'Give Black people credit': Black TikTok stars strike, demand credit for their work
Whenever Megan Thee Stallion releases a new song, the floodgates of TikTok open. From “Cry Baby” to “Savage,” the social media app runs rife with multistep dances, complex challenges and various remixes. That is, until Black creators decide to stop making them.
“Normally, once a Megan song comes out, there’s a dance that night, a dance within the hour,” TikToker Challan Trishann, who prefers to go by Challan T., 22, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “But I [was] noticing that there’s no dance (for Stallion’s latest song).
“I was scrolling and noticed that everyone was flailing their arms under the sound,” she added, referring to how TikTok users can find countless videos that feature and use the same audio or music by clicking the spinning record in the bottom-right corner of a video.
Be it Keara Wilson’s “Savage” challenge, Layla Muhammad’s “Twerkulator” dance or the “Renegade” by Jalaiah Harmon, Black creators have birthed some of the biggest phenomena on the internet.
However, as the moves become increasingly widespread — and usurped by white faces — their origins fade into oblivion. While white influencers such as Addison Rae make late-night television show appearances, break records and profit from reality series deals, Black creators are left behind to beg for credit.
Tired of constant cultural and intellectual theft, Black creators on TikTok have been on strike since Juneteenth, refraining from making a dance to Megan Thee Stallion’s latest single, “Thot S—.”
A recent Los Angeles transplant, living with other Black TikTokers in a house dubbed “The Crib Around the Corner,” Challan T. is a cosplayer and content creator on the app. Upon realizing the strike was in effect, the Barbados native tweeted June 20, “The way nobody knows what to do…. because we won’t make dances LMFOAJFKFOFKFJFOFK”
Challan T. said in an interview, “I made my tweet laughing at it...but I thought about it more and I was like, no, this is a good thing that has happened. I’m actually really happy that this happened and I know it’s going to make a difference somewhere, whether minusculeor not.”
Cincinnati native Keon Martin, 17, stumbled upon a video of white creators waving their arms from side to side when Stallion’s lyrics clearly stated, “hands on my knees, shaking a—, on my thot s—.” He then made his own video poking fun of them, which racked up with more than 368,000 likes.
“I just think that this is very long overdue. When I first learned that there was a strike, I was in such amazement,” Martin told the LA Times. “Black creators are just really tired of our dances and our trends being stolen. We’re not given credit, but a white person can do our trend and walk out with 100,000 followers.”
The strike didn’t emerge from thin air. According to Erick Louis, a 21-year-old TikTok star, there has been ongoing discourse prompted by a lyric from “Black Barbies” by Nicki Minaj: “I’m a f— Black Barbie, pretty face, perfect body.”
“When you click on a sound, you can see all the videos under it, and it was literally a bunch of white women singing that specific part,” Louis said. “Throughout the week, a lot of people, specifically Black women, were just explaining their uncomfortability with the situation. It didn’t seem like white folk were willing to listen. It was a lot of gaslighting going on.”
Two hours before midnight on Juneteenth, Louis posted a video that arguably spurred the no-dance strike.
With “Thot S—” playing in the background and the words “MADE A DANCE TO THIS SONG” lingering above his head, Louis got ready — then waved both middle fingers in the air. The words above him changed to “SIKE. THIS APP WOULD BE NOTHING WITHOUT BLACK PEOPLE.”
“We make the trends ... and when we remove ourselves from the equation ... it’s nothing left but mediocrity,” Louis told the LA Times. “I can’t tell you how long it’s going to last, but I do want to say that I think this is an indicator of how frustrated the Black community is. I feel like this isn’t the last time something like this will happen.”
TikToker Herecia Grace recently created a video captioned “Stay strong ladies! They feel it!” in support of the strike, joking about how difficult it is for her and her sisters to refrain from dancing to Megan Thee Stallion’s new song. The Illinois native grew her following by posting videos with social commentary on Black animation representation.
“The understanding that we weren’t making a dance was just this well-known thing,” the 23-year-old said in an interview. “I feel like as Black women and Black people, we’re such rhythmically involved humans. There’s a motion that goes to everything. It was my personal struggle, haha.”
Last summer’s heightened activism led TikTok users to add “#blm” to their bios and change their profile pics to fists. However, Louis said that many of his videos surrounding Black issues have been taken down overnight, and Black creators who have millions of followers are still not verified on the app.
Louis said, “I know for me personally, this is a much wider issue outside of this digital colonizing. TikTok has a really big issue with just Black leaders and anti-Blackness. What’s kind of flown over people’s heads is this issue concerning the exploitation of labor on the app.”
“Without Black creators, things aren’t created on this app. Pop culture really moves behind us when we move it,” Grace said. “TikTok definitely gets to decide what goes viral, and I think they just don’t choose us. I think that the beauty standards have something to do with that.”
There have been complaints that TikTok suppressed Black Lives Matter content following George Floyd’s murder, which TikTok claimed in a statement was due to a glitch.
“We care deeply about the experience of Black creators on our platform and we continue to work every day to create a supportive environment for our community while also instilling a culture where honoring and crediting creators for their creative contributions is the norm,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement when reached by the LA Times this week.
On June 23, the company published a blog post about its commitment to diversity and inclusion and shared that people can follow the recently launched @BlackTikTok account. While Louis said that the company has yet to reach out to him personally regarding the strike, creators want words to turn into action.
Challan T., who has more than 4 million TikTok followers, said the platform needs to be more active in advancing and championing Black creators. In her experience, there have been multiple instances in which she hasn’t been credited for her work.
She said she often feels uncomfortable asking for credit from those who repost her content without attribution because someone will inevitably push back — and that aversion to crediting Black creators stems from one thing.
“Racism,” Challan T. said with a laugh. “People just don’t want to give Black people credit for the things that we make. Because there’s a lot of times where a white creator will make a dance, and I’ll see that credit in the caption every time. If it’s a Black person, it’s invalid automatically to some people, and they just don’t even want to attempt.”
This lack of credit breeds a familiar disappointment for Black creators, one that transcends the history of TikTok and is emblematic of American pop culture. In September 2019, Georgia native Harmon created the original “Renegade” dance, but a month later, the so-called queen of TikTok, Charli D’Amelio, went viral for the dance.
Only in February 2020 did Harmon finally receive credit after public outrage. On Tuesday, actor Leslie Jordan featured Harmon on his Instagram page, giving her credit for “Renegade.”
From AAVE (African American Vernacular English) being reduced to “Gen Z language” on “Saturday Night Live” to Fortnite being accused of stealing popular dances from Black TikTok creators, cultural appropriation is rampant and has tangible, financial ramifications.
“I was hoping that people would see from this that this app actually has no creativity without Black people. So, maybe we should actually credit them when they create these things, instead of making it difficult. Credit can take you very far, like crediting @yodelinghaley got her in Doja Cat’s music video (for ‘Say So’),” said Challan T.
Grace wants to believe that embedding attribution into these platforms shouldn’t be such a big ask, but evidently, that isn’t true. She would like to see TikTok promote Black creators’ content on the #ForYou page, which recommends videos curated to users’ interests, the same way it does for white creators.
While no one knows how long the strike will last — or if TikTok will placate concerns with an ephemeral #amplifyblackvoices hashtag and supplemental programs — Black content creators agree that it’s time for TikTok to prove it values Black creators’ input and content.
“I would honestly hope [a strike] happens every once in a while just to shake the table a little bit, because it seems like it actually made a difference this time,” said Challan T. “People were actually like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t realize how much you guys do on the app.’”