#BlackPeopleBeLike: Discursive constructions of contemporary race, culture, and African American identity on TikTok


ACLS Fellowship Program




Drawing on theory and methods from sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, and media studies, this project applies a digital ethnographic approach to the study of Black language and culture on the video-sharing app TikTok. It combines participant-observation, analysis of multimodal texts, and interviews with social media users to analyze how race, African American culture, and Blackness are discursively constructed and interpreted by members of the digital public referred to as “Black TikTok.” Three studies, each focused on a different genre of performances of Blackness by U.S.-based members of Black TikTok, critically examine how language and the novel digital technologies of TikTok allow users to (re)define Blackness through linguistic and embodied expression. The first study analyzes representations of social practices as “things Black people do” and the potential for both social connection and marginalization among Black TikTok users through this framing. The second study analyzes how TikTok’s meme culture and platform features incentivize creators to represent a limited set of communicative practices as “Black language,” and how this co-occurs with efforts to diversify representations of Blackness on the platform. The third study explores the role of embodied expression in the assemblage of semiotic resources that construct Black racial identity.