If you’ve emphasized a point with a satisfying “PERIODT,” got invited to “Club Quarantine” by DJ D-Nice, tried to impress your boo with a sexy “savage challenge” contribution, or ever used the word “not” at the start of a sentence to signify your displeasure or shock (Example: “Not you reading this story without following NBCLX on social”), remember to thank a Black person.
Think of all the things that have made you laugh or think in between your social media doomscrolls. Then, subtract all the ones that were either created or inspired by Black people, and face it, your social media life would be boring without us.
From the dawn of BlackPlanet, one of the original social media platforms made for the Black community, to the creation of the Instagram-dominating gossip blog The Shade Room, Black people have been a driving force of social conversation and trends. The best way to describe the impact, in the words of American playwright George C. Wolfe, is this: “God created Black people; Black people created style.”
In a conversation with the Black “#TwitterVoices” community in June, Twitter leadership shared that Black Twitter drives a whopping 20% of the conversation on their site. Yet despite always showing up to any function (or platform) with the aforementioned style and being major players across social media, we’re ignored and discredited in the same places that owe a great deal of their relevance to us.
Social media influencer and sports comedian Josiah Johnson agreed that “we have a tremendous ability to entertain and create culture.” But you really can’t tell from a cursory view of the social landscape.
“Other groups kind of take that from us and a lot of times don't really credit us.”
Even looking for a culture and internet expert for this story sent me to a dozen Google links for white journalists even though data shows 70% of Black adults use Facebook, 40% are Instagram users and 24% use Twitter.
The discrepancy between the recognition that Black creators and white creators receive even prompted influencer manager Adesuwa Ajayi to create Influencer Pay Gap, an entire brand dedicated to calling out inequality across the social media influencer industry.
“It is undeniable that there are Black creators that are constantly at the forefront, but end up being exploited, end up being shortchanged,” said Ajayi.
“A lot of the time, the issue is access, putting them in those rooms...at the forefront of the conversations that they've helped build...and empowering them, giving them opportunities.”
[Deep, exhausted sigh.]
And you don’t have to think too hard to find an example of a Black creator or a Black internet trend being co-opted, overlooked or white washed.
Remember “The Renegade”? The then 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon originated this TikTok dance that includes a series of moves all the spritely teens had down to a T. Who got the credit? Not Harmon. But a lot of white influencers went viral for the dance without crediting her. And influencer Charlie D’Amelio was so closely associated with the dance that she became known as it's "C.E.O" because she “popularized it,” according to The New York Times.
Last year, TikTok even had to apologize after a period of reckoning and a “blackout” calling for “Black creators’ content to be given the same recognition and elevation as white creators’,” as NBC News’ Kalhan Rosenblatt reported.
"We hear you. We see you. And we want to do better," the company said.
And remember back when everything was “on fleek”? According to Mic, while the person who popularized the phrase, Kayla Lewis a.k.a Peaches Monroee, gave the masses a new way to reference their sleek eyebrows (or really any dope look), she’d only had 3,700 Instagram followers as of 2017 (three years after the phrase appeared on Vine). Though creating an equally viral moment, Lewis didn’t rise to the same level of stardom as the “cash me ousside” girl, a.k.a. Daniel Bregoli, also known as Bhad Bhabie who at that same time amassed 11 million followers (and later became an award-nominated rapper) for being a defiant child on TV. Lewis also didn’t come close to the fame of “Damn, Daniel’s” Daniel Lara who had 680,000 followers and an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” for joking around with a friend at school.
While the latter two went on to social media stardom, Lewis had to turn to GoFundMe to raise money for her makeup line.
“Some people really talk like that,” said YouTube star Young Ezee of the African American vernacular used by Lewis and appropriated by Danielle Bregoli.
“People blew that up because [Bregoli] wasn't Black and it was like different... But when a Black girl does it, it's not classy. It's ghetto.”
Johnson, who’s seen brands try to copy his style on social, knows exactly how it feels to see your work stolen and have a white face slapped on it.
Hint: it sucks.
“It's a little bothersome to me...I know if I put up a viral tweet that it's going to end up on 20 to 30 Instagram accounts that I've never heard and it’s going to end up on 20 to 30 other Twitter accounts at some point.”
Johnson encourages people in the Black community not to “give away all this free content” because some social media director making a ton of money is going to grab “whatever content they need while also never giving back.”
And then there’s Clubhouse.
With an early effort to harness the power of Black users, the audio-only chat app has seen a major boost from the hip hop industry which helped bring it to an estimated $1 billion dollar valuation in just nine months.
In other words, Black people made it cool.
“We generally are ahead of the curve. We start a lot of new trends...Any time anything happens, no matter if it's politics, sports, entertainment, everybody's always looking to see how Black Twitter kind of attacks it or approaches it or what the content is geared around it,” Johnson who is the son of former NBA star Marques Johnson, told me.
But the clout these platforms gain doesn’t always translate into credit, or more importantly, money. Though Clubhouse seems to be thinking about ways to compensate creators now that they’ve made their millions.
Corporations know the power of the Black voice, and harness it to build their brands. We’ve all had a laugh watching the shade popping off on the Wendy’s and Popeyes Twitter accounts.
At some brands, it’s often non-Black people ultimately profiting off of that creativity and influence.
Sometimes “you can't find a Black executive, but tonally, their social media is speaking in a Black voice, kind of wearing digital black faces...and promoting themselves in a way, the language, the lingo that you don't notice,” explained Johnson.
(If you’re not aware, digital black face is a commonly used way to caricaturize Black people and capitalize on Black bodies, vernacular and stereotypes for a quick laugh or reaction gif.
I can sense some of you rushing to delete a few of those Tweets.)
And social media isn’t the only area changed by the sun-kissed touch of Black ingenuity while ignoring those that contribute to the innovation. From long before Elvis Presley blew up for the song “Hound Dog,” which was originally sung by an African American woman named Big Mama Thornton, all aspects of American culture – from music to entertainment to fashion – have borrowed and appropriated from Black talent.
Remember Kim Kardashian’s “Bo Derek braids”?
At least social media is one of the youngest arenas we still have a hope of changing.
And “changing” doesn’t have to be that hard. All it takes is giving credit and equality of opportunity.
“[If] something is trending and it's from a Black person or a Black creator, give us our credit and treat us exactly like you would treat the other races,” said Ezee.
“Put us on a Doritos commercial like you're doing all these others...make us the face of something.”