‘They can’t do it without us’: Black TikTokers strike to protest dance appropriation

A number of Black creators on TikTok are on indefinite “strike”, refusing to choreograph dances on the app to protest against the appropriation of their content by white users.

The action has been focused on Megan Thee Stallion’s new song Thot Shit, which was released last week. There are 168,000 videos on TikTok using the song as of Thursday afternoon, but unlike WAP – Stallion and Cardi B’s last viral song – there is not a single trending dance to it. And that is deliberate, some creators say.

“For all my melanated brothers and sisters of the African diaspora, we are on strike, we are not making a dance for Thot Shit, we are just going to let them keep flailing,” user capnkenknuckles said in a video last week, referring to white users. “It just shows how much you need us to make a dance.”

TikTok is known for its viral dances – but they are often created by Black women who then are not credited or compensated for their work.

Users Jalaiah Harmon and Keara Wilson, for example, staged viral dances in 2020 to K Camp’s Renegade and Megan Thee Stallion’s Savage Remix but long did not receive credit for them. Meanwhile, white social media stars like Addison Rae took those same dances to larger platforms like Jimmy Fallon’s show and Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

While a handful of videos have emerged in recent days of Black users making dances to Thot Shit, many are sticking to the pledge not to make content, one week into the strike.

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‘Black creators are tired of white people profiting off our work and appropriating Black culture,’ said Amanda Bennett, who made a viral video explaining the strike. Photograph: AP

“This app would be nothing without Black people,” one user said on the topic, in a video refusing to make a dance to the song. “They can’t do it without us,” said another commenter.

The action was meant to make white creators rethink compensation, citation, and ethical collaboration with Black creators on this and other social platforms, said Amanda Bennett, co-founder of the consultancy firm define&empower, who made a viral video explaining the strike.

“Black creators are tired of white people profiting off our work and appropriating Black culture,” she said. “We’ve seen the way older generations of Black creators have been disrespected and erased, and we aren’t having it any more.”

As the strike continues, many on the app are skewering white users trying to make up their own dances to the song. Bennett said she had noticed significantly fewer dances from Black creators to the trending song than in the past.

“When I scrolled through my [For You Page] this morning, most of the videos responding to Thot Shit consisted of white people mouthing the song’s lyrics or simply flailing about,” she said.

TikTok has been called out in the past for treating Black creators unfairly and has been accused of suppressing their content. In searches for viral dances made by Black users, for example, the algorithm often prioritizes white creators’ copies of them, according to a report from NBC News.

In June 2020, many Black creators staged a blackout on the app in protest over accusations of such content suppression. TikTok apologized and promised to “do better”.

“We acknowledge and apologize to our Black creators and community who have felt unsafe, unsupported, or suppressed. We don’t ever want anyone to feel that way,” the company said in a statement. “We welcome the voices of the Black community wholeheartedly.”

But Black creators have continued to complain about how their content fuels TikTok’s popularity, with trends and dances being replicated by white creators without credit.

“Black people are demanding that the bar for white allyship be raised,” and this strike was part of that larger trend, said Bennett, whose educating and consulting collective works with schools and businesses.

“Perhaps it will encourage white users to check their entitlement to Black culture,” she said. “Like any healthy relationship, Black creators deserve the right to draw boundaries around themselves and their resources.”

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