How Are You, Really?: TikTok Creator Jason Linton on the Importance of Family
How Are You, Really? is an interview series highlighting individuals—CEOs, activists, creators and essential workers—from the BIPOC community. They reflect on the past year (because 2020 was…a year) in regards to COVID-19, racial injustice, mental health and everything in between.
In 2019, Jason Linton was already making people smile on TikTok with his music covers (using his signature vocal talk box), spreading large amounts of positivity and spotlighting his family. So when the pandemic hit, he left his job in education and decided to make social media work for him full time. Since then, he’s continued to spread joy (with fun skits and duets) to his 8.3 million followers. We spoke to Linton about the past year and how it’s made him a better father, husband and creative.
So Jason, how are you really?
My first question is, how are you?
I’ve been well. I feel like the sense of community that I’ve gotten from TikTok has really helped me not feel alone when everybody else felt isolated in the pandemic.
How are you, really? As individuals (specifically BIPOC) we tend to say, we’re fine even when we’re not.
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. There’s a lot of ups and downs because of the injustices that have been brought to light, and even some things I’ve seen happen to some friends. But even in those moments, I’ve noticed that ‘Hey, there’s people out there that might be feeling even worse than I am,' and I need to draw on something to inspire people. I look at [my family] as inspiration.
Why do you think it’s tough for BIPOC to talk about their mental health?
When I finally became aware that I was Black, my dad told me ‘You have to be better than everybody. You have to be stronger than everybody. If you’re going to run track you have to be faster and when you’re doing things at school you have to be the best.’ I latched on to that, chasing perfection, just so that I can be validated as a human being.
So, having a crack in the armor is something that all of us try to avoid. We don’t want to be seen as weak…But life is very different for BIPOC in general [versus] people with privilege. It’s important that we do get rid of the stigma, but it is hard to do that and still be seen as valued and valid.
What are ways you focus on your mental health?
How do I find my center? My center is this, I remember what it’s like to have an empty house. I remember what it’s like to not be a dad. I remember all the poverty and other stuff that I went through when I was growing up. With that, I take privilege in the things that I see around me— my family, my little ones, my wife. When I look at them I’m like, ‘OK, I know what it’s like to not have them and because I have them now I’m going to appreciate them to the fullest. I count my blessings. That’s where I find my center and that’s where I get myself to a good mental health space.
How has the pandemic played a role in your career?
Previously, I was a special education teacher’s aide. I got TikTok just to understand it because all these kids were like ‘Tiktok, Tiktok’ and I was like ‘What is that?’ As the pandemic started to hit, we had a health scare in our home because my son has special needs and he is immune compromised. I was around kids [all the time] and I started seeing teachers go missing, so it would’ve destroyed me if I brought home that sickness and it took the life of my kid.
So I said, ‘You know what, I think I’m doing well enough on TikTok that I can leave this job.’ I loved those kids and I loved speaking to them. They taught me so much about how to parent my own child with special needs and so leaving that was hard. [But it] changed my life because that allowed me to be home with the kids. During the pandemic, it was about trying to take care of their mental health, be there and be present at all times. It’s been something that only TikTok allowed me to do and I’m very grateful for the platform.
How has TikTok changed your life?
I live in a small town in Oklahoma. I’m statistically insignificant in my town and in my state. But then, TikTok has given me a place to be seen. A place to have value or to add value.
[It also] puts people that are millions miles away together and you’re like family. We had people come into the DMs and tell us about their family—whether it be about infertility, adoption fears, issues that they are going through with foster care.
What’s a topic you enjoy discussing the most on TikTok?
My favorite thing is my family. When I get to show my little ones–Lillian (who’s my youngest), Christian (who’s my middle child with special needs) and my oldest Harper—just being able to highlight them on my platform is really a blessing. My wife and I had a chance to adopt them and they changed our world. It’s just showing people that aspect of our lives.
Why is it important, as a Black father, to showcase positive representation on TikTok?
So many times Black dads get type cast into a role of “the Everybody Hates Chris dad”…like we’re the strict ones, we’re the hard ones or the ‘Don’t go to daddy if you want a yes, go to mommy’ kind of thing. I want to put forth an image that we think things through, we’re very involved and we’re involved in the emotions of our kids. When my kid’s heart is broken, my heart is broken too, and I can show them that. It doesn’t [always] have to be tough.
Do you think the past year has brought changes when it comes to racial injustice?
There’s a lot of great changes that have been made. It’s been under a microscope and under the pressure cooker of the pandemic, and we have to be forced to look at the ugliness.
How do you think parents can talk to their children about what’s going on in the world?
It’s really [about] sitting down to give dignity to one another. [I try to give] dignity to my children first, so that they can [come from] a grounded place. If I start talking about the issues, and I’m not sure my kids know where their worth is, then I’m going to put them into a tough spot. So as long as I start by showing their value—it doesn’t matter what you look like, you are amazing, you can change the world, you are powerful and you are my treasure—then from there I can show them sometimes people think of us in a way that’s not right and it’s because they have bad thoughts towards us.
Hopefully, as they grow older, when they see bad things happening to other people that are marginalized, they can speak up for them. That’s a great way for all of us to approach it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a person of color or not. You should instill these things in your kids. I think everybody should [understand this] mission: if Black lives don’t matter then all lives don’t.
What are your hopes for the year ahead?
I feel like the story of my family can be told on bigger platforms. I really feel like [we’ll] be able to put ourselves out there like on a reality show or something. Last year, we were so different. We were in a two-bedroom apartment. Now, we’re in a house. Things can change just like that. Just stay on course and lead with love.