Defend Truth


Don’t you know they’re talking ‘bout a revolution? Youth using TikTok to fight for racial justice


Precious Nala is Marketing and Stakeholder Relations Executive at the Afrika Tikkun Group.

Stories of everyday youth who are no longer tolerating discrimination are now on display for everyone to see and hear on TikTok. If we want to move forward with new ways to combat racism in the workplace, we have to pay attention to these voices.

Racism has restrained racialised economic progress for decades, evident in the persistent racial wealth gap. According to McKinsey, worldwide the average black family has 10 times less wealth than the average white family, in turn affecting access to education, healthcare, and other services uplifting peoples of colour (POC), yet the gap grows wider.

The knock-on effect is that businesses lack diversity and play a significant role in increasing this gap when racism is allowed to flourish. While racism is indeed a moral battle, it also becomes a business model that sets our economy up to fail — unless we refresh our ways of working.

Youth are not silent; they are speaking very loudly. They need to be heard and listened to in innovative and fresh ways, yet not enough people in positions of power are listening or paying attention to where they are speaking. Harnessing new media platforms is key and a deep dive into what the youth are saying on their own, dedicated platforms on social media such as TikTok is vital to informed decision-making. Of late, the TikTok content has shifted from dance moves to meaningful content around racial justice movements.

Teens and 20-somethings flocked to TikTok and it gained an even bigger following as many people stayed at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic. TikTok has emerged as the most-downloaded app in the world, outpacing Zoom, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook in record time with the majority of under-30s engaging with content from viral dances to artistic showcases.

As the world got online during the pandemic and social distancing prevented in-person interaction, the youth found TikTok the best way to connect. This not just helped them check in on friends and family members but also enlightened them about issues concerning society. It also highlighted the disparities in whose stories used to be told in the public sphere and whose weren’t.

Videos can go viral almost instantly on many platforms, but TikTok stands out for how rapidly a user can acquire a large following after sharing just a single post that strikes a chord. And with this knowledge, we do need to pay attention to not just how these videos go viral but what the content creators are saying that speaks to the millions of people who view them. The power of the platform is that the short-form videos utilise popular sounds, striking visuals, and tools such as accessibility subtitles to speak messages that can help organisations re-examine how they operate in terms of racial biases.

Previously, organisations like the United Nations (UN) were the only source of spreading social awareness, but more and more people have been able to reach out to their counterparts with messages of inclusivity. People have started to speak up about their personal experiences and how racism can cripple society.

If businesses and organisations paid more attention to this, the private sector would get a wider view of what the youth needs, what we need to fix in our systems and the real-life problems that people face in terms of racism in business and the workplace.

The voices that were previously ignored, such as people reporting racial micro-aggressions saying they were harassed in the office, for example for the food they brought to work, suddenly got hundreds of thousands of likes and shares, elevating these issues to the point they can no longer be ignored. Stories of your everyday youth who are no longer tolerating discrimination are now on display for everyone to see and hear.

If South Africa wants to move forward with new ways to combat racism in the workplace, we have to pay attention to these voices. It is imperative to pay attention to young people as they air their stories, grievances, and ideas on how to address racial injustices and apply these ideas to organisational practices.

It is a form of youth participation and it’s only with this kind of awareness that we can grow our economy and close these gaps created by racial disparities. DM


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