TikTok needs to step up to stop the erasure of Black content creators

Posted by Jennifer Adetoro in Comment

3 years ago

Black creators on TikTok have repeatedly been erased from the app’s mainstream cultural narrative since its release and it’s a problem the platform needs to address now. Just a couple of weeks ago, a clip of TikTok star Addison Rae performing eight popular dances on The Tonight Show Starring went viral. It’s a very awkward clip to watch in its entirety, but what ignited major disappointment was – once again – the lack of credit, or even acknowledgement, given to the original creators behind the viral dances, the majority of whom are Black. As many took to Twitter to share their disapproval of the entire performance, Fallon responded with a dedicated segment on his show spotlighting the original creators of the eight dances individually. And while this may appear as a “lovely gesture”, quite frankly it’s not enough.

This situation could have pretty much been avoided altogether if Fallon and his producers did their research from the beginning, rather than scrambling to pick one of the most high-profile TikTokers to be the representative of these dances for views and numbers. We know that a vast majority of his viewers are most likely ignorant when it comes to TikTok and its dance culture, and will probably now associate Rae as the face of these dance crazes, therefore erasing the hard work and efforts of Black people and other individuals of colour who sparked these trends.

We’ve seen this pattern occur on numerous occasions. Long before the #MeToo movement went viral in 2017, activist Tarana Burke had been using the phrase for over a decade in her battle to help and protect victims of sexual abuse. Earlier this year, similar notions played out when parenting influencer Candice Brathwaite was sidelined from her own story in an investigative documentary exploring the high death rates of Black women during pregnancy and childbirth. 

In one of many TikTok examples, Jalaiah Harmon was completely removed from the narrative when it came to her dance The Renegade – one of the most popular dance challenges to infiltrate the app in 2019. Both Rae and Charli D’Amelio made countless videos using the dance without crediting Harmon, to the point that their videos were always listed at the top of the search for the challenge. And when Harmon tried to receive credit for her work, she was mostly either mocked or ignored until Black Twitter (of course) and American rapper K Camp personally thanked Harmon for helping the song go viral in 2020. Meanwhile, following her success from her viral dance to Megan Thee Stallion’s song Captain Hook, Sydney McRae’s efforts were undervalued financially. In May, McRae received just $700 from Universal Music Group to promote American rapper Lil Tecca’s new song Out of Love by creating a dance challenge, which did well. However, Addison Rae, who had also been hired to perform McRae’s dance, was paid thousands by the rapper for just her performance alone.

In response, Black creators have been urging some of the platform’s most popular white influencers doing their dances to show recognition with a tag or mention, which has now largely become a big part of TikTok culture. The app itself also implemented a feature where clicking on a soundbite, track or hashtag on the app now features the original video at the top of the page, indicated by a bright pink stamp. Yet, despite its superficial attempts, discrimination on the app is rife and the company has been repeatedly accused of suppressing Black creators and their content.

Black people are trendsetters – they always have been and always will be. However, to ensure more equity and exposure for these creators, brands, digital platforms and its non-Black visible creators need to do better in playing their part. Influencers like Rae and D’Amelio can make more of an effort to lend their spotlight to Black creators, which we saw last year with the #ShareTheMic campaign. In the meantime, brands and mainstream platforms like The Tonight Show can stop being so performative and do the necessary research to collaborate with Black creators. I’ll go first – here is the list of the original creators of the TikTok dances:

And here are some of the UK’s dancers also going viral globally for their challenges: 

By Jennifer Adetoro, culture editor of CORQ. Picture credit: Jalaiah Harmon via Instagram.