It started with a voicemail.
In August 2018, a video clip featuring a recording of an angry employee berating her boss began to spread across Twitter. In the audio, the employee accuses her boss of being racist amidst a stream of cutting insults and threats. From Twitter, the video traveled to YouTube, where it was remixed with the instrumental of the City Girls’ “Act Up” and racked up millions of views.
Then, it came to TikTok. On New Year’s Eve, 2019, Katie Betzing of the popular YouTube vlogging couple Jatie Vlogs gave the voicemail the TikTok treatment in a short clip featuring dance moves, drama, and playacting. Betzing, who is white, bursts into her room, takes off her earrings, and begins half-dancing, pointing her finger in a stereotypically Black woman fashion as she mouths along to the voicemail. The video’s caption reads: “POV: Your Ghetto Co working [sic] goes off on her manager after having a tik tok for one month #fyp #fy #goodbye2019.”
For some, the video might read as harmless fun. But for others, such videos raise serious questions about how minorities are represented on TikTok and how such platforms disconnect songs and dances from their historical and cultural context, resulting in tone-deaf and offensive content.
Josh & Katie on TikTok
Josh & Katie (@joshxkatie) has created a short video on TikTok with music this is for rachel act up by trron on…
Digital blackface, or the appropriation of certain words, dances, GIFs, and memes originating within communities of color, is a well-known issue on established platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Recent trends suggest digital blackface has found a home on TikTok, too.
Take, for instance, the popularity of “Crip Walk challenge” videos on the platform. The dance, which is associated with the violent Crips street gang, is often set to Kamaiyah’s “Fuck It Up” featuring YG under the #CripWalk hashtag or Benny Boy’s “Drip Walking.”