How 4 Black creators train their historical past on TikTok

Put your textbooks away and pull out your phones: some of the best black history lessons happen on TikTok.

Throughout the app, black creators post videos exploring America’s racist past in graphical detail, using history to add context to today’s view of race, and viewing history through a lens that examines the way How homophobia, colorism, age and respectability influence politics History is best remembered. They go beyond the surface-level explorations of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, widely used during Black History Month to study lesser-known personalities, and aren’t limited to February.

They’re fun, youthful, and modern too – PBS, that’s not. (No shadow.) The developers bring some of the app’s best elements – Gen Z and young millennial humor, green screen backgrounds, low-budget props, and popular music – into content that is both educational and entertaining Lessons are so rare.

In her viral TikTok video about “That Once 5,000 Black Children Went To Jail in Birmingham,” Lynae Bogues, a 26-year-old influencer and poet from Atlanta, plays both the sheltered student and the teacher who is frustrated is often taught in schools.

“Five thousand black children?” She asks.

Bogues goes on to explain the story of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade when thousands of young black children protested in the city of Alabama in May 1963, marching with police dogs and fire hoses. In the comments, some viewers said they were with the protest – their parents were there, they said. For others, the video was a mixture of shock (which they didn’t know about) and disappointment (because they should have). This mix of emotions helped spread the clip across the app. The video has been viewed more than 2.8 million times and has helped Bogues gain nearly 100,000 followers this month.

“Even when she spoke to my parents, my mother from Mississippi, she had no idea something like this had happened,” said Bogues.

The internet is often full of misinformation, especially on issues related to race, but any platform that helps us tell these stories well and accurately is good, said David Pilgrim, professor of sociology at Ferris State University in Michigan and founder of the school Jim Crow Museum. The museum displays and provides context for racist memorabilia to paint a full picture of American history.

“I am often between disappointment and dismay at the lack of knowledge about our country’s past that we find not only among young people but also among the elderly,” said Pilgrim. “I always joke that if you don’t make a film about it, people don’t know it happened.” On TikTok, people can get by with just a minute.

In the past year, TikTok has outgrown its reputation as a platform exclusively showing videos of young people dancing to popular songs for the purpose of capturing educational and educational content. Following the protests against racial justice last year, the app has also tried to highlight the diversity within its community. To mark Black History Month, the app hosted a number of livestreams and music events. TikTok has also enrolled 100 people in the Black Creative Incubator Program to help them build their brands.

At the same time, black creators have found that clips dealing with racism are sometimes marked as hate speech by the app, while elsewhere the actual hate speech is not always immediately removed. (“Racism, hate speech, and harassment have absolutely no place on TikTok,” said Kudzi Chikumbu, TikTok’s creator community director.) In some cases, they have been accused of split. In other cases, workarounds had to be created, such as: B. the spelling of certain words – such as B. “Negro” – with numbers and symbols so as not to be identified. “I have my days with TikTok, to be honest, it’s a love / hate thing,” said Nick Courmon, a 23-year-old who shares black history through spoken poetry on the app.

Despite TikTok’s problems, there is a clear audience for the type of educational content black developers bring to the platform. Here are four black creatives who went viral and share the often-forgotten story.

Lynae Bugs, @_lyneezy

Bogues started on Instagram, where she has a following of more than 144,000. There she organizes a segment, “Parking Lot Pimpin ‘”, which deals with issues such as misogyny (discrimination against black women) and colorism. She switched to TikTok to reach new audiences.

As a child, Bogues said she was actively looking for ways to learn more about black history. In her linguistics and science studies, she noticed that the characters she was learning about were predominantly white. “I just knew there were so many black people who write and write history,” she said. Her experience as a student at Spellman College, a historically black institution in Atlanta, was 180: suddenly every class was being taught through the lens of black studies, she said.

Bogues received a Masters in African American Studies from Boston University and then taught history and ethnology in Georgia. There students who had done ethnology under a former teacher said, “Oh boy, when I took this class last year we just watched movies, we just wrote about Frederick Douglass,” she said. “What I brought to class was about little-known characters, little-known moments that have a bigger impact on their everyday lives.”

She took the same approach for her videos. In a TikTok, described as “things you thought Martin Luther King Jr. did, but he didn’t,” she explains that the Montgomery bus boycott was actually by Jo Ann Robinson, a member of the local women’s community Rates, was started. In another, she argues why “the concept of race has no scientific meaning” and how it relates to eugenics and scientific racism.

Kahlil Greene, @kahlilgreene

Kahlil Greene, a senior at Yale College who studies the history of social change and social movements, launched his TikTok account in January with videos highlighting the “whitewashing” of King’s legacy and his quotes on race and class highlighted. But he is best known for his series “Hidden History”, which is about “crazy, creepy and / or covered up American history”.

On Presidents Day he asked, “Did George Washington take his slaves’ teeth to put in his own mouth?” In another he asks, “Have whites organized real hunger games for black children?” In the third video in the series, he examined evidence that black babies were used as alligator baits by white hunters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Greene said the inspiration for each video often comes from things he heard from relatives who grew up. “I was told these through oral tradition because my family in America is black,” he said. “These were things that were passed on and they really shaped my perception of American history.”

While family stories sparked some videos, Greene does some research and shows off his work.

“The sources are always listed in my videos,” Greene said. “That’s something I always have to look out for. So if someone disagrees with me and has a valid argument, they’ll see where I get the sources from, where I get the quotations from.”

Nick Courmon, @ndcpoetry

At first, Nick Courmon, a graduate student in African American Studies at North Carolina Central University, didn’t want to join TikTok.

“I was very, very hesitant about using TikTok, mostly because I had my own preconceived notions about it,” Courmon said. “I thought it was just this app that only got kids dancing and doing all kinds of nonsense.”

When he stopped by – after being persuaded by friends and hearing a podcast interview with a famous TikTok poet – he quickly started publishing spoken word poetry featuring historical moments and characters like Fred Hampton from the Black Panther Party, the history of the Dap. The activism of Afeni Shakur (Tupac’s mother) and Rosa Parks’ work with the NAACP as an advocate for black women who survived sexual assault.

The role of black women in the civil rights movement is a common theme in his videos. “We have to understand that Coretta Scott, even though she had Martin’s back, was the woman next to the man,” says Courmon in a video highlighting her political work.

Courmon’s parents both attended historically black colleges, and as a child he went through his collection of African American history books and shared what he had learned. At school, he interrupted his history class to add context to the class.

Through his TikTok, he was able to engage his more than 85,000 followers and expose them to the poetry of the spoken word. Courmon said he noticed that sometimes people watch multiple videos before realizing, “Oh, wow, you’re making poetry? Oh wow you rhyme Oh my god this is crazy, ”he said.

However, sometimes the rhymes are clear from the start. His video of Josephine Baker’s work as a French spy during World War II begins with: “Before Beyoncé existed, there was Josephine Baker, a beautiful black woman who sang, performed, and popularized her moneymaker.”

Taylor Cassidy, @ Taylorcassidy

In 2020 Taylor Cassidy started her series “Fast Black History”, which contains short videos on personalities such as the researcher Percy Julian. Zelda Wynn Valdes, the designer behind the original Playboy bunny costume; and Jane Bolin, the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School to serve as a U.S. judge.

Cassidy, an 18-year-old creator who just signed up with WME, said her “Fast Black History” series helped cement her presence on the app, which has 2.1 million followers. In 2020 she was recognized by TikTok as one of the “Voices of Change: The Most Effective Creators” of the year.

One of her favorite videos, released last May, tells the story of Mum Bett, also known as Elizabeth Freeman, the first enslaved African American woman to successfully sue for her freedom in Massachusetts. As Cassidy says in the video, “Mama bed was a bad girl, period.”

“At first I just had all these thoughts: Oh, nobody’s going to like it, people are bored, you shouldn’t do it,” she said. The video is one of her most popular, to which she attributes her props, music choices and costumes (she disguises herself as both Freeman and her lawyer, who argues that the court needs to add some “spice” to the reading of the phrase “all men”) created equal ”in their re-enactment).

Cassidy’s interest in black history began at home. Before she was born, her mother bought 10 books on black historical characters to share with her future children, she said. As a child, Cassidy’s mother questioned her about various characters while driving.

“At home, I heard about all of these different characters and events in black history, while every time, every year, every month it was the same three black people when I went to school,” Cassidy said. “The black story I fell in love with didn’t come from my schooling.”

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