Whitewashing is a phenomenon as old as Hollywood itself. It occurs when white people are cast in roles that traditionally belong to Black and brown people. It is common in films, and it also cast its dark shadow on the music business. While black social media users have succeeded in protecting their spaces, we are losing the TikTok battle.
Music is an essential part of Black culture. It is one of the few things that Black people all over the world share. The African-Americans have rap, the West Africans have afrobeats, the Black British have drill, the South Africans have kwaito, and the East Africans have bongo flava. Music is the universal language that brings us together. The music we create has corresponding dances. Unfortunately, both are either heavily policed or stolen from us.
Black people were at the forefront of the development and creation of multiple music genres. In the 1920s, Louis Armstrong and other black performers worked hard to develop swing music. A decade later, a white man named Benny Goodman was declared the ‘King of Swing’. Elvis Presley is popularly known as the King of Rock and Roll, but he built his legacy on the back of Black performers like Big Mama Thornton. What started as stealing from black musicians has grown into “borrowing” from black dancers.
We can choose to look at these things as past instances from which we should move on, or we could open our eyes to reality, and notice the ugly trend. The cycle never stopped; it just took on a new form. Whitewashing now occurs in the form of cultural appropriation. White content creators use music and dance from Black creators and become more famous, thus receiving commercial gain.
In 2020, Jalaiah Harmon created the Renegade dance sequence. The dance became extremely popular on TikTok, and celebrities did the challenge all over the world. The only problem? Charlie D’Amelio, a white content creator, got most of the credit. Charlie became the face of the dance and amassed a considerable following. In a world where the number of followers correlates to the amount of financial gain you stand to make, Jalaiah lost a significant opportunity.
Charlie tried to make things better by inviting Jalaiah to perform with her at the NBA, but the damage was already done. TikTok responded to criticism by marking original videos. This makes it easy to track the original content creator, but it doesn’t make much difference. When you click on a popular video, you can see the original creator, but then the top videos with that sound are ranked according to popularity. To no one’s surprise, white content creators often fill the page.
A few weeks ago, Addison Rae performed eight popular TikTok dances on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The segment received well-deserved backlash from the Twitter community. Black TikTokers created most of the dances she performed. Instead of giving these creators the platform to perform on national television, she chose to take up the opportunity. Yes, TikTok is what she is well-known for, and it’s not a surprise that she was asked to dance, but she should have let the real owners teach the dances.
Addison’s response to the criticism was disappointing. She states that the credits are on the YouTube video, and it was difficult to put credits on the show. She also mentions how she knows the original creators and wishes to collaborate in the future. This is another case of trying to do damage control when the harm was already done. Why not give Black creators the opportunities, instead of thinking of them as an afterthought?
The whitewashing on TikTok is dangerous because it denies Black creators the opportunity to grow. If they received the appropriate dances, they could also increase their following and make commercial gains. It also goes against the principles of representation. Younger Black people deserve to see themselves represented on major platforms. They deserve to see their fellow black creators receive credit for hard work.
May Addison Rae’s incident be a lesson for us all. Giving credit is just but the first step in making sure that Black creators are recognized. We should work to ensure that they receive the appropriate financial compensation for their hard work. We should work towards giving them platforms to show off their skills. It’s high time we support black creators, and not just recognize them.
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