A year after the murder ofin Minneapolis by police, the movement continues to shed light on the impact of police brutality and systemic racism on Black Americans. , the June 19 celebration marking the end of slavery in the US, has also gained more national attention and will likely become a federal holiday this week.
Some of that attention can be attributed, at least in part, to Black creators on social media who use their TikTok and Instagram accounts to share information on current events, racial justice and overlooked or "whitewashed" history involving the Black community. One of those creators in Kahlil Greene, a history major at Yale studying social change and social movements. Greene launched his TikTok account in January with a video on "non-whitewashed" quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. The video has 1.4 million views.
From there, Greene, who now has over 440,000 followers, has created videos on everything from lesser-known historical facts to cultural appropriation in music and pop culture. One series called "How everything on this app originated with Black people" explores TikTok trends like "swag face" and "sheesh" whose origins have been overshadowed by non-Black creators.
"That series was born out of frustration," Greene said. There were two events that inspired it. One was when Jimmy Fallon invited TikTok personality Addison Rae to his show to perform several TikTok dances. Viewers were quick to point out many of the dances were actually created by Black people who weren't being given credit. (Fallon later invited those creators onto his show following pushback.)
The other instance was a Saturday Night Live skit earlier this year called Gen Z Hospital in which, as Greene put it, "they were supposedly making fun of Gen Z culture, but what they were actually making fun of was Black American culture that had been co-opted by Gen Z." From there, he decided to break down how many viral trends originated from Black creators.
Greene says he shares his content on TikTok because of its broad reach.
"You can make a video and millions of people can see it within a day," he said. "That reach is something you're not going to get anywhere else."
Greene says a lot of his content, at least for the time being, is designed for Black people to learn more about their own history, rather than to try to reach people who may not understand the importance of Black culture and racial justice. Starting from his early days on TikTok, Greene posted a video on the origin of African-American names. Leading up to Juneteenth, he shared a video explaining the meaning behind the holiday's flag.
Platforms like TikTok, though helpful for quickly and widely disseminating information, aren't without their problems. Greene says he's had several videos removed on the site, like segments in which he critiques other influencers, which he says are falsely labeled as "harassment and bullying." He's had some success appealing the removal of content, but has also seen others have their whole accounts deleted even after garnering hundreds of thousands of followers.
"It's jarring and it's disparaging," he said. "People have a lot of frustrations with TikTok."
In response to these kinds of removals, a TikTok representative said: "We take great pride and responsibility in knowing that TikTok is a place where people from underrepresented communities are seen and heard through the stories they share and content they produce. At TikTok, we wholeheartedly believe in amplifying the voices of diverse creators."
Still, Greene is one of many Black creators hoping to reap the benefits of a platform that allows him to connect with all kinds of people, both those looking to learn about their own identity and others wanting to educate themselves on the impact of Black communities on art, history and culture.
In our interview, Greene discusses the impact of social media in helping him reach wider audiences, the importance of illuminating overlooked Black history and what he hopes people understand about Juneteenth.