Kahlil Greene, a senior studying history at Yale University, could be considered one of TikTok’s first historians.
He’s a creator himself, best known for his posts about America’s hidden history in which he explains the little-known true stories surrounding events in American history. Lately, though, he’s shifted his focus to current events.
As a member of TikTok’s target demographic, Greene has made it his mission to explain the true roots of many of the trends on the app after having conversations with his friends who genuinely did not know where their references were coming from.
“I often mention how Black American culture dominates the nation, yet is rarely credited, or worse — is whitewashed and just called ‘Gen Z culture,’” he explained in the first post in his series called “how everything on this app originated with Black people.”https://www.tiktok.com/@kahlilgreene/video/6960806371235253509?referer_url=https%3A%2F%2Fdk79lclgtez2i.cloudfront.net%2F&referer_video_id=6960806371235253509&refer=embed&is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1
Acknowledging that white users on TikTok popularize and then profit off of the trends started by Black users is not a new conversation, but it is an important one. Recently, the conversation ignited again when Addison Rae appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to teach him TikTok dances largely created by Black users.
Though Rae popularized many of the dances, she was not the original creator, and yet, she still got to hold this massive stage instead of them. It took weeks for the users behind the choreography to have the opportunity to take the stage — and even then, it wasn’t in-person like Rae’s performance, either.
In an interview with In The Know, Greene said that TikTok makes cultural appropriation deceptively easy.
“The algorithm shows people the content that’s popular but is not necessarily shared by originators,” he explained. “Sounds can be replicated easily … and a lot of times you’ll see Black culture that’s popular outside of TikTok without any sort of credit to the original creators.”
For example, he noted that TikTok star Charli D’Amelio skyrocketed to fame after doing the “Renegade” dance, which was created by 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon. Since D’Amelio’s version was more popular, Harmon was pushed to the sideline. Though D’Amelio likely didn’t intend to overshadow the original creator, ultimately she became the one to gain fame and followers, and thus money and endorsement deals, from someone else’s dance.
Greene noted that society has been benefiting from Black culture with little credit for years. It dates back to the 1800s and 1900s, when white people dressed as racist, Black caricatures to perform minstrel shows for profit and fame, and continued when white performers like Elvis Presley appropriated and spread Black culture without credit.
He said in a TikTok that that’s why many Black Americans feel the need to “gatekeep” their culture…….to read more