Black culture has long had a strong influence on everything we consume, especially on social media. It’s not hard to see how people try to emulate Black traits on social media – it’s seen through stan accounts only using Black people in gifs or people tweeting or producing videos where they are speaking in AAVE. It seems that the influence of Black culture has had a lasting effect on social media, almost as if Black traits are the new norm, and to master popularity, you must find a way to emulate it. With the continued development and popularity of social platforms like Tik Tok, staying up to date with trends is the only way to potentially gain a following and for some, that can lead to them going viral.
Tik Tok is a Chinese iOS and Android social media app for people to use in any way they please, from following popular dance challenges like the Git up and the “Lottery” challenge or creative/artistic challenges like the clown check challenge and the “you should see me in a crown” transformation challenge, Tik Tok serves many purposes and appeals to a variety of people. The app allows users to create short videos of themselves with a variety of ways to edit the video. Since its release in 2017 and its boost in popularity outside Asia in 2018, the app has created viral trends and their own version of Internet celebrities. Tik Tok is mostly known for their fun challenges, silly videos, and lip-syncing videos, but a new trend that seems to be overlooked is the portrayal of “ghetto” people as a form of comedy.
The new trend has been called “digital blackface” by users of social media platforms, comparing it to the way Black people were stereotyped and made fun of in Minstrel shows, which is an American form of performance mimicking “enslaved Africans on Southern plantations” and characterizing African Americans as “lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice”. Digital blackface is a term that is relatively new, with the United States Studies Centre defining it as “the act of producing, posting or circulating ‘black reaction gifs’ online and especially on social media threads”. Recently, the term has shifted to include the action of pretending to speak in AAVE and act in exaggerated mannerisms in order to imitate Black people on Tik Tok. The common trend is often called pov, which describes a point of view.
Caption: “POV: the ghetto white kid approaches you at school cause he’s crushing hard” like????? pic.twitter.com/xEmN5ouXbR
— Ivycado 🥑✨ (@IvyKungu) October 13, 2019
his caption: “you’re new to school and you meet the ghetto white kid” ok but fr what is with this tik tok trend pic.twitter.com/C65VU69Ek4
— ♈︎ (@jennyfuur) October 11, 2019
These types of videos are offensive because it reinforces the stereotype of Black people being “ghetto” and misuses AAVE in order to mimic how they think African American people act. This type of trend allow users to use conventionalized characteristics of Black people and make fun of it in an exaggerated way. Of course digital blackface is not exactly the blackface people know, the act of painting your face black in order to appear as an African American, but it shares the similarities of traditional blackface because it engages in the act of using Black characteristics as entertainment, specifically for comedic purposes. People are able to get away with changing their accents, performing exaggerated mannerisms and using the term “ghetto” as a description because this new wave of stereotyping allows users to pretend to be another race using a phone, rather than face paint.
The obsession with using Black people as a form of comedic entertainment can be seen as a form of mockery, and the fact that teens on Tik Tok are using this form of sterotyping as way to produce viral content is saddening, and shows the lack of sensibility that a lot of people have when it comes to other races and the sort of actions that can be seen as confusing and non representative of all Black people. Tik Tok continues to be a place where people can actively expresss themselves, but it also diminishes, and popularizes aspects of people and redifines it to fit a trendy challenge. Even though what these teens are doing can be seen as controversial and offensive, it’s important to recognize that many of these people may not have any intention to be offensive at all. For many people, racial sterotypes are all they know due to the usage of popular forms of media like movies, and tv shows reinforcing such sterotypes. It’s a shame that these kids are knowingly or unknowingly taking part in providing the meaning behind what it means to be Black, associating Black characteristics as comedic, and labelling their version of a Black person as “ghetto”.
Featured Image: TechCrunch