Black TikTok creators had finally reached the point where enough is enough: It was time to strike.
After a recent trend saw an influx of white TikTokers creating content to Nicki Minaj’s “Black Barbies”—a song about Black women—appropriation-weary Black creators took action. Over the past few days, the hashtag #BlackTikTokStrike buzzed on Twitter.
These Black creators sought to deprive TikTok of one of its biggest engines of creativity; one that was not always, or even often, getting the credit it deserved.
They have shunned choreographing new dances to trending songs, leading to mismatched, off-the-cuff routines under fresh music such as “Thot S***” by Megan Thee Stallion.
The TikTok account @defineandempower.co, which describes itself as a Black feminist education collective, explained the strike’s motivation in a video: “Black TikTokers’ refusal to have their work and culture appropriated taps into a larger history of white capitalists profiting off the unpaid labor of Black Americans.”
This moment was a long time coming.
The Rise of D’Amelio
At 2020’s NBA All-Star Game, fresh-faced influencers Charli D’Amelio, her older sister Dixie, and Addison Rae Easterling—who skyrocketed to social media stardom via the video-sharing app TikTok—bopped energetically on the glimmering court of Chicago’s United Center.
The trinity of Gen Z darlings occasionally left their courtside seats to perform popular dances, at times alongside NBA star players and cheerleaders, before a constellation of cameras. Seconds-long footage of the cultural crossover would later be viewed by millions on TikTok.
The NBA’s endeavor to capitalize on the TikTok craze was initially met with backlash on the previous night, when social media users noticed the three white influencers’ presence at the All-Star Weekend’s Slam Dunk Contest.
The D’Amelio sisters and Easterling owe their celebrity to executing viral dance routines, a significant portion of which were conceptualized by Black TikTok users whose creativity often goes uncredited.
And so, the NBA hastily extended a last-minute invitation to Jalaiah Harmon, then 14 years old, to perform her “Renegade” dance at the All-Star Game.
A New York Times profile of Harmon had fatefully coincided with the beginning of All-Star Weekend, holding up the teenager’s infectious choreography as a prominent example of Black creators’ unsung original work.
Harmon had watched her dance to K Camp’s song “Lottery” performed by millions, from tween bedrooms to celebrity mansions, without so much as a username mention.
Perhaps most controversially, it was a “Renegade” video that precipitated the meteoric rise of Charli D’Amelio, who is dubbed the “queen of TikTok.”
TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, became a global networking sensation after a 2018 merge with its predecessor, lip-sync video app Musical.ly. It was once primarily known as a “dancing app,” on which teens mouthed along to songs and participated in dance trends.
Today, TikTok has grown to approximately 700 million monthly active users and hosts a near-encyclopedic amount of cultural content, which includes music, comedy, tutorials, activism, as well as embittered millennials longing for the era of skinny jeans.
However, dance remains the reigning art form on TikTok, having crowned the app’s first class of influencer royalty.
Though initially marketed as an outlet for juvenile frivolity, TikTok’s user base is mainly composed of an increasingly politically-cognizant demographic. A March survey by Statista found approximately 25 percent of TikTok’s U.S. users are between 10 and 19 years old—a generation marked by movements such as Black Lives Matter and digital landscapes rife with social justice debates.
Many of its users appear receptive to calling out injustice where they see it. But TikTok’s user culture is not immune to perpetuating deep-rooted social issues.
Harmon is one of many Black TikTok creators snubbed as their dances went viral. And despite its belated invitation to the talent behind “Renegade,” the NBA’s bid to sanitize its event was not entirely successful.
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SOURCE: Newsweek, Danya Hajjaji