TikTok has become a cultural phenomenon, and like most things in pop culture, the black community is leading the narrative on what’s considered trendy. With the newest popular social media platform, the concept of “digital blackface” is still thriving, unfortunately. While the platform’s content is rarely meant to be taken seriously (it’s provided some extra hilarious escapism during our self-isolation period), the impact it’s having on driving popular culture is—especially when its users are benefitting and profiting from content that doesn’t belong to them.
It’s a tale as old as time. However, the conversation recently resurfaced when the spotlight was pointed at Jalaiah Harmon. Well, a delayed spotlight, that is.
As Tatiana Walk-Morris of Medium’s vertical OneZero reported:
Younger TikTok users may not be especially well-versed in structural oppression and may have good intentions, but their actions are further perpetuating violence, discrimination, and oppression, [University of Albany professor Kyra] Gaunt says.
Black users can and should express ill effects of the cultural appropriation they see online, Yarger says. Doing so can help outsiders understand the history behind the culture they wish to engage in.
“Once you know, then you have a choice to make whether you’re going to be respectful of that culture,” Yarger says.
I can’t illustrate the convenient ignorance better than with Meg’s own “Savage” lyric, “Acting stupid, what’s happening.”
Similar to Harmon, there has been a push to make sure the young black creators that birth these challenges aren’t erased and washed away in the TikTok tide. Because the #SavageChallenge has brought me so much joy lately, I figured I’d do my part with its creator, Keara “Keke” Wilson.
A 19-year-old choreographer who has been immersed in competitive dancing for 10 years, Wilson clearly always had a “passion for the art of dance.”
“I love music and expressing myself through dance, where my facial expressions have become one of my signatures, and I believe it’s what’s helped me stand out from others,” Wilson told The Root, following the success of her hugely successful viral dance challenge. “Choreography has always been a passion for me. I love it! I began choreographing routines for both my cheer and dance squad as a young teenager. I am currently choreographing my own routines and [for] a few Tik Tok songwriter clients daily.”
Viral sensations usually happen in the blink of an eye, so I had to ask Wilson how she’s been processing the extra attention she’s received lately.
“I watched my views for “The Savage Challenge “ climb from the thousands to the millions within a week,” Wilson exclaimed. “My followers were blowing up too, and I was receiving so much love and support from others, which I greatly appreciate. Then, when Megan Thee Stallion posted me on her IG page, I immediately lost it, crying tears of joy. I was in such disbelief [and] it felt like a dream that was finally coming true. I think the Savage Challenge is giving people all over [the world] a chance to have some fun during this time of self-isolation.”
As noted above, it’s certainly provided a sense of fun for me! Still, in the middle of that fun, I’m about getting these black girls their well-deserved checks in a thriving business that is surely profiting from their talents and what makes them special.
“As a new young black creator, not knowing how this business works is a challenge, in [and of] itself,” Wilson admitted. “I have a group of family members and a few friends working together and coming from different angles of this business (called Team Nay) [to assist me].”
[When it comes to] white social media creators, I don’t know their inside story, but from the outside [looking in], it really seems like they’re maybe getting credit for what we/I have created,” Wilson continued. “So, young black creators, we have to support each other and surround ourselves with positive people that know what they are talking about when it comes to this business because the window is open and we have to keep it pushin’ toward where we are trying to go.”
Overall, Wilson believes TikTok is a great place for creators to hone in on their own creativity and imagination. Specifically, she urges the black community, who may feel unheard, to reject being silenced.
“TikTok has so many different categories to choose from and they are all over the place,” Wilson noted. “If you are unique and creative, there is something out there for you to add your own flavor.”
As for what’s next for Wilson, the world is her oyster and sis is not just getting ready, she’s staying ready.
“Megan inspires me through her music,” Wilson concluded. “It makes me feel unstoppable and no one else’s opinion or judgment matters because I’m doing what I love. Just like Megan’s song “Savage,” I feel powerful and unstoppable! I’m currently working on an extended version of the dance, just in case she reaches out. I want to make sure I’m ready for the call.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.