TikTok’s wide popularity can largely be credited to Black content creators. (AP Photo)

By Aysia Morton
Special to the AFRO

Without a doubt, Black TikTok creators have a major impact on today’s pop culture. The app gained notable popularity during quarantine and now has amassed over one billion users across the globe. As with many trends in popular culture, Black people have been on the forefront of content creation on TikTok, paving new paths and challenges within the entertainment industry and how it appreciates and appropriates people of color. 

Black people have created popular TikTok audio phrases, challenges and dances to songs by Black artists like the ‘Savage Remix” by Megan The Stallion and Beyonce, which was choreographed by the Nae Nae Twins and garnered worldwide attention.

A crucial element of TikTok has been the discovery of unknown music from singers, rappers and bands who were unknown before and then compiled millions of listeners through the app. Black musicians, like Foushee, Kali, Coi Leray, Doechii and more, have emerged and built a cult-like following. 

Recently, TikTok released a music report featuring this year’s emerging artists. It consisted of mostly Black and Brown artists from the United Kingdom, United States, Nigeria, Colombia, and more. Songs like CKay’s “Love Nwantiti” had over a million video creations and reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Global Top 200 Songs list.

Black creators’ impact is undeniable, yet it can’t go without saying that it doesn’t take much to see that the creators getting the most views and recognition are predominantly White. 

While White creators are being signed to record labels, being invited on talk shows and getting paid for their popularity, Black creators are going unnoticed and unheard. Notably Charli D’Amelio, a creator with 131.5 million followers and her own reality television show was criticized for not giving credit to Black creator Jalaiah Harmon after passing off “The Renegade” dance as her own. D’Amelio eventually credited Harmon for the dances choreography after receiving backlash from the public. 

Many TikTok users have drawn attention to the issue and questioned why all the very popular creators are White. University of California, Berkeley alumnus and artificial intelligence researcher Marc Faddoul found that the TikTok’s algorithm perpetuates racial bias. In his findings, TikTok recommended accounts with similar profile pictures to the ones he already followed. The pictures matched in similar race, age, body type and facial characteristics.

The Nae Nae Twins of TikTok dance and choreography fame. (Courtesy Photo)

“Such implicit biases can and needs to be anticipated and accounted for, or at least acknowledged, especially for such a widely used algorithm, that is so impactful in shaping our culture,” Faddoul explained.

Faddoul’s research implies that if the most popular TikTok creators are White, this can prevent content creators of color  with smaller followings from being recognized for their work and recommended as often on the platform, explained Lola Christina Alao, contributor to {i-D} magazine. 

As TikTok became more prevalent, Black users tried to reclaim the space. Disheartened by a lack of sponsorship opportunities, brand deals and recognition for the trends they set, Black TikTok creators went on strike. The strike deepened conversations around appropriation, colonization and racism online and within the app.

 Creator Erick Louis encouraged the strike when Megan Thee Stallion’s new song “Thot S—,” dropped. Louis posted a video telling Black creators not to make new dance videos to the song until they were given more opportunity and further recognition. TikTok caught wind of the strike and later apologized to its Black users.

“Our platform exists to create joy and inspiration, and that is made better because of our diverse community of users, creators, partners, artists, and employees. It’s important to us that nobody feels unwelcome, unheard, or unsafe on TikTok,” the company wrote in a statement.  “We are inspired by our Black creators, artists, and partners who have touched so many people across the country and around the world. Without them, TikTok would not be the joyful and creative community we aspire to be.”

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