In a trend that is not new or surprising, white women seem to be adopting the features of black women on social media in their quest to develop themselves as models and influencers. The most recent iteration of this is Swedish Instagram model Emma Hallberg, who shocked some of her followers when they realized she was white.
Earlier this week, a 19-year-old woman named Deja tweeted a screenshot of Hallberg’s page, along with a screenshot of a DM from a follower informing her that the model was not, in fact, black, with the succinct caption “PARDON????” “Finding out Emma was white was so shocking due to the fact that this girl has done everything to look the part of a mixed black girl,” Deja told the Cut via email.
“I genuinely believed this girl was Afro-Latina,” she continued. “She had been mimicking black features and getting famous for it. She has been darkening her skin several tones deeper than her natural shade, braiding her hair to make it look similar to mixed people’s curl pattern, and even been featured on Instagram accounts made for black hair styles and spotlighting black women. The sad part is she really fooled everyone into believing she was a mixed girl.”
Hallberg, for her part, has denied trying to intentionally look black; one Twitter user posted what appears to be a DM conversation with the influencer, in which she wrote, “I’m white and I never claimed to be anything else… I’m NOT ‘posing’ as a colored person as you claim.”
Hallberg reiterated those statements in a recent interview with Buzzfeed, saying that she never “claimed or tried to be black or anything else.”
“I do not see myself as anything else than white,” she added. “I get a deep tan naturally from the sun.”
As brazen as Hallberg’s apparent grift may seem, it’s far from an isolated incident. Within hours, in fact, a 21-year-old woman named Odinaka had created an entire Twitter account (which has since been suspended) dedicated to white people who have catfished their followers by posting photos of themselves with darker skin, cornrows, braids, and perms.
“I created the account because I thought that there was really an alarming amount of white women posing as black women, and honestly to add some humor to things,” Odinaka explained in an email to the Cut. “Also I wanted someone to bring awareness to the topic, but since no one else wanted to do it I decided to do it myself.”
Odinaka says her response to the “lack of social awareness and blatant ignorance” displayed by these influencers is “really just to laugh,” though she recognizes that this kind of behavior has serious implications: “It matters because it makes people in our community feel as though we’re not the best representation of our everyday selves.”
“I still have to wrap my mind around the fact that there’s white and non-black women portraying themselves as something I am every day without effort,” she continued. “They’re gaining success by appearing to look like me while I work ten times as hard to get where I really want to be. It’s unfair.”
Some of the influencers featured include the accounts of Lisa McInally, Kristen Hancher, and Niykee Heaton. Hancher and McInally have not responded to the criticism on social media. But as Odinaka pointed out on Twitter, Heaton has been called out before for darkening her skin and has since “stuck to her shade range.” Others, like @jaiahfern, have pushed back on the observations made by Odinaka and others.
“It’s very annoying to see people who aren’t black get praised for these type of things but yet actual black people get called things like hoodrat, ghetto and ratchet,” Odinaka said.
For Deja, this widespread behavior isn’t at all surprising, nor is the fact that white women are garnering hundreds of thousands of fans from it. “Any non-black or white person that has taken black culture and profited off of it is typically never phased [sic] when called out nor will stop,” she wrote.