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Black-fishing in academia: How this George Washington University professor pretended to be Black

Sep 17, 2020, 4:01 AM

"Black-fishing" is a term used to categorize non-Black people who use makeup, tanner, hair styles, accent, surgery and more to appear Black or mixed race. This phenomenon is all too common in the music and entertainment industry, but also in academia.

George Washington University Professor Jessica Krug recently admitted to black-fishing for years.

As a professor, she taught in the Department of Africa, Latin America and African American History and published various essays and even a book titled "Fugitive Modernities: Kisama and the Politics of Freedom” about the past politics, which has been used as a teaching tool.

Krug has lived her whole adult life as a Black woman, claiming North African Blackness, U.S. Blackness and Caribbean Bronx Blackness when, in reality, she is a white Jewish woman from Kansas City.

What initially confused me about Krug was her blog post on The Medium, where she admits to black-fishing and presuming multiple fake identities: How did she get here?

Krug said she has “thought about ending these lies many times over many years, but my cowardice was always more powerful than my ethics. I know right from wrong.” That may be the most disturbing part. Even Kurg's own awareness was not enough to stop her from taking from the Black and Afro-Latinx community.

Krug mentions in her post that mental health issues and trauma from her past could be why she acted Black, but says no mental health issue is an excuse for what she did. I admit, it’s strange to see Krug so openly, in her own words, “canceling herself.”

While it’s refreshing to see someone actually admit that they were wrong and not use any excuses to cover up their behavior, it’s hard to believe it’s real. The nature of this story is just so disturbing: A fully white woman is posing as an Afro-Latinx, acting as if she understands what it's like to be oppressed and isn't just choosing to be so and taking up space in her field – which should’ve gone to a person whose experiences were true.

It’s also important to note that Krug’s secret identity wasn’t exactly a secret to everyone.

A junior scholar told The New Yorker they noticed that Krug changed her ethnicity in the past but was worried no one would believe them. Eventually, they told some other colleagues about their suspicion that Krug may be black-fishing and word got around.

One of these colleagues was Yomaira C. Figueroa-Vásquez, an associate professor of Afro-diaspora studies at Michigan State University, who eventually found the truth about Krug’s identity in Krug’s parents’ obituaries.

“We were not going to write some big flashy letter. We were not trying to ruin her life,” Figueroa-Vásquez said. Instead, they tried contacting friends that knew Krug personally, but suspect that one of these friends told Krug about the whole situation, thus prompting the blog post.

Krug is also not the first professor at George Washington University to lie about their ethnicity. Just earlier this year, professor and novelist H. G. Carrillo also lied about being Latinx. Having white professors pose as racial minorities only further limits BIPOC’s space in academic conversation.

Black and Afro-Latinx students in the Black Student Union at George Washington University released a statement in regards to Krug: “Students, people, are being hurt by this institution’s disregard of Black life,” and that the university's lack of actual representation made it possible for Krug to get as far as she did — the university simply isn’t trying very hard to be better for its BIPOC students.

Krug’s black-fishing may seem like a scandal that will come and go but it has serious repercussions. Especially since Krug wrote an entire blog post explaining the details of what she did, we’re led to believe there isn’t more to the story. But there is.

Krug did something crucial: she canceled herself. She erased the identity of Professor Krug that people knew and will now fall into another identity as Krug, the white woman she always was. But just because she canceled herself and erased herself from the damage that has been done, doesn’t mean the lesson is over.

The main takeaway from this whole mess is that just because a person feels they don’t belong in their racial community, does not give them the right to take from others. There’s obvious nuances to this but self-acceptance and finding people you relate to within your communities can be a long journey. Yet, it doesn’t make it okay to steal from other communities to create a false sense of belonging.

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