BIPOC Voices, News & Events, Tech

What we know about TikTok’s Digital Blackface issue

TikTok needs to take action to curb the use of digital Blackface.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Feb 28, 2021

TikTok has been a great pandemic outlet for new viral dance routines, recipes, DIY tips and so much more. But before you engage in the app, we’d like to point out the use of digital Blackface across the app. Digital Blackface is a movement where non-Black people use Black people, celebrities and culture to get reactions on social media. It’s come in the form of images and African American lingo that often seems innocent or funny — but, in hindsight is perpetuating stereotypes to a generation of young digital natives. Translation: the app has a lot of users who are dehumanizing Black people to their benefit, in this case: for followers.


Digital Blackface furthers the systemic racism that exists in all corners of this country in emojis, stickers, memes and GIFs. Scrolling through the app you’ll see users create skits making fun of the way Black people speak or think. These skits and clips are portraying Black people as dumb, lazy, and obnoxious. TikTok users might think it’s harmless, but making profit or gaining influence at Black people’s expense is highly problematic.


As soon as TikTok got wind of this digital Blackface phenomenon – which has been seen on social media for years now – they issued a diversity and inclusion statement. But as far as we are concerned, that was a formality and hasn’t actually helped the situation. The app still uplifts white users by holding them of higher value than Black content creators. The longer they fail to address this issue, the more people who don’t interact with Black people, will hold these stereotypes as true. In other words, representation matters. Inaccurate representation is dangerous for anyone involved. It blinds people from the truth and further fuels biases.


And really, that’s how stereotypes begin: we hear biased things as children (or unexperienced individuals), and we start evaluating the world through the lens of those biases. On the flip side, too many times things that are part of Black culture are seen as ghetto or unkept, to only be appropriated by white creators for entertainment.


Blackface is oppression, period. TikTok influencers are creating a single story view for their audiences of Black people. They are compartmentalizing the ethnicity and denying them of their full complexity. With the Black Lives Matter Movement continuing to gain steam, we hope to see TikTok right this wrong very soon.