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Coincidence or Passed-Down Trauma? TikTok Videos Remind Society of Historical Racial Tensions

Two TikTok posts by Odilakachi W.H. Onwukwe (@mynamesuperlong) have gone viral and sparked thinking among viewers, although they do not fall into the typical categories of other content on the app.

In the first video, Onwukwe uses a sound clip from JAY-Z’s “The Story of OJ,” where the rapper says, “I’m not Black; I’m OJ. OK?” Onwukwe then washes his face with water, and words appear on the screen that read, “Black people running and laughing can’t be related to slavery. … It’s just the way [they] express joy, right?” The video implies that Black people running while laughing is a direct correlation to slavery and that Black people did not have the ability to laugh without facing serious repercussions during those times.

According to an old tale, to ensure that they would not get caught laughing, enslaved Black people stuck their heads in barrels and ran out of sight and earshot when doing so. Onwukwe’s video garnered a lot of attention with Black people in the comments discussing whether they think this stems from unresolved trauma within the Black community or dates back to slavery. “To be quite honest, it crossed my mind as a theory at first. As I began connecting the dots, I realized that there are collective trauma responses that we as a Black people have that we do not see as trauma responses because we do not see the connection or we have been told that it does not exist as a connection,” said Onwukwe.

In the second video, Onwukwe uses a sound clip from Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” to make a correlation to sundown towns. Words across the screen say, “You crazy as hell, my momma ain’t never let me stay out after the street lights came on, you outta pocket.” Another clip say, “Mine too, I just thought that was something that all Black people do” which ends with Onwukwe making a face as if he has made a frightening realization.

According to Black Past, sundown towns are predominately white communities that created racially discriminatory laws and threats toward Black people and other minorities. They specifically enforced that these people should not be outside after sunset or else they will be targeted (Coen, 2020). Many black communities across the nation understand the video’s reference because of the older generations that passed this “rule” down to the younger ones.

Earlier this year, Black people on TikTok spread information about sundown towns and even named some places that are potentially modern-day sundown towns, such as Chevy Chase, Maryland, Cullman, Alabama, Hemet, California and more. Since then, discussions have been held about these towns and people shared stories about issues they’ve experienced or read about. Onwukwe’s video wasn’t the first to address the problem, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Janae Bradford | 101 Magazine Many towns across the country still enforce the sundown town mentality today, and signs like such were posted all through white neighborhoods. Photo Credit: CSUSB

Within the last two years, TikTok has taken the world by storm. Most known for dances, do-it-yourself (DIY) tutorials and story times, TikTok has given content creators like Onwukwe a worldwide platform to share their thoughts and ideas. “I wanted to inform people of the relationship between current behaviors that Black people engage in en-masse… Irrespective of how people formulated their own opinions, it still sparked a conversation. Sometimes, that’s all it take,” said Onwukwe.

Through such videos, TikTok users and Black people are able to learn their history and form opinions on how much of what they do today comes from practices that their enslaved ancestors were forced to incorporate into their lives for their safety.

Sarah Jones-Smith

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