TikTok Would Be Nothing Without Black People
Writer: Gabrielle Poole
Editor and Graphic Designer: Pat Sevikul
On June 19th, black content creators on Tiktok stopped posting their creations due to lack of credit. This claim was also supported in an article published on NPR.org. The quote reads that black creators are “tired of not receiving credit for their creativity and original work.” Instead, white influencers are rewarded millions of views performing dances that aren’t their own. Numerous Black creators have joined the wide-spread strike over the past week, deciding together that they will not post any of their new dances or original skits until they receive recognition.
The strike became a social experiment, as a proper choreography was never created for Megan Thee Stallion's new single, 'Thot Sh*t', with Black creators not present on the app. Subsequently, the song did not have a viral dance to pair with it as TikTok heavily relies on Black creators for having started the majority of its widely popular dance trends. Unlike Megan's previous songs, 'Thot Sh*t' has only garnered 753.5K videos compared to 'Savage' which has reached 21 million videos along with her many other songs such as ‘Captain Hook’ and ‘Hot Girl Bummer’ which became huge trends. Evidently, it shows the white-centric nature of the app, along with the true impact of Black creators, who have yet to receive the full credit for their creativity and work. In June 2020, TikTok apologised after receiving backlash from the internet and claimed to “foster an inclusive environment on our platform.”, yet one year later, the platform's algorithm and its users remain unchanged, and Black creators are tired of it.
There are many examples where Black creators on Tiktok have not received recognition for the widely popular dances that they create. For example, famous Tik Tok star Addison Rae received backlash when she appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show, to “teach” him a variety of viral dances. Many viewers thought that Addison was receiving too much credit for the dances when many of them were originally shared by Black creators. Irritated users took Twitter by storm, expressing their concerns on the matter and raising awareness about authenticity and the work of black creators on social media. One tweet read, “This is colonizer culture in real-time cause she did not have the talent or creativity to come up with these dances but she’s getting the credit and exposure.” Later on, the handles of the original creators were tagged at the bottom of the youtube video and due to the harsh backlash, Fallon invited the dances’ choreographers to perform on “The Tonight Show.”
Addison Rae on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show
Another example similar to this is a situation regarding the “The Renegade” dance. The Renegade is Tiktok's most popular dance and it was created by Jalaiah Harmon, a 14-year-old girl from Atlanta, but this fact is quite unknown. The New York Times published a piece touching on the subject of not giving black creators any credit. The article discusses how Harmon was taken for granted when many people used her dance and did not tag her or give credits. When the trend first started, Jalaiah wrote in many comment sections asking users to tag her, but for the most part she was either ridiculed or ignored. Initially, during the rise of TikTok stars on the app, many stars such as Charli D’Amelio were guilty of dismissing the original creator of the dances. The dance played a large part in Charli reaching her fame and the dance was popularised by many white users like her. However, it was not until months later, when the New York Times published the article about Jalaiah, that she had begun receiving recognition. Not soon after, Charli, Addison and Jalaiah met and were able to record themselves doing the Renegade together at the 2020 All-Star Weekend. However, by then, the trend had already begun to die down, and not to mention, Charli and Addison had posted the dance without giving her credit just a day before at the Slam Dunk Contest. Nowadays, stars like Charli have tried to credit the original dancers by putting ‘dc’ or ‘dance credit’ in the caption.
The New York Times article also states that being robbed of credit on Tiktok is also being robbed of opportunity. These days, virality signifies media opportunities like brand deals, and the chance to become a part of professional communities or become an influencer. Jelaiah's case is an example of why giving credit is extremely important. Since she's been given proper recognition, Jelaiah has been able to book numerous professional opportunities, appear on TV and in magazines, and she has also been signed to UTA (United Talent Agency), and has been given a chance to become a part of a larger choreographer community. Unfortunately, there are many other situations present on the app where Black creators on TikTok do not receive nearly enough recognition to be offered the same opportunities.
Jalaiah on Teen Vouge
This all connects back to historical events as well. History is almost often told by dominating white males, who cease to acknowledge the contributions/creators of black people. For example, in 1787 when the patent system was designed, black people were denied the right to patent anything because they were born into slavery, and were not considered citizens. The patent system is essentially a system that protects the rights of the inventors. A patent is described as a governmental grant for inventors’ rights to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing their invention. Thus, adding to the point that black people continue to supply innovative creations like dances, inventions and music, and still aren’t credited. It has happened in the past and it is evident that it continuously happens in our current day and age.
Adding onto the issue, the act of cultural appropriation against the Black community has also been debated on the app. For example in one of Niki Minaj's songs titled, “Black Barbies,” there is a line that says, “ I'm a f****** Black Barbie. Pretty face, perfect body." This song was utilized on the app to represent videos of “Black beauties.” However, white users started to use the song and debates about cultural appropriation started to speculate. This was not considered a trend amongst white users until black Tiktokers were trying to claim the sound. The issue here is, this act can be seen as culturally insensitive and this is why there are various problems regarding white users using the song.
To sum up, the black community is trying to raise awareness about proper recognition by participating in a strike on Tiktok. Their collective goal is to advocate for themselves, and finally get the credit that they deserve. This is why they have decided to go on strike and withhold from releasing any new dances. It is apparent that black creators are tired of this issue continuing in the media and in real life. In one video, Erick Louis, a Black TikTok creator, was about to introduce a new dance before doing a 180 with a caption that reads "Sike. This app would be nothing without [Black] people." Based on the range of examples given in this article, it’s evident that on numerous occasions black people have not received the right amount of credit for their work. It is always important to recognize the original creators and mention them in your post if you use their dance/sound/or something they created. In this case, focusing on giving Black creators their credit is an important action to take.
To help support, below is a short list of famous TikTok dances made by black TikTok creators:
Mya Nicole Johnson (@theemyanicole) - #upwmyaxchris
Chris Cotter (@cchvrs1) - #upwmyaxchris
Dorien Scott (@yvnggprince) -#corvettecorvettechallenge
Fur-Quan Powell (@flyboyfu) - #laffytaffychallenge
Camyra Franklin (@18slumz) -#laffytaffychallenge
Tracy Joseph (@tracy.oj) - #bundleschallenge
Keara Wilson (@keke.janajah) - #savagechallenge