When a new song hits social media platform TikTok, users from all over the world create and share choreography to highlight in videos with the hope of going viral.
But instead of showcasing the hard work of the people behind the scenes and bringing fans together, the trend has highlighted long-standing inequalities that Black people experience every day and amplified awareness of cultural appropriation.
When rapper and singer Megan Thee Stallion’s newest song “Thot Shit” started trending earlier this month, users waited for videos of dance tutorials to show up on their For You page so they could learn the moves and, perhaps, post their own videos.
When no new choreography popped up, users quickly realized it was because the people who are responsible for creating these trends — most notably, Black women — refused to participate, according to the New York Times.
Since gaining traction on June 18 across TikTok — as well as other social media platforms, such as Twitter — more Black content creators have called for a strike on creating content for the app, which has garnered widespread support.
"Black creators are tired of white people profiting off our work and appropriating Black culture," Amanda Bennett, director of creative vision at the Black feminist consulting collective define&empower, told Newsweek. "Unfortunately, many white people and white-led organizations that consume Black culture have little respect or compassion for the Black people who are producing that culture.”
For some, the decision to stop posting content on the app in general or creating dance tutorials to “Thot Shit” specifically results from their frustration over not being credited for the work that other TikTokers have used to become famous, often with financial compensation.
White TikTok stars Charli D'Amelio and Addison Rae Easterling rose to prominence through posting videos of themselves dancing to songs like Megan Thee Stallions “Savage” and K Camp's "Lottery,” earning brand partnerships and invitations to perform on television. The choreography employed in these videos originated from Black women — namely, Keara Wilson and Jalaiah Harmon, respectively — who largely remained uncredited until backlash led to them being recognized as each dance’s choreographers.
Other TikTok users hope that going on strike will highlight the larger issue of white people appropriating Black culture, particularly as racial inequalities persist.
Around the world, Black people experience higher rates of poverty, food insecurity, and job instability because of inequitable systems rooted in white supremacy, as well as cases of overt racism that prevent people of color from accessing the same opportunities as white people. In the US, the criminal justice system’s connection to slavery has led to the overrepresentation of Black people in jails and prisons.
After last year’s worldwide protests for racial justice took place, inspired by the murder of George Floyd, Black creators called out TikTok’s censoring of content supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. In response, TikTok released a statement apologizing to the Black community and pledging to invest in initiatives that increase diversity on the app.
As more people call attention to the ways people and institutions uphold racist systems, Black creators on TikTok are deciding to take a stand to raise awareness about the harms of cultural appropriation. Here are five TikTokers on why they’re supporting the strike.
TikTok creator Erick Louis posted a video on his profile last week claiming he choreographed a dance to “Thot Shit,” asking people to credit him if they filmed themselves doing the dance. But instead of showing off his moves, Louis flips off the camera as a caption appears across the top of the video, saying, “SIKE. THIS APP WOULD BE NOTHING WITHOUT BLK PEOPLE.”
“I think this protest happening on [TikTok] right now is important because Black folk have always been excluded and othered,” Louis told Global Citizen. “Even in the spaces we’ve managed to create for ourselves — whether it be in music, fashion, dance, language — non-Black folk violently infiltrate and occupy these spaces with no respect to the architects who built them.”
While Louis has continued creating videos on TikTok, he maintains that the ongoing strike by Black creators on the app is crucial for people to understand why Black people deserve recognition for their work.
“I think it’s important that everyone understands the frustration amongst Black creators. Not only are our dances/creative ideas pilfered, but we’re also muzzled and heavily suppressed on that app,” Louis said, alluding to the fact that despite TikTok’s promises to promote content by diverse creators, many Black creators insist that progress has not been made.
On the TikTok profile for define&empower, director Amanda Bennett posted a series of videos highlighting how the Black creator strike connects to the larger issue of white people appropriating African American culture.
“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,” Bennett said, listing ways that white people who want to celebrate Black culture can do so without participating in harmful cultural appropriation.
“Before colonizing the artistic and intellectual work of Black people, white people should ask themselves questions such as, how can I contribute to this Black person’s wellbeing? Am I studying this work for the explicit purpose of Black liberation, or are my motives fundamentally selfish?” Bennett said. “Having access to Black culture is a privilege, not a right. Consumers of Black culture should donate to Black creators and cite their work, rather than appropriating it for profit.”
TikTok creator Kobe, whose profile boasts almost 300,000 followers, posted a video explaining that he will no longer use TikTok as part of the larger Black creator strike.
“Us as Black content creators, we have done so much for this app,” he said. “We have brought in more people, fans, followers, supporters, we have brought in money, and we do not get the credit we deserve.”
Kobe went on to say that his videos used to garner millions of views and that he was paid “nothing less than $900 every TikTok check every month” until his videos were removed from the For You page, alleging that the app did so to avoid having to pay him.
TikTok user Ifadunsin Griffith shared a video on TikTok supporting the creator strike, in which she writes that “this platform would be nothing without #Blackculture.”
“As a Black woman, I am tired of the intellectual property and culture of my people being stolen and marketed to others without the creators receiving credit,” Griffith told Global Citizen. “I would like to see society recognize the contribution of Black people in general, but especially in popular culture ALL the time, not just in February [during Black History Month]."
“This is why Critical Race Theory must be taught! Without Black people and our contributions, it would be a very boring existence … and the world should understand that, so we can be treated with dignity and respect,” Griffith added, pointing to the ongoing partisan debate in the US on whether schools should be allowed to teach Critical Race Theory, which examines structural and institutional racism.
Miss Lyric, whose profile consists of fun makeup tutorials, participated in a video trend associated with the Black creator strike, in which a voiceover pokes fun about the way Black women do not receive recognition for their work on TikTok.
As part of the trend, Black women look at the camera while a voiceover — created by TikTok user @thevictoriastory — says, “I think it’s high time we let Black women on this app also be famous for doing the bare minimum. I should be able to sit here in silence and let y’all look at me, and the next thing you know I have a million followers. That’s all I’m saying.”
When asked about the Black creator strike, Miss Lyric shared that she loves using TikTok, but the platform has its flaws, particularly for Black creators.
“I have felt that my content has been undervalued and not pushed as much,” she told Global Citizen. “TikTok is the platform that I am most consistent with posting on. I post every day and spend a significant amount of time on my content.”
“There’s so many talented Black creators and dancers who have the potential to gain thousands — and maybe even millions — of followers and go viral off of their amazing choreography and art, but don’t. The [creators] that usually do end up going viral are the ones who don’t give credit to the original choreographers,” she added.
“I hope that this strike will bring awareness to this issue and Black creators in general get the recognition and love and support that we work so very hard for and deserve," she said. "I hope TikTok will take the necessary steps to resolve this issue and won’t ignore it.”
TikTok shared a statement on Wednesday reaffirming its commitment to diversity and inclusion on the app's platform and highlighting the initiatives it has implemented to support the work of BIPOC content creators, such as hosting educational events and launching a spotlight series focused on creators from diverse backgrounds. Despite these efforts, Black content creators maintain that the app has to do better to support the work of the Black community in measurable and tangible ways, including greater financial compensation.
“What people are seeing now is a collective consciousness that’s been long established,” Louis said of the strike. “I would like to see more creators verified, Black creators being paid significantly more, protections in place for Black creators and their content, equity, etc.”