Jesy Nelson row: Blackfishing is distasteful, not cool

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·2-min read
Jesy Nelson row: Blackfishing is distasteful, not cool
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There is rarely a quiet moment in the world of Nicki Minaj. If you thought she might be taking a break from the keyboard after her infamous anti-vaxx tirade last month, in which she linked the vaccine to swollen testicles and took a few jabs (no pun intended) at the UK media, you are sorely mistaken.

Last night an Instagram live chat with ex-Little Mix band member Jesy Nelson to promote her and Minaj’s song Boyz descended into chaos. Minaj burst into unprovoked rage, rebuking Little Mix’s black bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock for unverified messages to a fan in which she appears to accuse Nelson of “blackfishing” in the Boyz music video.

What does blackfishing mean?

If you’re unfamiliar, blackfishing is a term used for someone accused of emulating a black or mixed-race person by using make-up, hair products and in some cases, surgery, to change their appearance. The term has entered the mainstream as a result of a shift away from Eurocentric beauty ideals towards an ideal of racial ambiguity which involves cherry picking “desirable” features from black women — think unnaturally big lips, dark tan and wavy locks. It’s about picking and choosing the aspects of blackness that are profitable and “cool”.

The harbingers of this racial shape-shifting are, of course, the Kardashian-Jenners. Their lucrative empire is based on this “Instagram look” — Kylie Jenner has leveraged her pout to build a cosmetics kingdom and become the youngest billionaire in the world. But Nelson’s appearance has also changed dramatically over the years to one of racial ambiguity and her latest music video for Boyz is an uncomfortable watch. It shows her and a coterie of black men and women terrorising a “nice white neighbourhood” while fetishising men who are “so hood, so good, so damn taboo”. Yikes.

It’s clear that Nelson wanted Minaj on side to stave off some of the bad press: the classic attempt at getting a black person to approve your problematic antics. But why anyone on Nelson’s publicity team thought having Minaj fighting her corner would be a good idea is beyond me. A notoriously loose cannon, Minaj’s modus operandi has always been to provoke a reaction.

Nicki Minaj and Jesy Nelson in their new music video
Nicki Minaj and Jesy Nelson in their new music video

If there ever has been an exercise in how not to deal with accusations that you have been racially insensitive, this is surely it. In this fraught territory, it’s sometimes best to stay clear of edginess and provocation. A little common sense would help.

What do you think of the blackfishing accusations against Jesy Nelson? Let us know in the comments below.

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