“Perhaps we have not evolved enough as a society for colorism and cultural appropriation, not cultural appreciation, to be our daily bread. Finally, it all comes back to the systematic damage that colonialism and white inferiority treatment of other communities has caused,” – Yadiara Gonzalez
By Yadiara Gonzalez •
Originally published on Afroféminas •
If you keep up with pop culture you will be familiar with the term blackfish. It is about the appropriation of elements of Black aesthetics in white people, alluding that they may have racial ambiguity, or what is the same, appear Black or Latinx. Jesy Nelson, Ariana Grande, Nikita Dragun and other celebrities have been accused of blackfishing. On the other hand, the Kardashian family has fueled their multi-million dollar empire through cultural appropriation. However, this phenomenon coexists with colorism, a phenomenon in which lighter-skinned people are favored more. How did we get to this point as a society?
Beauty standards, like fashion, are evolving faster and faster. The toxic idea of reproducing a certain style in all people in order to consider them within the canons of what is “beautiful” is a phenomenon that has been occurring since the human being manifested an interest in aesthetics. In the Victorian era, fashion was impossible waists and the whiteness of the skin, almost artificial and dying. Christian Dior‘s New Look silhouette was worn in the 1950s , when the trend was to have the figure known as an ‘hourglass’; times when being thin was not considered as attractive as in the later 90s and the heroin chic look, guilty of countless eating disorders in young women.
Currently, and within Western culture, we have seen a change in the standard of beauty that has been taking place since the early 2010s. Around this time we went from idealizing white, thin and blonde celebrities to being interested in the life of what is known as ‘the American royal family’: the Kardashians . In this way, Kylie Jenner built her multi-million dollar empire by teaching us how to outline her lips thanks to her lip kit, and Kim Kardashian showed us her training routine and products such as skims to get her figure.
Cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation?
First of all, we must understand where the fascination with black culture and its influence in the western world comes from. As the singer, Lizzo, says in her song Rumors of her: ‘Black people made Rock and Roll’. Historically, it has been black people who have started most of the sociocultural movements of the 20th century. However, white people have dedicated themselves to appropriating each new trend and exploiting it as their own. In this specific example, the group Bill Haley and his comets or Elvis Presley is historically known as the beginning of rock and roll and his title as ‘King of Rock’ for mentioning the word Rock for the first time. However, it was the blues and the later Rhythm and Blues, a genre invented by black artists, the true predecessor of the musical genre, in which pioneers such as Little Richard or the singer and guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe participated.
When Ariana Grande decides to release the 7 Rings music video, around the year 2018, she was in an era in which her image as an artist was, as mentioned above, racially ambiguous. In fact, many people in 2019 thought that the singer was Latina. The aesthetic of this particular video clip was made up of small details extracted from Asian culture, in addition to the black aesthetic itself.
We cannot know for sure if the singer steals elements of black aesthetics on purpose or unconsciously, in her way of trying to fit into beauty standards. The problem arises when white celebrities and influencers begin to sell an image of themselves in which their skin tone is no longer white, their style is very similar to what was known as ghetto chic (name given to the style of dressing of African-American women in a derogatory way), and adopting the blaccent, or the imitation of the AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) another of the aspects that for decades was considered as something negative of the Black community and for which the conception that they had less education was favored.
Perhaps we have not evolved enough as a society for colorism and cultural appropriation, not cultural appreciation, to be our daily bread. Finally, it all comes back to the systematic damage that colonialism and white inferiority treatment of other communities has caused. For its part, perpetuating a system of injustices is undoubtedly easier than challenging it. That is why colorism is still a problem in 2021 and the Kardashians will not stop being influential from one day to the next. The young generations are the bearers of the social change that we may see in the coming decades. In spite of everything, I don’t think they will disappear automatically.
Yadiara Gonzalez is a journalist and musician from Tenerife who likes books, movies and making playlists.