Last month, popular TikTok user Addison Rae was featured on the “Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, where she was asked to perform renditions of the eight most popular TikTok dances. While most of the dances were originally choreographed by Black creators, none were called onto the show, and all were minutely credited for their work. As a result, many criticized Fallon and Rae for failing to adequately recognize Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) creators and called for change. Yet, many of these calls remain only implicitly addressed, or forthrightly unanswered.
In response to the segment’s criticism, Fallon and his show appropriately addressed the situation by bringing the original dance creators onto the show. However, such a mishap could have been avoided from the start. Ideally, the show should have initially featured the original creators of the popular dances, without using an already popular TikTok star as an intermediary performer. But at the bare minimum, Fallon and Rae should have recognized the names of the creators when the dances were performed.
Additionally, Rae’s consequent response about the difficulty in crediting such creators on the show came off as unsettling. Her ambiguous call for her followers to “show them love,” instead of directly addressing these issues on her Instagram story, is just one example. While she has the platform and voice to hold herself accountable and address these issues, Rae also has the privilege of rallying in the background without facing much consequence for her actions.
The backlash and consequent criticism for this segment should not have been the catalyst to showcasing the original creators as the forefront image of the dances. Rather, it is up to individuals with large platforms, like Rae, to voice such disparities, rally for change and demonstrate the importance of representation for underrepresented communities. Failing to do so only makes the effort sound like an afterthought and spurs the need to recognize how such inequality negatively impacts these creators and their communities.
For the show to only realize post-broadcast that they’ve overstepped a major part of the creative process also shows the significance of how BIPOC work often gets overshadowed. This is a major problem on several levels. The first: credit is not being given as it is due. Too often, BIPOC cultures and traditions are often swept under the rug until white individuals appropriate those very same customs as trends and fashion.
The difference also highlights the stark reality of how much more BIPOC creators must work in order to be acknowledged and recognized. This supposed lack of research brings forth other flaws in society that have yet to be addressed and tackled on a national scale, including the promotion of a white performer who has a considerable following and popularity over smaller BIPOC creators. Additionally, the astounding fact that other TikTok creators have been criticized for the very same situation emphasizes the importance that race plays in social media.
What’s most appalling is that, unlike Rae, these eight creators were not even invited to the in-person show. This not only exemplifies the stark differences in what social media fame can offer an individual, but also implies that smaller BIPOC artists would not be recognized in the same way that a popular, white artist would.
This is not the first time that this experience has been addressed on social media platforms. In February 2020, Jalaiah Harmon expressed frustration with being an uncredited creator of the viral dance “Renegade” on TikTok. Over a year later, this problem is still prevalent on the platform and in mainstream media. This raises a bigger question about how the use of social media platforms has paralleled systemic bias against BIPOC creators.
This issue highlights the need to champion BIPOC creators and to recognize them for their work. Social media pages must do more to implement their claimed statements of diversity. A possible solution is to alter the main pages and “For You” pages of social media platforms, eliminating the algorithmic bias against BIPOC creators and creating a level playing field to ensure that these creators are recognized.
There is a need for responsibility and accountability. Failing to do so will only continue to accentuate the disparities of power between fame and race, emphasizing how much more time and work that BIPOC creators have to do and fight for to even be recognized.
Andy Ketsiri is a Staff Writer for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.