Why People on TikTok Still Need to Explain #AltBlack

If you’ve ever been the only person of color at a basement show, you know how lonely it can be to feel lost in a sea of white faces. People of color, and especially black people, are using TikTok to mitigate the pervasive racism of alternative music and culture.

For a long time, I remembered having to justify liking pop punk music. It wasn’t just that I was a girl—my white peers were always overly curious about my interest in Blink 182, despite it being 2001, the year when Take Off Your Pants And Jacket would debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. As time progressed and I got involved in my local scene, the lack of other people of color started to grate. How I wish I had TikTok when I was younger.

Black people have always been participants in alternative music and culture. Often, black art has been at the vanguard of alternative music, and in terms of rock music, black people were the originators. Black people notoriously love bands like Paramore or My Chemical Romance, yet, according to users in the “altblack” tag on TikTok, black people are still being asked to justify why they love a genre of music black culture had a huge part in shaping. “Black people can’t like punk music,” reads the text on a TikTok from user EbonyAssassin. “How can we not like something we invented?”

When I was younger, seeing another black person in the crowd at a basement show would mean that we were de facto friends for the evening. Who else could I sneak aside glances at whenever I got a weirdly invasive question about my hair, fashion sense, or why I was there? Right now, TikTok and its use of hashtags have allowed alternative black people to elongate that gaze across the crowd. Jeremy Hunter, also known as Skatune Network on their YouTube channel where they post ska covers of songs, recently used the hashtag as a way to reach more people of color with their content. This isn’t an uncommon way to use the “altblack” hashtag or any of its derivatives. The tag is already populated by people who are introducing themselves and describing their interests, hoping to meet more people like them.

“I create a lot of dope content in the punk rock and the ska world,” Jeremy said in their TikTok. “I just dream of interacting with and having the support of people who look like me and think like me and have the same experiences as me.”

This kind of community building has become more and more possible with the advent of the internet. Meet Me At The Altar, who signed to renown pop punk label Fueled By Ramen last year, met each other on YouTube. On TikTok the presence of alt black people is particularly vibrant. The people who are in that tag have formed a strong enough community that while people do use it to gripe about racist experiences in alternative music that they’ve had, a lot more of the content is black people just being themselves.

As a teenager I used to fantasize about a music scene with black skaters, black faces in the pit, and black musicians on stage. Black people on TikTok are bringing that world just a little bit closer to reality.

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