Two Sides of Being A Black K-Pop Fan: Incredible Rage

Jump into Indescribable Joy if you’re not ready for the rage:

On February 11, 2020 twitter user @revegina uploaded a ninety-two second video set to SEVENTEEN’s만세(MANSAE) that highlighted several supremely antiblack moments in the relatively recent history of Korean pop and hip hop.

The video – embedded below since the user in question has since been suspended – includes such gems as:

  • Two separate members of Super Junior (Yesung and Shindong) in blackface
  • (g) i-dle’s So-yeon having her “ethnic hip” moment on Queendom
  • Lots of fucking cornrows, locs, and box braids on scalps that cannot handle that shit
  • Wendy from Red Velvet and RM from BTS mimicking Black people on two separate variety shows
  • Hwasa (from Mamamoo, a group that slathered on the brown makeup as a unit to portray Bruno Mars on a variety show back in 2017), dropping an absolutely unsubtle “nigga” into her cover of Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” like we wouldn’t fucking notice
  • A clip of RM telling interviewers, in English by the way, that he couldn’t see two of his bandmembers in the dark because “they were too black” from early on in their time as a group

(It didn’t include moments like the still-sorta-black-facing Bubble Sisters’ debut, or that time Park Jin-Young – the head of JYP Entertainment – performed “She Was Pretty”, one of his hit songs, with a bunch of background dancers in blackface, but they were there… in spirit.)

The thing is that… .at this point in 2020 where I’m on my second or third comeback (at least) for most of the groups I’m super invested in and almost a year into a project on antiblackness and blackness in Korean pop and hip-hop… not many of the things in the video surprised me.

I’d known about Yesung and Shindong’s blackface for a while and it’s why it’s On Sight with the two of them if I am ever in a position to get punchy with them.

Mamamoo’s brush with black-or-brownface is why I can’t make myself stan them even though they’re easily one of the most talented girl groups in the industry.

I even knew about a bunch of idols that decided to sing the n-word with their chest, whether or not it was in the song they were covering. (Seriously, Hwasa?)

Hell, pretty much every group with a hip hop sound gets to have their sensitive ass scalps tortured into some semblance of Black hairstyles.

Let’s be really clear here, y’all: I came into Korean pop and hip hop most strongly as a BIG BANG fan back in the day and I feel like anyone who came through that group and saw the straight up antiblack nonsense they did can’t be surprised by much.

However, knowing that the industry is incredibly antiblack in its past before you were invested and seeing the artists you’re trying to send money to be antiblack on main (so like… social media, variety show appearances, and in their comeback and stage concepts) right around now are two different things.

Because that clip… Oof.

I’m a huge BTS fan and I’m excited to see them come May from my nosebleed seats up top. That’s part of why it actually hurts to see that little clip in the video with RM/Namjoon joking about how he couldn’t see his friends because they were “too black”.

I don’t know that I saw that clip before I’d gone and gotten my super invested in the group. I can’t be 100% about that because well… as I mention below, I repress for my own good in this fandom.

I do know that I’d seen one of RM/Namjoon’s “talking Black” incidents and where he sings along to that one Shinhwa song that uses the n-word. And his locs… which were… a choice.

Like I saw those other things earlier in my time in the fandom and I kept on trucking.

But that clip from the press conference, which is from earlier in their career and I know that, actually managed to ruin my day and make me feel frustrated every single time I’ve thought of it since.

Because I literally cannot deal with it in 2020.

Because it’s never been dealt with.

Not as far as I can tell.

I’m writing this all out on the eve of their biggest comeback so far and I just –

In order to keep going with the energy I want to bring to the table, I have to assume that RM/Namjoon has moved past his antiblackness, because it’s not like he will ever explicitly acknowledge those early times and apologize in a way that applies actions to his words.

I literally have to make myself believe that Namjoon has grown in this specific way (because he’s grown in so many others) in order to keep going as his dedicated fan.

It’s either that or…

I have to repress the hell out of my seeing this clip, shove it deep into my brain until I can be unpleasantly surprised by it in a few months, and go back to having an empty head about this.

And considering that I’m… pretty sure this is at least the second time I’ve shoved that clip in my mental shame cave since the first time I saw it?

That’s probably going to be my go-to interaction with it because it is literally easier to Not Deal with this thing that will never be dealt with than it is to be yet another Black fan who is rewritten as an anti-fan for having an unhealed bruise or wound over an East Asian artist’s minor-to-major antiblackness.

Like that shit hurts twice as hard.

It’s not just like how Amber literally just moved the hell on without addressing her antiblackness and applying action to show she grew after her month of Twitter-Only silence-

It’s also that there are thousands of people in international fandom spaces who will make it impossible for Black fans of Korean popular culture to actually talk about what it means to be a Black fan in these spaces.

LIke just the other day, when NCT 127’s stylists continued their 2020 Comeback Cockups – 2 instances of Hair Crimes – by putting Taeil in a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt with the confederate flag on a guitar…

People weren’t just rushing to clear the searches –

They were actively insulting people distressed by the shirt, ‘splaining the logo, and saying that “no one” should be offended to see this young man in a frustrating shirt for a band we know he doesn’t even know or listen to.

And of course, they were saying that anyone critical of any of the stylists’ choices over this comeback so far weren’t real fans.

Because “real fans” would be quiet and put the artist over themselves.

There’s this thing fandom does to Black stans where we’re made to choose between our nerdy interests – or, in this context, our love of an East Asian celebrity – and our Blackness.

Where we’re positioned as enemies of these fandoms and the artists we genuinely love because we don’t have the thick skin required to pretend that we’re good for good in the face of unresolved antiblackness on any scale.

What stan twitter does to Black fans isn’t new. Mostly because it’s not a stan twitter thing alone. It’s a fandom thing. It’s a… world thing.

Black people worldwide are constantly made to choose between our Blackness and another thing that we find community in. Our queerness. Our disabilities. Our fandom.

And that shit sucks.

Because I should be able to be multifaceted. I want to shout about BTS’ recent comeback while also continuing my quest of unpacking what it means to be a fan of an industry (as a whole) that has been built off of Black aesthetics and yet doesn’t seem to be full of people who are very fond of Black people.

I want to be able to be Stitch on Stan Twitter, a hundred percent. Not just the parts that are palatable to these fandom spaces. I want to have my Korean pop culture cake… and criticize the hell out of it too.

And the fact that I can’t be sure that I can have that?

The fact that many other Black fans who are critical and much more accessible have been subject to endless and truly horrifying hatred?

That pisses me off.

Because at the end of the day, if you’re expecting Black K-pop fans to choose between their group and their identity even as you champion these groups who are proud of their identities and the milestones they’re making… You’re the one in the wrong.

You’re the one missing the message these groups are expressing about being good to each other and loving ourselves.


2 thoughts on “Two Sides of Being A Black K-Pop Fan: Incredible Rage

  1. Hello! I’m a fan of your work, and also a fan of BTS, and that particularly shameful video of RM making that comment about his bandmates is definitely a sour spot for me. However, as a linguist, I just wanted to add that in East Asian languages, like Korean, as well as other Asian ones such as Telugu (which I speak) there is only one word that means both “black” and “dark”, and so because he is self-taught, this would be an instance of him transliterating into English. However, that doesn’t excuse that it was still deeply hurtful and colorist, it’s just some extra context I wanted to add. Please keep doing what you do!

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  2. Hello, I was reading your album reviews and found this section where you tackle anti-blackness in Kpop. I have a small input as an Asian with darker skin than RM’s and as someone who was in the fandom when the interview with the Australian media happened, in 2015. I experienced the fandom rushing to defend him, to call him out, all the discussions, the backlash some of us experienced for being upset.. even from people of our own race. But in my opinion, this isn’t to dismiss BTS’s anti-black history or to say it’s worse/ less worse, this was a case of colorism rather than (just) anti-blackness.
    If you look at much older makeup free pictures of BTS you’ll notice V and RM, and to certain extent J-Hope, having much darker skintone than they have now. This had always been a point for a lot of Kpop fans to call RM and J-Hope especially, ugly. This happened with other ifols too like Exo’s Kai, VIXX’s N and Ravi, Sistar’s Soyou etc.They all faced colorism from the industry and the fandom as a whole as well as their own members in some cases.
    This is also where language comes in because most of us realized, RM was trying to joke that his members were too dark for him to see, not black as in race but color, used “black” as the word instead because… a lot of Asian languages do use “black” in our languages as synonym for dark. From calling a person black/dark to calling the sky black/dark to use black/dark as suffix or a cognate. Some of us figured, as RM wasn’t as good of an English speaker as he is now, he meant black as in dark for this reason.
    I should also mention, although I assume you already know, that Asian colorism doesn’t stem from colonization it stems from our own culture where people who labored in the sun were darker and if lower status (like farmers) and people who worked inside most their lives were of higher status and fair skinned (like kings).. I’m sure this isn’t just an Asian thing either. Colonization made it worse but they didn’t start it, and it’s still thriving in our society. Xenophobia thrives in our society, and the colonized countries didn’t get to experience a lot of progress either because even if the western society condemns colorism, our own do not. RM proved it himself, although his country’s colonization is a different ballgame than mine.
    Back to the point, as someone with darker skin than RM’s in 2015, that comment was incredibly hurtful even with keeping obvious internalized colorism in mind, he had made several comments about his looks during those first few years so naturally this comment made some us recall those instances. This wasn’t just hurtful to us darker skinned fans that we were always going to be butt of the jokes, it also showed how he didn’t think before making his own friends the butt of the joke. For me this was high school all over again. Of course most Asian fanbases were quick to defend colorism or grag him through the mud without any kind of nuance or discussion on how to counter this, but all of Asia or even Korea isn’t made up of fair skinned people. I don’t remember getting an apology, we did call him out, maybe he had apologized in a fancafe post.. I took a short break at the time so I don’t really remember. Maybe he apologized to his members, we wouldn’t know. But yes, that’s the gist of it.
    As someone who lives with colorism from their own society, his comment did get interpreted to me as colorism rather than racism but they go hand in hand. I spent weeks trying to process that my favorite artists might not like people who looked like me, the damage was done regardless of what category it falls into.
    That’s something I wanted to share, from an Asian perspective. I hope I didn’t come off as dismissive of your experience or other black fans’ experience, because anti-blackness is so integrated into our society and so is colorism. Also please forgive me if my English has not been up to par.
    Thank you for voicing your opinion so eloquently, I hope your week goes a little bit better than the last.

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