Pop and Power and Nelson still to this day has yet to comment on the documentary. Even though she now claims to be a supporter of black women. The irony continued when featured artist on Jesy’s single, Nicki Minaj continually bullied Leigh-Anne in a Instagram Live video she did with Nelson and continually called her out of her name all while Nelson did nothing but laugh and nod her head agreeing with what Nicki was saying. Nicki Minaj being the same woman who is married to a man who is a convicted rapist.

Condoning bullying of a black woman doesn’t sound like an appreciation for Black culture and Black music.

I want to end this by circling back to myself. I must admit to guilt for myself for ignoring the constant and very much obvious black-fishing that occurs all around me whether it’s in people I see in person or on screen. However, at this point, black-fishing is not something that can be overlooked. Black women have had to grow up seeing their hair, lips, and body features be shamed such as OJ from Basketball Wives as she states on the show, but white women or light skin women such as Kim Kardashian is praised for their features. I can’t wait till we get to a day where us black women can be praised for our features instead of constantly having to worry about someone saying something negative about it while white women are praised for appropriating our color.