IT’S been the showbiz scandal of the week – how Jesy Nelson, ex-Little Mix star, has been accused of “blackfishing”, or in other words appropriating black culture, for financial gain.
Critics have seized on her recent video for single Boyz, and her appearance while promoting it, to claim she is trying to make herself look like a black woman — something they say is unacceptable.
Jesy Nelson, ex-Little Mix star, has been accused of ‘blackfishing’, or in other words appropriating black culture, for financial gainCredit: BackGrid
I was somewhat disappointed to learn that all the hoo-ha has been caused by her essentially getting a bit of a tan and having a few African-style braids in her hairCredit: Splash
“Fishing” refers to the trend of drastically changing your appearance to look like a different person and gain more attention — otherwise known in old money as lying.
In Jesy’s hotly anticipated video, the first since she split from the cash cow that is Little Mix to pursue a solo career, she can be seen sporting braided hair, and with unnaturally large lips, while doing hip-hop dances alongside rapper extraordinaire Nicki Minaj.
The video is a spin-off of hip-hop legend P Diddy’s 2001 hit Bad Boy For Life.
The row has, however, seen Jesy criticised by, among many other people, her former bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock (of mixed black-Caribbean heritage) who reportedly reprimanded Jesy for darkening her skin. Leigh-Anne claimed it was offensive to black people.
When I heard about all the fuss, I was expecting to log on to YouTube and see Jesy in a full-frontal black-face, like Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, sporting dreadlocks and wearing a Jamaica-flag string vest.
I was somewhat dis- appointed to learn that all the hoo-ha has been caused by her essentially getting a bit of a tan, having a few African-style braids in her hair in one part of the music video and doing some hip-hop-inspired dances.
It’s the latest “offence” on her alleged rap sheet of blackfishing crimes.
Previously, Jesy was criticised after she wore her hair in dreadlocks, a style associated with natural Afro hair and popularised by the Jamaican Rastafari movement of the mid 20th century.
As a black woman who does indeed wear my Afro hair in its natural dreadlocks style, I suppose I’m expected to be offended by Jesy’s so-called appropriation. But as I have observed this saga, waiting diligently for someone somewhere to produce anything that is legitimately worthy of my offence, I have only been able to conclude two things.
Firstly, that the song is a pretty good, albeit cliched and vacuous, millennial tribute to the P Diddy original.
Secondly, that those who have taken grave offence to Jesy’s embrace of hip-hop culture probably need to get out more.
I’ve more important things to be concerned about as a black person — and so should they.
A damning report on knife crime in London, by think tank Policy Exchange, came out this week. It revealed that young black men are 24 times more likely to be victims of homicide than young white men, and five times more likely to end up in hospital as victims of a stabbing.
Do we really need to be obsessing about the fact a celebrity has gone from Dusted Cappuccino to Intense Chestnut on the Dulux paint scale and now fancies having an Afro and doing a bit of hip-hop? Jesy has said she did not intend to offend anyone and that her music has been inspired by her love of “black culture and music”.
Do we really need to be obsessing about the fact a celebrity has gone from Dusted Cappuccino to Intense Chestnut on the Dulux paint scale
And quite frankly, if no black children were harmed in the making of her video, I’m inclined to accept her explanation and move on with my life.
It reminds me of the row over Adele, who, while on holiday in Jamaica, celebrated Notting Hill Carnival by donning a Jamaican flag bikini top with Bantu knots in her hair — another storm in a teacup.
But all this is not to say that blackfishing is not real. I think it is.
Infamously, the American former college teacher Rachel Dolezal earned her credentials as blackfisher-in-chief when she meticulously forged an entire professional and social identity out of pretending to be black.
Dolezal, who claimed to identify as black, tanned her skin, wore fake Afro hair, became a branch president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and landed a job teaching African Studies in a bid to convince everyone her racial facade was a reality.
That was all of course before she was outed by her white parents as . . . well, having white parents. Needless to say, she was quickly renounced and ostracised from society.
And Asianfishing is a thing, too. Just this summer, white British influencer Oli London hit the headlines when he “came out” as Korean.
London claimed he was “transracial” and was so intent on adopting the look of his beloved Korean idols that he even went and got plastic surgery to give him “Korean eyes”.
And let’s not forget that whitefishing is also real. Many dark-skinned people, including black celebrities, try to make themselves appear whiter, whether by wearing long, silky hair extensions, using make-up to make their facial features look more European or outright bleaching their skin with chemical skin-whiteners.
In fact, the skin-whitening industry is worth billions globally and is only set to grow. And excuse me if I happen to think that whitefishing, which often entails chemically burning your skin just to look whiter, is a more pressing problem than the fact a former member of Little Mix looks like they spent too long in a tanning booth.
The people who claim that race relations are extremely fraught in Britain and need to be resolved as a matter of urgency cannot have their cake and eat it.
On the one hand, they say they want to live in a racial melting pot where being black is celebrated, where African and Caribbean cultural trends and practices are seen as part of every- day life.
Yet, on the other hand, they get offended when some white people want to embrace and adopt those same aspects of Afro-Caribbean culture.
You can’t chastise someone for not seeing your culture as worthy while lambasting them when they celebrate it.
One man’s cultural appropriation is another man’s cultural appreciation.
It reminds me of the row over Adele, who, while on holiday in Jamaica, celebrated Notting Hill Carnival by donning a Jamaican flag bikini top with Bantu knots in her hair — another storm in a teacup
American Rachel Dolezal earned her credentials as blackfisher-in-chief when she forged an entire professional and social identity out of pretending to be blackCredit: Rachel Dolezal/Instagram
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