After Addison Rae Easterling, the second-most-followed person on TikTok, appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to demonstrate some dances that have gone viral on the platform, people couldn’t help but marvel at the absurdness of it all.
In a two-and-a-half minute segment, Easterling performed sluggish versions of eight TikTok dances, many originally choreographed by Black creators. To drive home how stiff and watered-down Easterling’s stylings were, people on social media began to post the original dances alongside Easterling’s versions.
language vs. “academic language” pic.twitter.com/47d7Bkc4xd
— Jonathan Rosa (@DrJonathanRosa) March 29, 2021
Mya Johnson (aka TheeMyaNicole), who, along with another creator, created one of the dances Easterling performed, says that initially she was thrilled to see her dance on TV.
“At first, I was excited, but then at the same time, it’s like, dang, I wish that could have been me performing my own dance or even just getting a little bit of credit,” the 15-year-old says. “At first, me nor Chris didn’t get any credit. Nobody reached out or anything.”
Johnson has seen people comparing her performance to Easterling’s and she appreciates it. She’s even been in contact with Jalaiah Harmon, the Black teenager who wasn’t credited for creating the “Renegade” dance.
“People should be resharing this type of stuff because a lot of Black creators come up with good creations that should get more credit for what they do and this is not the first time,” Johnson says. “It’s happened before.”
Shahem Mclaurin, a licensed therapist, posted a video to TikTok explaining how sick they are of “white people being able to be mediocre” in reference to Easterling’s appearance on The Tonight Show, and, more broadly, the institutional racism Black people face and white people benefit from.
“[The media] continues to push these people to the front who haven’t even done the real work and they’re not even good at the things they’re imitating,” they say.
Even though Black creators are responsible for the majority of TikTok’s viral dances, very few achieve the same kind of fame as their white counterparts. Actor Will Smith is the only Black creator in the top ten most-followed creators on TikTok, which seems to be a reflection of society’s attitudes toward people of color, and bolsters allegations that TikTok suppresses Black creators on the app. Last month, TikTok apologized for racial inequity on the platform and vowed to do better.
“As a society at large, we flock to people with white faces that are above the average standard of beauty,” Mclaurin says. “They easily blow up compared to everyone else. I think it’s a reflection of the racism in society as a whole.”
Despite having a large following of his own on TikTok, Mclaurin says the only time Black creators are asked to speak is to talk about white creators.
Kiera Breaugh, a professional dancer and TikToker, had a slightly different take. Obviously, the original creators of the dance did the moves better than Easterling, but she says the issue isn’t “ability or achievement”—it’s a matter of who tweens want to be.
“If there was a Black girl and a white girl and they both have the same dance skills and they both have the same amount of star quality, yes, the white girl is going to get more famous,” Breaugh, who is biracial Black, says. “Does that mean the white girl is not talented? No.”
Breaugh is also hesitant to call Easterling “mediocre” because she fears it smacks of misogyny.
“I think we need to be careful when we’re having these conversations because a lot of times I really do think they start to get into misogynistic territory with just wanting to call a girl mediocre because you can’t understand why she’s famous,” she says. “I don’t like when people do that.”
As for 15-year-old Johnson, she says she’s confident she’ll get her break one of these days.
“My mom always tells me, when my time comes, my time comes,” she says. “But it was just like, wow, like, when she performed that on the stage, I was like dang, that should have been my time.”
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