The word gatekeeper has two definitions in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one that is literal and another that is more philosophical; one that tends or guards a gate and a person who controls access. There are gatekeepers to many parts of society, including to beauty standards and societal norms. Apparently, the gatekeepers have recently green-lighted behavior that has sparked a lot of controversy.
There have been several recent controversies involving cultural imitation, causing a lot of sideways glances, some that come from more traditional and nontraditional outlets.
Beauty standards change with the times, but I noticed that being considered exotic or “mixed” has become popular and some people are using this trend to fetishize and benefit from it in unethical ways. Sadly, social media has a part to play in this.
As a 19-year-old college student, I definitely contribute to the stereotype of constantly scrolling through Instagram. While I scroll, there are many pages and posts dedicated to mixed race individuals. This doesn’t become a problem until people try to imitate an ethnicity that they clearly aren’t. Also, in contrast to the claims of former NBC talk show host Megyn Kelly who justified blackface, some people aren’t just imitating other ethnicities on Halloween; for some, it’s an everyday costume.
Sophomore communication studies major, Regina Askew-Jones explained how she felt about the topic.
“On one hand, I love that people admire us that much to want to be like us, but I also hate that it’s more of a mockery. They imitate the good parts and are able to return to their privilege when they are done pretending,” Askew-Jones said.
In recent weeks, a group of white Instagram influencers were subject to controversy because they were appearing and portraying themselves as African-American women, an act also known as “blackfishing.”
According to the New York Post, one of the influencers, 19-year-old Emma Hallberg responded to the claims and said that she tans naturally and never “claimed or tried to be black or anything else.”
Whether or not you believe her, it is important to recognize that there is need for a conversation about the topic of this trend. She alone has 200,000 Instagram followers and shares tips about makeup. That is a lot of people subject to her influence. It is clear that there is a number of people imitating mixed or black features to gain attention and recognition.
“I think it’s more desirable to be mixed. People that are black and white have the option to pick up whichever race they want when it’s convenient depending on how black or white they look,” Askew-Jones said.
This emphasizes the phrase “looks decieve.”
The worst thing about this is that it is not a new social media trend. There was an uproar when people claimed that Kylie Jenner was the pioneer of big lips, when many people of other cultures were made fun of and ostracized for their own.
Gatekeepers also exist in more traditional outlets. There was an instance in politics where imitation was prevalent and very explicit.
According to the Washington Post, a racist robocall sent out via phone was used against Stacey Abrams, a nominee in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election. The recording was supposed to sound like Oprah Winfrey and started off by saying, “This is the magical Negro Oprah Winfrey asking you to make my fellow Negress Stacey Abrams the governor of Georgia.”
This is another example of people imitating people of color. Most people’s knee-jerk reaction to something like this would be disgust but it goes to question why or how something like this easily entered people’s phones.
“Oprah is one of the most successful women of color and she is still subjected to mockery. It just shows that no one is exempt from it,” Askew-Jones said.
Although some might argue that this type of blatant racism is not a norm or a standard, it would not be happening at this magnitude if it wasn’t.
This idea of imitating another person’s ethnicity or pretending to be someone is not new. This nation, and many other nations, have a history of blackface and yellowface, which mocks African-Americans and Asians. Although this is ridiculed in various spaces, there are still people out there unaware of their intentions.
The line of imitation is very narrow and can lead into offensive territory. That is why it is so important to open up dialogue about these topics, even though they can be daunting.
As Askew-Jones said, it is thoughtful that people admire people of color, but there is a difference between appreciating and actively taking advantage.
Social media is somewhat new and, because of this, it can be inferred that we are the true gatekeepers. The same could be said for more traditional areas like politics.
Although these are two seemingly different areas, we still influence standards. It is up to you to take the initiative to change the norms and standards, and become better as a whole.
The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by staff memeber, Tatyanna Carman.