The Latest Protest By Black Creators On TikTok Just Might Be The Most Important One Yet
In one part of this week's newsletter: Black dance creators no longer want to see their choreography pilfered on the app for someone else's profitability, and, well, good.
This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
“I think Black creators should just stop creating content for like a good 6 months and just observe what these people come up with,” wrote Twitter user @Ariannnyy_ back in March, a magnificent foreshadowing of what was to come.
The tweet was in response to TikTok star Addison Rae’s controversial dance segment on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, in which Rae performed a series of viral dances she didn’t create without taking the time to name the originators, who were mainly Black TikTokers with much smaller followings.
In less than two minutes, the Rae/Fallon spectacle epitomized the long-standing debate about who receives the credit in popular culture for content created on social media — as well as the plaudits (and often, profits) that follow it. It was, in short, the real-life version of the 2000 classic Bring It On.
Relatedly, if you frequently use TikTok, today you may have noticed a sizable decline in the number of dance-related challenges.
The absence isn’t a coincidence, either: Several Black creators have pledged to not create any dance challenges for the foreseeable future in protest of rampant cultural appropriation. And at the center of this demonstration is Megan Thee Stallion’s latest release, “Thot Shit.”
The single, which typically would have received a challenge treatment as her music often does, is instead serving as the rallying point for creators who no longer wish to see their creativity pilfered on the world white web (pun intended).
With the absence of a clear routine, some people are still attempting to mimic Black creators’ videos, as demonstrated in this thread posted by Leslie Mac, with cringe results.
Amanda Bennett, a Duke PhD candidate and cofounder of education collective Define&Empower, told BuzzFeed News that the current demonstration was rooted in fatigue and the need to raise the bar for “white allyship.”
“Black creators are tired of white people profiting off our work and appropriating Black culture. Unfortunately, many white people who consume Black culture have little respect or compassion for the Black people who are producing that culture,” she said.
For those still attempting to make viral dances in the absence of Black contributions, there’s plenty of evidence that they would fail at even the most basic game of “Simon Says”: They don’t seem able to tell the difference between their knees or their elbows or even how to follow instructions. Although Megan proclaims that she’s putting her “hands on [her] knees” and “shakin' ass,” non-Black TikTokers have been waving their hands in the air (like they just don’t care). They clearly didn’t understand the assignment.
Daniel Akomolafe, a 19-year-old TikToker better known by his username Uniekue, said he thinks “this strike of no longer doing TikTok dances was a long time coming.”
“It just so happened that the black community wasn’t doing a dance to Megan Thee Stallion’s new Thot Shit yet, and then the non-black Tik Tok community jumped on the sound because all they saw was a new trend to hop on, then we started realizing…they aren’t really giving anything,” added Uniekue.
The strike has been brewing for a while. Many Black creators, who are often lesser known but doubly talented, have been frustrated that some of the biggest Gen Z stars on the platform found fame recreating their dances, typically to soundtracks also created by Black artists. Non-Black TikTokers have then been able to leverage their massive followings into major brand deals, acting roles, and music careers.
The importance of dance, and the intellectual property that comes along with it, is something that extends beyond the social media realm, however. Recently, JaQuel Knight, who was behind Beyoncé’s iconic Coachella performance and the choreography in the official “Thot Shit” video, made history as the first choreographer to copyright his moves. Knight created the template that could eventually extend to those operating on social media.
“Copyrighting movement is about putting the power back in the artist’s hands,” Knight told Variety.
As it stands, Black performers on TikTok are feeling powerful for the first time in a long time, but this isn’t the first time they have mobilized. In May of last year, a blackout was organized to coincide with Malcom X’s birthday. Using the hashtag #ImBlackMovement, non-Black allies were encouraged to change their profile pictures to the Black power fist, unfollow a TikTok user who didn’t support the movement, and follow at least one new Black creator.
Additionally, following the death of George Floyd, frustrated users who believed their Black Lives Matter content was being suppressed threatened a mass walkout, calling Black users to delete the application and give it a one-star review. The action was later halted out of respect for Pride Month.
In response to rising tensions, TikTok announced a series of measures and issued a statement in which it acknowledged that it had failed Black creators and had work to do to “regain and repair that trust.” Still, complaints persist.
“While Tik Tok is a platform I am truly so grateful for because of the community I have been able to build, it is clearly not without its own issues,” said Uniekue.
“I feel that we continue to show that we as black creators, especially black femme and black queer creators, carry the app and drive much of the culture and trends that people are talking about, and end up on our for you pages. I think just from a business POV it’s in TikTok’s best interest to not just suggest but actually implement changes that make the platform a more safe and enjoyable environment for black creators,” he said.
“While I understand it is a long battle we are fighting, (again this is the optimist in me), I want to believe that we will get change and if we keep coming together and speaking our truth and amplifying one another’s voices we will get what’s ours.”
Bennett is also hopeful the strike could lead to change.
“I would hope that one of the possible outcomes of this demonstration would be that Black creators begin receiving more equitable treatment,” she said.