As dances go viral on TikTok, black content creators find they are left out of the fame
The New York Times published a feature about 14-year-old Georgia native, Jalaiah Harmon, and her creation of the “original Renegade.” This coincided with a tweet from K Camp, the artist behind the song “Lottery,” by which he gave Harmon a shoutout for helping with the success of the song through her viral dance. Just two days later, Harmon finally had her big break, performing her dance at the NBA All-Star game and receiving recognition from the likes of Kim Kardashian and Michelle Obama. She has since appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show.‘ data-reactid=”24″>The troublingly segregated backstory began blowing up last week, when The New York Times published a feature about 14-year-old Georgia native, Jalaiah Harmon, and her creation of the “original Renegade.” This coincided with a tweet from K Camp, the artist behind the song “Lottery,” by which he gave Harmon a shoutout for helping with the success of the song through her viral dance. Just two days later, Harmon finally had her big break, performing her dance at the NBA All-Star game and receiving recognition from the likes of Kim Kardashian and Michelle Obama. She has since appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show.
While neither D’Amelio nor Easterling responded to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment, each graciously responded to news that Harmon had created Renegade by posting a video featuring Harmon, in which the three did the original choreography together. But that overdue recognition was hard-won, and observers say that the delayed Renegade credit is just the tip of the iceberg in the viral-dance world — and just the latest, most visible example of cultural appropriation to dominate pop trends.
A tale of two platforms
the Hype House — those influencers are predominantly white.’ data-reactid=”36″>Meanwhile, regarding the most-followed people on TikTok alone — many of whom who have formed a content creator collective called the Hype House — those influencers are predominantly white.
While the Hype House declined to comment on this story for Yahoo Lifestyle, a spokesperson for TikTok responded by pointing out that the app hosted a #MakeBlackHistory Summit for Black TikTok creators over the weekend and shared the following quote, courtesy of Kudzi Chikumbu, director of the creator community for TikTok U.S., from the summit’s recap blog: “We believe that TikTok, at its best, creates opportunities for users to create content that resonates with others and helps them build a stronger community. We recognize that for many users TikTok allows them to showcase their creativity and reach new heights, and it’s important to us that we are celebrating the diverse voices that exist on the platform.”
Rice, the 18-year-old South Carolina teen responsible for the popular TikTok dance called Holy Moly, breaks it down for Yahoo Lifestyle: “The big influencers are white on TikTok and the big influencers are black on Dubsmash,”
Still, Essence says, “It was never supposed to be about race.”
“At this point, it’s like it’s messing with money.”
“The appropriation of black movement — the exploitation, the erasure of black movement — isn’t a new thing,” McMillian tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “America was built off of black movement… and then to see, just, historically, how we even brought the movements from our ancestors here and transform them and use them to reconnect with one another to build new histories, new stories for us and our futures.”
Artists accused of appropriating black movement have come in at a steady clip over the decades, directed at people from Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin to Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus. Now, the movements that have connected a community of Dubsmash creators, say many observers, are being used for the greater benefit of the TikTok influencers appropriating them, consciously or not.
“At this point, it’s like it’s messing with money,” Essence says. “It’s like, so many opportunities that could have been ours have been taken away from us because of the fact that people don’t know that that stuff has originated from us.”
Essence acknowledges that the nuanced understanding of black movement and the way that certain TikTok stars have appropriated it is not something that everyone can relate to or even understand — especially since the apps involved cater mainly to young adolescents. “[White content creators] don’t really understand, and they’re not in our shoes — and we can’t make them be in our shoes — so they don’t feel the way that we feel. And I understand that,” she says. “That’s just how it is in the world.”
But as TikTok continues to grow, it’s become more and more clear that it brings very real opportunities to gain fame — and that there can be a lot to lose by missing out on it. This was made crystal clear through Harmon’s recent experience.
Harmon, who did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment, created the Renegade in late September — but only started to make headlines last week.
”I hope that debate about whether or not credit is important is over, because you pretty much just showed why and how it can be important,” Segal says in reference to Harmon’s sudden media blitz. “But I hope the conversation keeps going, and I think that it’s going to take people continuing to push on social media, and continuing to get into the habit of tagging.”