Black TikTok creators are on strike in protest over lack of credit for their work

The black creators of TikTok have joined a widespread strike against what some criticize as cultural appropriation on the popular video app.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Black designers on TikTok are hanging up their dance shoes until further notice.

Tired of not receiving credit for their creativity and original work – while watching white influencers with millions of views performing dances they didn’t create – many black creators on TikTok have joined a widespread strike last week, refusing to create new dances until credit is given where it is due.

The hashtag “BlackTikTokStrike” has been viewed over two million times on TikTok, with users sharing less inspired dance videos that appeared in the absence of black creators. The hashtag also took off on Twitter.

If you were to watch TikTok videos featuring Megan Thee Stallion’s latest hit, “Thot S ***”, for example, what you would find instead of another viral dance challenge are designer videos. blacks calling for the lack of credit they are receiving and strike awareness.

The hashtag "BlackTikTokStrike" has been viewed over two million times on TikTok.

The hashtag “BlackTikTokStrike” has been viewed over two million times on TikTok.

Photographic illustration by Amna Ijaz

One video, which has been viewed over 440,000 times, shows Erick Louis, a creator of Black TikTok, apparently about to introduce a new dance before flipping the script with a caption that says, “Sike. nothing without [Black] people. ”(And even that, Louis said in another post, was copied by a pair of TikTok users whose video had 900,000 views.)

The situation was reminiscent of the recent TikTok controversy surrounding Nicki Minaj’s song “Black Barbies”. With lyrics like “I’m af ****** Black Barbie. Pretty face, perfect body”, the song was used on the app to feature videos of the black beauty. But white users quickly started using the song, too, sparking a debate about cultural appropriation on the app.

While TikTok has only been around since 2016, it has already emerged as an example of how new forms of technology are being used as a tool for cultural appropriation, according to Sarah J. Jackson, Associate Professor and Co-Director of Media, Inequality & Change Center at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. While Jackson’s work does not focus on TikTok, much of his research focuses on the intersection of race, media, and activism.

“A lot of American popular culture comes from black culture and that’s before the internet even existed,” Jackson said. “We can take any historical period and look at popular culture, at any particular historical period, and see how white people who have access to capital and mainstream media and other forms of access s ‘inspired art forms and creation forms of blacks. “

Dissatisfaction has been brewing for some time

Black creators on the app have long denounced what they say is the preferential treatment white creators receive. In March, late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon invited TikTok star Addison Rae Easterling to perform a series of eight TikTok viral dances on his show, none of which premiered. The creators of these dances were not featured for the segment, nor credited, other than the show which posted their usernames in the description area of ​​the YouTube video after the episode aired. After considerable backlash, Fallon invited the actual creators of the dances to his show the following month and agreed that they “deserve their own spotlight.”

But the Fallon episode wasn’t the first, and probably won’t be the last, of Black TikTok creators being overlooked in favor of their white counterparts.

During last year’s NBA All-Star Weekend, the NBA invited several white TikTok creators, including Easterling and his siblings Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. The trio secured prime seats, sat down for interviews and were even invited to dance on the court. Easterling’s TikTok videos show her performing many TikTok dances with NBA cheerleaders and teaching NBA players dances, including the Renegade dance. The choreography is set to “Lottery” by K Camp and it is one of the best known dances on TikTok.

The real creator of the dance – Jalaiah Harmon, a black teenager from greater Atlanta – was only first invited when the NBA issued an invitation following a refusal on social media. She later made a video this weekend, performing the dance with Easterling and Charli D’Amelio, who came under fire alongside the NBA for not recognizing Harmon earlier. Neither Easterling nor the D’Amelios were available for comment.

In an interview with The New York Times, Harmon said that sadly not being credited for a world-famous dance she created, but seeing it become ubiquitous, was difficult to watch.

“I was happy when I saw my dancing everywhere,” Harmon told the newspaper in 2020. “But I wanted credit for it.”

Harmon has only recently started to receive wider recognition for creating one of the first TikTok dances to really take off in popularity, scoring major sponsorship deals and magazine covers. But for every Harmon, frustrated users wonder how many black creators still struggle to not only get the recognition they deserve, but also deal with the antagonism of those who don’t understand why receiving this credit is so. important in the first place.

When it comes to being credited for his work, there is a crucial historical context to consider, Jackson said.

“Since the founding of this country, black art forms, black dance forms, have been appropriated, diluted, repackaged and used to make money by whites,” she said. “And so, if you place it in this context of this long history of essentially stolen work and stolen creativity, then you start to see why this is important to people and why it is important for people to be credited for origins. of these things. “

TikTok says he wants creator credit to be the norm

This is not the first time that TikTok has been called to the mat for race issues. Last summer, many Black TikTok users gathered to stage a “blackout” to protest Black Lives Matter-related content, with police brutality and the murder of George Floyd apparently hidden on the app. TikTok responded by apologizing to the black community, referring to what happened as a “technical glitch”, promising to “fix that trust” with black users and pledging to make the app. a more diverse and welcoming space. The company also organized a public assembly and round tables and formed a Collective for the diversity of creators.

Still, some black creators said that around eight months later issues with the app remained, according to NBC News.

In a statement to NPR, a spokesperson for TikTok said black creators are part of what makes the platform so successful and that the company is working to create an on-app culture around credit to individuals. creators.

“TikTok is a special place because of the diverse and inspiring voices in our community, and our Black Creators are a vital and vibrant part of it. We care deeply about the Black Creator experience on our platform and continue to work. every day to create a supportive environment for our community while instilling a culture where honoring and crediting creators for their creative contributions is the norm, ”the statement said.

The company also highlighted a recent progress report on its diversity efforts and made reference to the recent launch of the @BlackTikTok page, an official TikTok account maintained by black employees.

In the meantime, black creators still use the app, but instead of creating stolen dances, they call out non-black users and point out how hard everyone is fighting without their input.

Let us simply take the case of “Thot S ***”. It’s a summer anthem waiting, but the dances that are posted to the song don’t have the same magic as previous viral creations, despite the fact that, as many online have. highlighted, the song’s chorus includes fairly straightforward instructions for getting your hands on [your] knees.”

As the strike continues, some users have posted videos lamenting how their experience on the app is different without the creators of Black Dance.

“When do black designers end their strike? said a voiceover in a video. “This app is no longer fun.”

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