I was this many days old when I realized I have fully become my mother. Specifically, while watching a video from YouTuber and twinfluencer Niki DeMartino (or Niki DeMar, as she’s known solo) in which she apologizes for a racist and insensitive coronavirus TikTok. The short video showed DeMar, in a mask, getting her nails done in a salon. The manicurist is likewise wearing a mask. Over the video, a short song (?) made popular on TikTok — “It’s Corona Time” — plays (it has only one line: “ey, it’s corona time”). DeMar said she was inspired to make this video after watching other people making joke-y TikToks — wearing masks, hoarding hand sanitizer — using the song. At which point I heard myself mutter, “if you saw all the kids on TikTok jumping off a bridge … would you?” Like I said, I have fully become my mother. (Also possibly your mother.)
Among any number of problematic elements of the now-deleted video, the most obvious is that the nail tech appears to be Asian. The implication being that Niki and her friend are wearing masks to avoid getting the coronavirus from the woman doing their nails. Which, well, I’m not going to insult you by explaining why this would be inexcusable on a normal day and is, amidst a global pandemic that has spurred extreme anti-Asian discrimination, beyond irresponsible and cruel. (See here: The President continually referring to COVD-19 as the “Chinese virus.“) DeMar notes the video was filmed a week ago and that she would not go to a nail salon given the current state of the crisis. She is social distancing and recommends her followers do the same.
“I would have done that video regardless who was doing my nails,” DeMar says. “I see everyone equally so I truly didn’t see the problem ‘til someone texted me.” She shows the texts she received from someone telling her she looked “privileged.” DeMar took the video down, saying her first thought was that she “shouldn’t have gone out in public.” Then she headed to Twitter, where she says she realized her TikTok was offensive on multiple levels. “I thought it was about going out in public … then I was informed about xenophobia — I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that right, sorry if I’m not — I understand how it looked that way and I’m not making this video to be like I did nothing wrong,” she explains. A screenshot of the Google definition for “xenophobia” flares across the screen.
In 2019, Niki and her twin sister, Gabi, who is also an influencer, posted a video titled “Going to College Dressed as Celebrities Challenge,” where they, along with their older sister Alex and friend Dennis, dressed up as Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, Taylor Swift, and Normani. They were later criticized for having Dennis dress as Normani, furthering stereotypes about black women having “masculine” features.
“I am v sorry for that stereotype i wasn’t aware of but by all means like i said, he is a fan, wanted to be her, & did damn well. it simply was not that deep,” Gabi wrote on Twitter at the time. Nicki later tweeted an apology (ish) along the lines of her latest: “I think gabi and I truly were ignorant to the situation because it didn’t even cross our minds. Seeing the accusations (that are far from the truth) angered us, making us feel like we heavily had to defend ourselves, because that’s not what we were doing at all. Learning curve.”
At the end of her coronavirus TikTok apology video, Niki acknowledged the responsibility of having a platform like hers. “I cant be so thoughtless and impulsive and dumb when doing something for humor,” she says, calling herself a “grown-ass woman.” “I’ll apologize for my mistake, but I’m not racist and I know who I am and it is what it is.”