Earlier this June, Megan Thee Stallion’s “Thot Shit” was poised to take over TikTok. It’s compulsively danceable and full of quotable “Hot Girl Summer”-isms, but a scroll through the song’s official sound on the app unveils a wasteland of mediocre lip-syncs and unimaginative — to say the least — dance trends.
“Megan says, ‘Hands on my knees. Shaking ass, on my thot shit.’ … You could not have possibly gone so far in the opposite direction,” says a viral TikTok from user @xosugarbunny. “The instructions are right there.”
Fast-forward weeks later, and a viral dance challenge has yet to emerge — because Black content creators, fed up with rampant cultural appropriation on the platform, are refusing to dance to the song. Dubbed the “#BlackTikTok Strike,” Black TikTokers are hitting pause on their dance tutorials indefinitely, making this the first collective action the platform has seen, where creators are equating uncredited trends with unpaid labor.
The move comes on the heels of the now-national holiday Juneteenth, which signifies the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Texas learned of their emancipation three years late, but also amid larger conversations about race and appropriation on the platform. One such recent controversy saw white female creators flooding TikTok with videos of lip-syncing along to Nicki Minaj’s “Black Barbies.” While the trend first emerged as a way to celebrate Black beauty, it’s now a site of heated discourse on the lengths to which non-Black creators will go to pantomime Black culture for views.
“As Black folk, we’ve always been aware that we’ve been excluded and othered. Even in the spaces we’ve managed to create for ourselves — whether it be in music, fashion, language, or dance — non-Black folk continuously infiltrate and occupy these spaces with no respect for the architects who built them,” says Erick Louis, a dancer and TikToker from Florida whose content traverses the space between social commentary and off-the-cuff humor. “We’re mobilizing in this way because it’s necessary and it’s something we’ve been saying among ourselves for quite a while now.”
Louis was among the first to officially post about the strike on TikTok, uploading a video on June 19 of him faking out viewers with promises of a dance to “Thot Shit” before declaring, “Sike. This app would be nothing without [Black] people.”
And as if an internet prophet, Louis later found his act of protest stolen. Days later, a pair of white creators uploaded themselves mimicking Louis’s moves without crediting him, only for the now-deleted video to receive north of a million views.
The virality vacuum of the internet has always made the concept of credit nebulous. “Dances are virtually impossible to legally claim as one’s own,” after all, writes The Goods’ Rebecca Jennings on the ethics of the dance trend. And while until recently it was nearly impossible to own a meme, Black trauma and culture have long been the unsung soundtrack of the internet.
In the 2010s, Sweet Brown went from recounting an apartment fire on the nightly news to becoming an internet sensation, as her declaration of “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” became the answer to any minor inconvenience — computer updates and pleasantries included. Then came this year’s Double Homicide meme. Devoid of context, the voiceover from Joseline Hernandez’s reality competition show Joseline’s Cabaret pokes fun at casual adversities, like bad sex or an awkward body type. In reality, the phrase is a response to a contestant sharing how she terminated a twin pregnancy.
The point: Blackness, whether related to joy or pain, is a shortcut to internet fame and all it brings. But as white creators turn these moments into personal brands, sponsorship deals, and small-time media empires, a larger question exists: Should this content be theirs to claim in the first place?