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December 8, 2021

Black Lives Matter Utah founder Lex Scott stands in solidarity with Black TikTokers on strike

Lex Scott, founder of the Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter, chants as protesters and counterprotesters clash outside of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department in Cottonwood Heights on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. (Yukai Peng, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of Black TikTok creators have agreed to not create new dances for the platform in protest of white creators gaining millions of followers for performing dances they didn’t create without giving due credit to the original Black choreographers.

Black Lives Matter Utah founder and founder of the TikTok blackout last year Lex Scott stands with Black creators participating in the #BlackTikTokStrike. “I love the boycott. It is about time that these dancers got their due credit,” she said.

A recent controversy about cultural appropriation involving white women lip-synching to Nicki Minaj’s song “Black Barbies” led TikToker Erick Louis (@theericklouis) to post a video on Juneteenth that is largely considered to be the start of the #BlackTikTokStrike.

In the video, he reacts to two white girls swaying to Megan Thee Stallion’s latest single. He begins to sway like them and then walks away with the caption, “Sike. This app would be nothing without blk people.” Later in the video he says, “That’s not even a dance.”

Since then, hundreds of Black creators have posted videos in which they act like they are going to dance to the song but then stop and call out the issue.

Many strikers are citing the blackout movement Lex Scott started on TikTok last year.

TikTok has a powerful algorithm with a For You feed that is a combination of content catered specifically to each user and content that TikTok developers think could go viral. #BlackLivesMatter trended in May 2020, but Black creators criticized the algorithm saying it suppressed content speaking against racism or related to the BLM protests.

Scott posted a TikTok video on May 7, 2020, calling for Black TikTok creators and allies to change their profile pictures to a Black power fist, support and post black-owned businesses, and like and follow only Black creators on the app.

Thousands of users responded, and the hashtags associated with the movement reached millions of views and generated national discussion. However, while this highlighted Black creators, it did not solve the overall issue.

The karaoke-esque nature of TikTok means a lot of the videos use the same audio and sometimes the same dance moves with each creator adding their own style. There is a large database of songs and audio creators can use and lip-synch to in their own content.

Parody, copycat and reaction videos are common, which makes credit for the original work even more important. Theft is rampant, which also brings cultural appropriation into the discussion, like the issue with “Black Barbie.”

Black TikTok creators have long been saying that the app gives preferential treatment to white creators. When Jalaiah Harmon created a dance to K Camp’s song “Lottery (Renegade)” in 2019, it was picked up and made viral by TikTok influencer Charli D’Amelio, who did not give Harmon credit.

In March, TikTok influencer Addison Rae Easterling performed eight viral TikTok dances on Jimmy Fallon’s show, at his request, even though she did not originally choreograph them. When there was backlash, Fallon invited the original choreographers onto the show the next month.

On June 23, TikTok posted a recap of the steps they have taken in the past year to improve diversity and inclusion. One of those is the creation of @BlackTikTok, which they call “the official home of the Black TikTok community.” However, there are no posts on @BlackTikTok regarding the Black TikTok strike.

While Scott hopes the strike is effective and is glad it’s gaining traction, she doesn’t believe that it will permanently fix the issue.

“I don’t think the white creators have learned a lesson from this. They will not learn until they lose sponsors because of it,” Scott said. “I do believe that they will continue to steal content from Black creators and that they are biding their time until (the Black TikTokers) begin creating dances again.”

Still, she has hope for the app and is planning on continuing to meet with TikTok leadership until the problem is solved.

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