James Henry

Illustration by Matt Chessco

    TikTok is a strange and wondrous place. It has launched a number of stars—many of them white and questionably talented. But much like every other form of social media, TikTok is defined by Black creators who shape the culture of the platform and yet go largely unrecognized for their contributions, which has recently prompted many to strike against it. While white influencers capitalize on cultural appropriation, James Henry has shown what actual talent, work ethic, and business savvy can accomplish on TikTok and beyond, and as a young Black content creator, it’s inspiring for the many others like him. Since joining in 2016 (before it was even called TikTok and was still Musical.ly), the 27-year-old has garnered 3.6 million followers—and counting—by producing and performing original content so highly crafted you’d think his videos were the latest HBO prestige series. His meticulousness and commitment to originality are not just a symptom of his work ethic but of the realities Black creators face on the platform. “As a person of color, I can honestly say that I’ve had to work harder to get half of what the white creators on the platform have been able to attain,” he told Forbes in 2020. “I have to stand out.” And he does, so much so that he’s landed brand deals with the likes of Doritos, Chipotle, Crocs, and more, building a viable and steadily growing business from his talents. In doing so, he’s paving a path for other Black content creators to follow.