Meet Jackie James, the TikTok star fighting social injustice with satire

The creator has helped carve out a space on the app for young people to speak out against and learn about a variety of social issues, and her platform is growing fast.

by Aaron Mills
|
17 August 2020, 2:00pm

Imagery via Instagram

“Racism will die after you guys get the white women at CVS to stop touching my hair like I’m a dog. ‘Cus we’re not on no golden retriever type beat. Babe, I’m not a chihuahua. My name is Jackie, how are you doing?” This is a line from just one video created by TikTok star Jackie James (aka @fatraco0n), and a pretty fitting way to introduce her brand of satirical activism if you’re not already aware of it. Arguably the most quotable personality on the app, 17-year-old Jackie has amassed a gobsmacking two million followers in the space of a few months, creating content that tackles issues from racism, to transphobia, to toxic masculinity. And encouragingly, it’s resonating with legions of young people across the world.

Jackie hails from America’s Midwest where, she explains, it’s been near impossible for her to ignore the racism happening around her. By taking the conversations she was already having in her day-to-day life to TikTok, Jackie became one of the first in a new guard of activists using the app to inform and radicalise more young people than ever before. And the numbers don’t lie — new data from the Harvard Public Opinion Project shows that 30% of young people in the US consider themselves to be politically engaged; up from 24% in 2017. In the UK, more than 3 million people registered to vote before the deadline ahead of the last election – 875,000 more than 2017 — with two-thirds of them under 35. And it just takes a scroll through TikTok’s For You page to see that teenagers are on the front lines.

When I speak to Jackie on video call, she is poised, sweet and intelligent. Although her TikTok feed is laced with humour, it’s clear that this is a young woman with purpose who wants to be taken seriously — and deservedly so. Take note.

For those that don’t know you, can you introduce yourself and what you do?
I’m Jackie James. I’m a TikTokker and an actor. Most of my videos are based on not only comedy but social injustice.

You recently hit 2 million followers. How did that feel? 
It was almost surreal. Two million people want to listen to you, right? So, it’s empowering when people want to hear what you have to say. It was a really uplifting moment for me.

Why do you think young people are becoming more engaged in human rights activism?
I think people are more passionate than they’ve ever been simply because things get around faster. If you don’t really know what people are going through, then you can’t really understand why there’s a problem. But if you have apps that give you this big platform and help your videos reach, like, a million views just by saying what you go through, then people understand that.

You’ve called out the cultural appropriation on TikTok, saying “all the trends that you love were created by queer people of colour”. Can you expand on that?
That was one of my most controversial videos and I didn’t understand why at first. But I was realising that people really didn’t understand what cultural appropriation was. All the trends that we have right now, the music trends, right? The dancing trends. They’re all created by minorities. ‘The Renegade’, one of the most popular dances on TikTok, was created by a Black girl. And she didn’t get the recognition that she deserved. There is no Black person on TikTok with more than 10 million followers, and I think that’s a problem.

You’ve addressed the performative allyship on TikTok. What do you say to those people? How can we keep the momentum of BLM alive?
The creators have no malicious intent. They weren’t trying to do anything wrong. You just have to remember that Black Lives Matter goes deeper than a 60-second video. You have to have conversations with your friends, and your families. It’s understanding, putting bios up, raising money, raising awareness. It’s saying that you want the best for the black community.

You call out the racism directed at you through the app on a daily basis. How do you deal with these comments?
The hate will grow as much as your platform does, right? But if the platform is growing, that means there are people that want to hear you. And so, if you can’t educate the person to your left, do it to the person on your right. As for the hate, you know, it happens. Racism is taught. You just have to hope that they someday unlearn that and get with the rest of society, I guess.

You’ve mentioned struggles with your mental health. What do you think is the biggest challenge in regard to social media and mental health? 
There is such a high standard of perfection, not only in appearance, but in the way you act. You have to never make a mistake, it really doesn’t matter how old you are, you have to be perfect. So that really does take a toll on any person with a social media account.

What have the positive responses from your audience been like?
I think it’s the most empowering thing that’s ever happened to me. Looking at messages and having people feel okay with me and safe with me enough to tell me their stories. That has changed me as a person. It has made me realise how important your voice is.

If TikTok were banned, what would your final video be?
I’d probably put in a joke or two somewhere, but ultimately, I think I’d just tell people to stay grounded, love yourself but educate yourself. Love other people. Have that hope in your heart that someday things are gonna change.

What do you hope the future looks like for young people?
I am really hopeful. I am really proud to see how quickly people decided to finally learn about social injustice and listen to minorities. I’m really hopeful to see what this generation has in store for society and what big change is going to be made.

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