The Trouble with Tik Tok

By Maggie Connolly ’21
Opinions Editor

Tik Tok has officially taken over. Girls are doing dances in the bathroom at parties. The “sounds” or songs that play in the background of the video clips will come on and people will start doing the dance moves like robots in a crowd. But what do these dances and jokes that people mindlessly scroll through mean?

Tik Tok has creators from all backgrounds, but the most popular Tik Tok-ers are predominantly young, white people. The average Tik Tok user is between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four. The dances and sounds are often rap and hip-hop songs or often have a reference to black American culture. Many of the sounds that these white creators are using have the n-word in them, and those creators quickly move past the word or barely mouth it, causing the comments of the videos to be entirely about whether or not the creator said it.

The app is a microcosm of a much larger issue in our culture. Black American culture has become ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’ in the past decade. We see it with the music teens and twenty-somethings listen to, clothing trends, and even hair styles (vacation cornrows are not okay anymore, people). White people fetishize these aspects, among others, and completely disregard the black community in doing so. I’m not saying the white population can’t listen to rap music. I’m saying it needs to be done so with awareness and respect. Understand the words you’re singing along to, and if you don’t? Figure it out. It’s our responsibility to do so.

Tik Tok dances are fun, and for the most part, harmless! But when there are young girls and boys posting videos dancing and singing to lyrics that mean nothing more than a prompt to do a simple dance move or mouthing the words to a sound like the “This is for Rachel…,” they are perpetuating a culture that completely takes advantage of black identity and culture in a way that benefits them. And that, my friends, perpetuates racism.

Photo courtesy of tiktok.com

Aside from all of this, Tik Tok barely has any visible representation of Tik Tok-ers of color. The Hype House, aka a mansion used to house the most iconic of Tok-ers (aka Charli D’Amelio and co.) is almost entirely white. These are some of the most-watched users on the app, and a lot of these creators make up the dances and trends to different sounds on the app.

But it’s not always them. Just last week, the New York Times released an article about Jalaiah Harmon, a 14-year-old who created arguably Tik Tok’s most well-known dance, the Renegade. The dance has been so heavily associated with Charli D’Amelio that no one really knew who created the dance in the first place. Harmon, just like many other users of color, is not given the same presence as the predominantly white crowd on the app, despite the fact that her identity and cultural influence is part of the reason the app has become so successful.

It’s silly, really. How can an app that’s just people mouthing the words to songs and doing some mediocre dance moves really set the framework for such an important, relevant debate? That’s exactly why we need to be talking about it. It’s a platform that has become so casual, we forget to understand what the things people say, do, and post on their accounts really mean. The app is a small part of a larger issue in the United States, and it is just like all the other institutions, social media platforms, and social norms that perpetuate an ultimately racist system in the US. 

Social media has already proved that it constantly shapes the way people think, especially about the political world. The app is doing the same thing, and it’s constantly pushing racial stereotypes and white superiority. It’s becoming an insular world for young people, developing the way they think about race, politics, and culture in the United States.

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