The devil works hard but the TikTok algorithm works harder. A cliché that many users of the social media platform have noticed to be true. The tailoring of the ‘for you page’ #fyp to show videos that cater to the personal interests of users is proof of this. Therefore, it was no surprise that as a South Asian user of the app I soon began to see content created by other South Asian users and influencers.
This content consists of them largely taking part in trends that allow them to showcase South Asian culture. However, a closer look at these trends reveals that they are not the only people taking part.
These trends involve other BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) content creators taking part.
TikTok is largely formed of a community of people who are of ages 6-24. This age group is most commonly referred to as Generation Z (Gen Z).
It can be argued that Gen Z is setting the stage for the cultural awareness that they have not been able to see in the mainstream media.
But how true is this?
Pavanpreet Padda, who has taken part in popular trends like #fashionedit, shares that “Not only is it a place to really enjoy your culture and even other cultures, I also I think people feel more confident in taking part”.
“Personally, I think it was really enjoyable to really be myself. A part of that is expressing my background as a Punjabi Sikh girl… I honestly think that there has been a shift in culture being portrayed on social media. It’s because of these trends of people really embracing their cultures, that it’s becoming more of a norm”.
This norm has also been recognised by Anaïs Dersimonian who is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, arts, and culture.
“I just kept seeing content that which wasn’t like Instagram and Twitter and Tumblr before it. This content was really focused on not only people of different races and ethnicities showing their culture and showing it proudly but also a white or non-ethnic user base being so supportive”.
She also elaborates on how these trends are contributing towards larger social justice movements.
“This comes at a time where, there is a lot of learning and unrest around social issues and, violence against racial minorities. So, I think that there is sort of like a sea change, or at least I would like to believe, and I think that social media now aligns with that”.
In sharing this she reflects the views of many who believe that this awareness is not only necessary but also a long time coming.
Pavan reflects on this as she weighs in “I think it’s important to use this as an opportunity to be more aware and show others who you really are. It’s also really important to show off our culture so we can really put us on the map and make people aware of our culture and really own it in doing so”.
Owning and embracing their culture contributes towards combating stereotypes that have long been perpetuated by the mainstream media. It challenges the principles of western idealism.
However, as such videos gain views and likes they also increase chances of cultural appropriation.
Appreciation or Appropriation?
There lies a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.
TikTok users have on several instances crossed this line. This had led to people from minority backgrounds calling out users from white and non-ethnic backgrounds for this appropriation.
On very rare occasions this cultural appropriation is done deliberately to mock minorities. However, there are others who may think that they are showing appreciation for these minority cultures yet profiting off of them which contributes towards the oppression of their voices.
TikTok allows users to collaborate on videos through using voice-overs of other videos, as well as ‘stitching’ their videos with other users too. This makes it easier for appropriation to occur.
To prevent this from happening many users from racial minority backgrounds are using this as an opportunity to educate people.
They are hopeful that soon these discussions will be reflected in the real world. That soon there will a place for minority groups to freely express themselves outside of social media platforms like TikTok.
Whatever the case, this blaze of cultural awareness and appreciation is a step in the right direction, and we can only hope that this is just the beginning.