TikTok is Taking the world by storm – meet 5 Black creators utilising the platform to make space for their peers
TikTok is the latest video sharing platform taking over everyone’s feeds. Whether you’re on the app or not you’re guaranteed to come across hilarious, educational or relatable videos originating from it’s millions of users. Previously, the platform has had rocky relationships with it’s black creators – with their videos often being taken down, their content stolen and repackaged, and even muted or hidden from their audiences.
However, aiming to turn a new leaf, TikTok are finding ways to actively make space and prioritise their black creators by creating opportunities for them to thrive both on and off-line. One example of this is their ‘Black Creator Trailblazer Programme’. In their words the initiative aims to ‘nurture and develop 30 talented, emerging Black creators, musicians and artists, further celebrating the thriving Black creative community on TikTok.”
We had the chance to sit down with 5 creators involved in the programme. Benjy, Hadeal, Onyinye, Mason & Yas are all thriving creators making content surrounding a number of topics from fashion and comedy to Queer African identity and The Sudanese Revolution. We spoke to them about their experiences being Black Content Creators on TikTok, the communities the app has allowed them to build and how they aim to make space for other creators like them.
BENJY : @benjy_lookbook
Discussing his reasons for becoming a TikTok creator, Benjy says his aim was simply to help those who are looking to ‘be more inclusive, engage with social issues and practice well-being.” He ‘wanted marginalised individuals, like myself to feel seen and have their experiences validated.’ He adds ‘I was only expecting my content to be of value to a handful of people, not thousands!’. Covering a variety of topics, from racism and homophobia to well-being, Benjy has been able to build a learning community of over 200,000 people, many of whom he now considers to be friends.
Although Benjy speaks about pressing issues that affect the Black community, he stresses how important it is to him for Black people not to be viewed as a monolith ‘Just because I am a Black person speaking about the Black experience, does not mean that I speak for all Black people. I speak with strength and confidence because I believe in what I say and I’m passionate about what I do. I also recognise that I have a responsibility to use my platform wisely. But I do not represent or speak for all Black people.’
Speaking on how TikTok is uplifting Black creators on the platform, Benjy describes being part of the TikTok #thisisBlack campaign where he was one of several creators who were showcased on billboards across the country. ‘The fact that such significant investment was put into amplifying and celebrating Black creative talent is amazing.’ He also talks about how grateful he is for the opportunity to be a Black Creator Trailblazer, as it gives him the chance to ‘strive for positive change for my community and to have a positive impact on the world.’
YAS : @yasontheinternet
Creating comedy videos and fashion content, Yas has been able to foster a community of people who relate to her millennial scenarios or hope to dress just as well as she does! Asking her about her favourite part of using TikTok she says ‘even though you’re open to the whole world, the platform doesn’t seem so big. When every other person is calling you “bestie” it’s hard to not feel part of a community or indeed amongst your besties.’
When asking her why she started TikTok, it was all thanks to a friend gifting her a ring light for her birthday last year. ‘My friend got me a ring light for my birthday and essentially commanded that I start creating content because she knew I would be good at it, and that it was slyly what I wanted to do deep down.’ She goes on to say however, she was worried about ‘putting herself out there’ but definitely encourages anyone thinking about content creation to just do it.
She describes the imposter syndrome that many Black creatives feel, especially when ‘working twice as hard as your white counterparts, but only getting half the rewards.’ But she says, being chosen as a Black Creator Trailblazer has helped her ‘stop second guessing herself and has definitely sparked a new energy and focus for this year. ‘To be selected was an incredible honour, I’m so grateful to be standing side by side with such wonderful creators.’
MASON : @masonblakee
Mason describes TikTok as a sort of safe haven for him, which he now uses to bring joy, laughter and entertainment to around 400,000 people. ‘The app took me in, made me feel safe and allowed me to express myself at a time where I felt I was at my lowest.’
Thinking back to his childhood he describes how being Black and queer he ‘never really had someone to relate or to look up to’, making it difficult to find himself and come into his own. He believes it is important to be a role model to other Black queer people, and he doesn’t take this responsibility lightly. ‘If I could change that narrative and be a voice for people younger and older than me who have experienced and been through similar things I have, it would be a great honour.’
Despite highlighting TikTok as one of the platforms that have really gone out of their way to make space for Black creators and to provide them ‘amazing opportunities’, he still points out that Black creators always have to work that bit harder to be on par with their white counterparts, which seems to be a common theme amongst Black creators on all platforms. ‘I must say I have noticed that I and others like myself have had to work that little bit harder to achieve certain goals which can sometimes feel disheartening. But I don’t think I would change that because it’s made me even more hungry and passionate about my dreams and achieving these goals.’
With his ongoing success on TikTok with many of his videos gaining thousands of likes and millions of views, Mason was recognised as a TikTok Black Trailblazer. For him this means ‘I get to fearlessly take an otherwise excluded audience on a journey of me manifesting my goals and achieving my dreams whilst using my platform to inspire, educate and entertain.’
ONYINYE : @scarysappho
Initially Onyinye started their TikTok to show their ethereal makeup looks but quickly realised they were creating a community of like minded people who they could share their diverse interests and unique experiences with. ‘I remember talking to my girlfriend about how I felt a little lonely as I had just moved to a really white area, and I just really wanted friends with similar interests and experiences to me. She told me to start talking about my experiences; if people around me weren’t like me in real life, people online like me would gravitate to me and I’d be able to build a community there.’
They talk about what it is like being a ‘Queer African’, and how non-Black queer people often don’t understand how their race and ethinicity mean that their experience differ from theirs. In one of their most renowned videos, they talk about how being estranged from their family means that they can sometimes feel detached from Nigerian culture. ‘It’s like, of course I support my queer siblings in general but I’m not really here for you. I’m here for people like me in the same situation as me because hardly anyone else is and I can give advice to people in those situations.’ They go on to talk about how non Black people put ‘so much emphasis on getting a tick of approval from any Black creator on anything questionable that they want to do instead of trying to understand why things might upset us’. But they, like many other Black people, ‘have no interest in being somebody’s go to when they can’t be asked to listen to Black people and their diverse experience and opinions.’
Onyinye believes TikTok as a platform however, does value its Black creators. ‘I love how the algorithm seems to always lead my videos to the people who need it. Not to mention all the opportunities I’ve had from TikTok, from getting to speak on a panel to having my face on billboards around the country.’ Being chosen as a Black Creator Trailblazer they say ‘this means backing behind me creating a safe and happy community for other queer Africans such as myself. It means the investment of time and money into making sure that Black people of all different niches are represented and amplified.’
HADEAL : @hadealspeaks
Starting her TikTok journey to raise awareness about the Sudanese Revolution, Hadeal continues to create content to spark discussions on social issues and affect social change. With the aim of all her videos being to ‘make the world a happier, better and fairer place’.
Hadeal is using her platform to be a voice for marginalised groups in society, through videos addressing social issues, culture and media stories. ‘I started my TikTok page because I feel like there was a need to talk about issues facing marginalised groups and communities at the hands of oppressive systems of thought and unfair structures within society’. She stresses that for real change to occur, creators need to be bold and speak honestly about the current state of the world.
She also hopes to be an inspiration to those who want to start content creating but are too afraid to do so, ‘there is a lack of appreciation, recognition and genuine encouragement given towards Black creators working in media and creative industries and so having built this platform, I hope to empower others who may want to pursue this but also form part of the representation that is lacking so heavily.’
Although like many of the Black Creator Trailblazers, she points out that Tik Tok is one of the platforms that provide opportunities for Black creatives and gives you the space to be authentic and be yourself. TikTok is differentiated by the fact that they value creators putting the concept of ‘community’ at the heart of all they do. The Black History Month campaigns, Notting Hill celebrations and Trailblazer programme have been incredible and I cannot wait to see what more is to come!’
Photography + Production + Creative Direction : Shenell Kennedy
Assisted By : Satori Cascoe
Interview + Words By: Leonie Belle
Makeup : Evanne Alarnah