Every time Dina Michele would scroll on TikTok, her feed simply did not reflect like the community around her, she said. The 27-year-old, known as @craftyheauxx on TikTok, took it upon herself to change that and create a sense of community for Black women on the platform.
Michele started a movement on TikTok where Black women follow each other, give advice and support each other’s small businesses and overall content using the hashtag #BlackGirlFollowTrain. It’s given many Black women across the platform a chance to connect and network: As of Tuesday more than 321 million views of videos were using the hashtag since early last year.
When Michele posted her video with the sound of “this one is for the Black girls. If you’re a woman and you’re Black, I’m following back,” she began to see many other videos using the same sound under the same hashtag #BlackGirlFollowTrain, bringing content under that hashtag to more people’s feeds.
“I started getting women telling me they got their first sales on their business from using the sound or they’re actually making friends and community,” Michele said. “People were able to network and it was really humbling to see that something I created brought my community of Black women together.”
Michele, who is also a photographer and jewelry designer, created the first video in February 2022 and has seen her account climb from 110 followers to more than 51,000. In November, she created another video in which she really started to see it become a trend.
“This is a time to prove to the world what Black women are capable of as a community,” she said. Now, when she opens the app, “all I see is Black women, Black people and Black businesses. It’s a complete 180 and it’s not what I first experienced when I joined TikTok.”
Building on that community, Sojourner James, known as @momtotheking on TikTok, published a similar video to Michele’s in December and immediately was surprised by the amount of attention both her video and the hashtag were receiving.
“In every single last video I see on TikTok, there’s a beautiful melanated queen and I love it,” James said. “I hope that a lot of people really get that I made the video for a sense of community and for a sense for Black women to feel like if you see a sister, you support her.”
Since the start of the trend, James said she has discovered new small businesses and has a list of all of the ones she looks forward to supporting. Without this, she said she would have never found those Black content creators.
“We don’t have a platform, it’s just something that’s not available to us,” said James, who said she and Michele support each other on the app. “Other people might shine a little bit more than us and it’s sad because a lot of us are extremely talented and creative. It’s very sad that we don’t get the shine that we deserve.”
Arionna Jai, another TikTok user known as @jaijoha, said she felt Black content was often suppressed and she would hardly see people who looked like her whenever she searched for something on the app. She would have to specifically type in “Black girl” to find other Black women.
Since the start of the trend, that has changed for her and she loves seeing Black women all over the app. She also has a small business, which she said has gained a tremendous amount of support.
According to TikTok, the company’s video recommendation system reflects a user’s unique preferences and also works to show recommendations that might fall outside expressed preferences, offering new and different content.
“We never should have needed a hashtag,” she added. “It should be a mixed bag of everyone who’s on there, but we don’t see ourselves, we only see everyone else.”
In response to a request for comment, TikTok sent information about ways that it has supported Black content creators including an incubator program, a grant program and an accelerator program for Black-owned businesses. In recent years, the company has also donated to organizations that support Black communities, TikTok told NBC News.
Complaints from Black users are nothing new. Two years ago, TikTok vowed to treat Black creators more fairly following accusations of censorship and content suppression. However, earlier last year many Black users reported little had changed since the company’s announcement. Many Black creators also said they were sidelined from TikTok’s Black History Month virtual event in 2022, in which opportunities like asking Nicki Minaj questions and brainstorming content ideas with her were mostly given to non-Black creators.
Some white women have used this hashtag to say they are being excluded when they follow Black women, but are not followed in return. Many Black users on TikTok, however, say that the algorithm — and the world at large — overwhelmingly favors white women.
“White women are centered in every aspect of life and they are the default in everything,” Jai said. “For them to get mad at us for trying to create something where we can find each other because it didn’t include them, it was asinine to me.”
Whitney Alese, a TikTok user known as @thewokemama, said seeing the backlash from some white women reminds her of several instances in which Black content creators weren’t getting credit for their ideas. She said Black and white creators would make the same exact content at times, but content from white people would always get more engagement on the platform.
“I need people to understand that this was not created to be malicious,” Alese said. “This was not created to be racist. This was not created to be hateful. This was created so that Black women could support Black women because nobody else seems to be.”
James said she never intended to put another race down and she encouraged the trend with the purpose of showing love to Black women.
This tension projects onto the ways mainstream feminism can often shut out or ignore women from marginalized backgrounds, said Treva Lindsey, a professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Ohio State University.
“Black women have long been excluded from the mainstream project of feminism, but it hasn’t stopped us from developing our own spaces, our own politics, our own practices and our own demands that white feminism reckons with its racist practices to truly become an anti-racist project,” Lindsey said.
#BlackGirlFollowTrain, Lindsey added, seems like a positive — and necessary — TikTok trend.
“Black women are navigating the combined force of racism and sexism on a daily basis,” she added. “We needed spaces that acknowledge that and affirm those individuals who live at that intersection.”
Although there has been some backlash, there are some white women and Black men that are supportive of the trend. The creator of the trend, Michele, said she applauds Black men for sometimes defending Black women on the app.
“I’m so grateful to see our community loving on each other, instead of the way we’re portrayed all the time,” Michele said.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com