By Joya Wheatfall-Melvin

May 05, 2021

Since 2016, the popular, yet controversial app, Tik Tok, has scored majorly by securing the attention of youth for the last four years.

Tik Tok, developed and owned by China, the social media app has undeniably caused frenzy during the Donald Trump administration, as well as in the black community. It’s programmed algorithm ran and developed by Asian counterparts “tend” to disregard the celebration of blackness and black bodies. 

However, during tense times endured in the past year, divisive videos surrounding social activism surface almost repeatedly. Many black Tik Tokers and content creators have experienced shadow banning when it came to their personal expressions of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement after the shooting of George Floyd. Tik Toker, Chinyelu Mwaafrika stated, “Tik Tok as an app is not friendly to Black creators. Whether that’s because of the way that it’s programmed or because of the way that users interact and engage with content, it’s not an app that you see a plethora of Black creators getting hugely successful on”. 

Specifically, Tik Tok’s exclusive algorithms show the same repetitive pattern when it comes to media fragility in representing black women. As proof, Adore Me, an affordable and all-inclusive women’s underwear, lounge and active wear product line experienced one of Tik Toks many “glitches” in the beginning of February 2021. 

The New York established brand posted two separate videos: one featuring a black woman talking about the lingerie and another featuring a white woman talking about the lingerie. The Tik Tok with the black woman narrating was deleted, while the one with the white woman was continued. Adore Me posted other Tik Toks, including plus-sized black women, that were taken down as well. 

Senior Customer Relationship Agent, Adore Me and Hampton University alum, Ms. Desta White stated, “Although we were not targeted as a brand, we were targeted as a look. There is not much transparency in surrounding the moderation that the AI does, which is why our response was so crucial. The typical user on Tik Tok may not know this is happening, they could be normally engaging with the content and receive such a narrow spew of what’s out there and neglect broader aspects of beauty.” 

As Adore Me exposed the predicament in a twitter thread, Tik Tok vaguely responded stating it was an “error”. However, the question remaining is how does this algorithm work and is it synonymous with worldwide algorithms of black and/or plus-sized bias? Either way, the answer narrows down to the known and overplayed stigma that anybody not included within the mythical norm of modern-day society receives little light in media, lifestyle, and other ways that immediately affect social perception. 

Consequently, the most educated demographic in the United States completely adverse to the mythical norm is the black woman. In light, there are a few discerning thoughts surrounding the past, present and future of black women and their bodies in media. Due to the intentionally hidden education about the black diaspora before the transatlantic slave trade, women in African societies had prowess, strength, and were utterly respected. 

Nubian women in Egypt were highly regarded as “Queen Mothers” and participated in regal and political activities enforcing education to all around the country. As times shifted and race hierarchies grew as default of American structure, so did gender formation, creating a muddled space for the intersectionality of the black woman. From the reality of rape and sexual degradation during and after slavery, her body is still oversexualized, yet degraded in modern media today. 

Particularly in rap/hip hop culture, lighter toned, racially ambiguous, and voluptuous bodies are heavily favored. It’s too easy to notice the absence of other more common body types in music videos and other outlets. With added body norms, many plus sized women in general are shadowed by media industries. However, feminism as a whole is specifically narrowed into “white” feminism, and black women are simply unacknowledged. 

Now in 2021, with social media and its prejudiced algorithms, there is an indefinite impact on the youth and how the future view themselves through each other’s eyes. It is important that we continue to build upon our movement to change the narrative of the Black woman experience and our overall global impact beyond the past four hundred years in America.   

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