TikTok creator Danessy Auguste has spent the past few weeks feeling confused over the frenzy surrounding influencer Alix Earle.
Earle, 22, has exploded in popularity in the last few months, amassing over 4 million followers. Like many creators, she posts videos where she shares personal details about her life, including her getting ready to go out, her struggles with acne and navigating romantic relationships.
But Auguste, a TikToker with more than 947,000 followers, said she has seen her “mutuals” — other women creators of color — produce “the same exact” type of content as Earle. Yet, according to Auguste, their videos don’t generate the same level of success.
“I know I’m not the only one feeling so confused, so distraught, so at a loss of what we can do,” Auguste said. Last month, she posted a video to TikTok where she said she believes Earle’s virality is a reminder of how ignored women of color influencers are on the platform. Hundreds of women responded, sharing similar thoughts.
Some Black influencers, including Auguste, said they are questioning whether Earle’s rapid viral fame has more to do with her whiteness than her content. Others echoed the sentiment of one commenter, who wrote: “I love Alix, but where’s the blk girl version”?
On TikTok, some are describing this as the “Alix Earle effect” — or when young white women amass an “incredible amount of power and influence” thanks to the platform, according to Trevor Boffone, a researcher who has studied how TikTok is a culture-making space in America.
If content from some popular creators of color performs poorly online, they may only get a few hundred views and likes on a video. But for white women, their least successful videos, on average, still have the capability to reach millions of viewers, Boffone said.
“TikTok is a white space,” Boffone said. “The people that are promoted on the platform and who are most successful on the platform are white people… or lighter-skinned.”
While TikTok is tight-lipped about its user data, a 2022 Pew Research Center analysis shows that Black teens are more likely to be active users of the platform than their white and Latino peers.
The Earle discourse comes as creators continue to be vocal about their issues with TikTok as a platform. In the past, Black creators have alleged the platform engages in content censorship and "shadow-banning" (blocking a user without their knowledge). Some have also called out the platform for cultural insensitivity, which they say has made it difficult for them to thrive on the app.
A spokesperson for TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The platform has previously issued an apology to its Black community and created an internal creator diversity collective to examine any inequities created by TikTok’s policies or products.
White influencers 'don’t worry about relatability'
Some Black creators said that criticism of the algorithm may leave out how TikTok’s users can also contribute to disparities in success among influencers of color and white influencers.
“What we engage with, what we look at, what we like, comment on, that’s what the algorithm feeds us,” said Ngozi Musa, a creator who also works in influencer marketing.
Musa sees influencers as gatekeepers, who brands can court to gain access to their large followings.
If consumers consistently celebrate specific creators, such as Alix Earle, “brands are going to take notice,” Musa said.
Consumer and algorithmic bias together then can be compounding factors behind white creators being perceived as more “marketable.”
Danessy Auguste said she was advised on her public perception by an agent who told her she’d be perceived differently by the influencer marketing world because she was Black.
“She was telling me that I have to smile a lot in my videos,” Auguste said. “To be brandable I’m going to have to be overly cheerful to expel every stereotype they might have about me.”
Musa also highlighted the problem of typecasting that Black women creators experience.
“We have to fit into these societal tropes that people think should be what a Black girl does. Black girl in luxury is a trope. The funny Black girl is a trope,” Musa said.
While limiting, these tropes may also be viewed as strategic moves for Black creators who feel that they have to create niches to be relatable and to grow audiences, according to Boffone.
“White people don’t worry about relatability whereas it is a conversation that creators of color are having,” Boffone said.
What would it take to get a ‘Black Alix Earle’?
Adding another dimension to the Alix Earle discourse, one influencer posed a provocative question:
“Do we deserve an Alix Earle?” Niké Ojekunle, who goes by @specsandblazers on TikTok, said in a video.
Ojenkule, a creator with 462,000 followers, called for introspection among Black women about ways they could improve by uplifting one another. Ojenkule said in the video that the comment sections of popular Black female creators in comparison to that of Alix Earle’s were “so negative” and “so mean.”
Auguste noticed this as well, and said that Black men creators don’t get nearly as much hate as Black women.
Still, other creators are wary about misplacing the onus for change on Black women. Communal support with trends such as #BlackGirlFollowTrain have already allowed Black women to intentionally engage with one another’s content.
“I will always like and comment and share posts of a Black creator or woman of color,” creator Meolah Delinois said. “But it also comes to the point where we can’t be fighting this battle just by ourselves.”
TikTok has made some progress toward redressing racial inequities on the app, with creator development programs intended to nurture and support the development of emerging Black creators.
The Earle discourse has been disheartening for some Black female creators. However, those who have engaged in the conversation said they feel validated by the discussion occurring.
“It’s important as Black women to remember that, especially when looking at TikTok and creating content, we can be more than one thing,” Musa said. “We don’t have to cater to what people think is relatable. Maybe you’re not going to get as much engagement or maybe it’s going to be slower growth, but stay true to who you are and what that looks like.”