If I could make one generalization about people our age, it’s that many of us are scrolling through TikTok to cure our boredom in the midst of this pandemic. TikTok is a platform where you are free to post whatever type of video you want (as long as you can get past the community guidelines by replacing letters with numbers and symbols in inflammatory key words). If a video is getting interactions from its audiences, it will continue to gain views and go viral. Therefore, unlike other platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, the TikTok algorithm makes it extremely easy for people to go viral and gain traction even for those without a following.
Considering these factors are unique to TikTok, the platform’s political content is nothing short of messy. TikTok has provided a platform to voice just about any opinion or political standing. A video that spreads hate can be promoted just as much as a video that raises awareness, as simple comments and shares bring a video to more and more viewers.
The racial dating preference videos, which are only the tip of the iceberg in the collective that is problematic TikTok trends, are indubitably problematic. These types of videos usually go like this: The creator blatantly states their racial preferences in relation to dating in a blunt and micro-aggressive manner. Don’t get me wrong, we all fall victim to implicit bias, and it is natural to prefer, say, men with dad bods or women with curly hair. Unfortunately, while these videos could be more lighthearted, most of the time, the TikTok algorithm rewards much more offensive and inflammatory content.
Thus, this trend promotes racism, fatphobia and misogynoir hiding behind the guise of dating preferences, designed to put down Black and Brown girls specifically. One enraging video I saw recently was captioned “when my drink starts tasting like ‘who cares if she’s overweight and Black,’” in which a teenage boy pretends to be eyeing girls while under the influence at a party. The creator’s loyal army of fans instantly scolded people who expressed their dismay and concerns in the comments, dismissing them as overly sensitive. And of course, they tried to gaslight people who expressed anger or frustration with excuses like “it’s just his preference.” This particular trend is only one of many that racist — and mostly teenage — boys use to create and encourage racist narratives.
I have also seen videos where creators rank races by their subjective perceived attractiveness of those racial groups, usually without much explanation. Often, light skin and dark skin Black women are separated into different, colorist categories. To further degrade the primarily dark skin women who often duet these videos, the creator includes inflammatory elements, such as adding in ranks for animals and objects below the other women and above Black and dark skin women. Now, any sensible viewer should immediately recognize the bigotry and malice of these videos. But there is an army of trolls defending the creator with comments like “it’s just his opinion and preference” and endless snowflake emojis. These ongoing comment wars do nothing but increase user engagement with the videos and further inform the TikTok algorithm to advertise the video to more people.
Why are these videos problematic, you might ask? Children are products of their environment. When one is young and hyper-fixated on dating and attractiveness, how do you think they feel coming across these videos repeatedly? Impact is greater than intent. When a teen is indoctrinated with these ideas, it could be very detrimental to their self-esteem and perception. Over time, they will begin to internalize the racist and misogynistic ideas perpetuated in these forms of media. TikTok was made for and is consumed primarily by impressionable kids and teens who soak up information and opinions like sponges. To me, it is extremely important to evaluate the kind of voices that are amplified and the videos promoted. The TikTok algorithm should take their demographic into consideration and stop promoting hateful videos simply because they are getting views.
Additionally, these types of videos subconsciously signal to these video creators that microaggressions and casual racism are acceptable as long as it is for entertainment purposes and masked behind the guise of “dating preferences.” The creators will never be held accountable so long as this persists. In the end, this pattern further normalizes all kinds of microaggressions centered around colorism and misogyny towards Black and Brown women.
It is noteworthy to keep an eye out for undertones of racial bias in these seemingly innocent videos, and we should keep these creators in check. In today’s “woke” and “post-racial” world, blatant racism is condemned while not-so-subtle racist jabs still gain the support of closeted racist individuals as long as there is a socially acceptable cover, such as “dating preferences,” allowing it.
Next time you come across one of these videos, I suggest that you view them critically. Is the creator trying to uplift or put down? There is a difference between preferring something and putting down entire communities of living, breathing humans under the guise of preference. When it is the latter, we need to hold the creator accountable.