The first time I think I saw a “But Namjoon” in the wild was almost a year ago when Stray Kids’ Bang Chan came under fire for the attempted cornrows in his hair back in mid-April 2019.
During that time, fans of the group would respond to any person with a BTS-related icon that commented on that particular instance of cultural appropriation with comments dismissing their comments because “Don’t you stan BTS”.
Many of the comments were like “But Namjoon [had attempted an afro, had whatever this style is supposed to be, covered that one Shinhwa song, etc] so how can you be critical of anyone else if you like him”.
If this was strictly an attempt at calling out hypocrisy that acknowledged that our faves in this industry are all (largely) similarly problematic when it comes to respecting Black culture(s), maybe I could’ve gotten it. Maybe I could’ve even managed to gloss over it.
But this is not a fandom where that sort of thing happens – most fandoms aren’t.
This was K-pop fandom in 2019. I think literally two weeks before that we’d had BlackPink’s “Kill This Love” where Lisa had her hair in yarn box braids and Jennie and Jisoo later appeared to mock Indian culture in a behind the scenes video.
Two weeks after watching everyone Matrix-dodge their way out of Lisa specifically getting criticized, I’d realized that people really hate acknowledging that their favorites are problematic.
While it’s a people thing and not something specific to Korean pop and hip-hop fandom, it’s still annoying as hell.
The “But Namjoon” tweets I kept seeing legit made me lose it because conversations about cultural appropriation aren’t a competition to prove that one fandom or artist is somehow more or less problematic than another.
Or at least, they shouldn’t be.
But across those weeks, I was seeing people talking to Black fans who were expressing their frustration and trying to drag or dismiss them because “well you’re a BTS stan” or “You’re an EXO stan” or “Okay but you stan G-Dragon” and at the end of the day –
Barring those pesky PickMe POC I hate very much, we are Black before we are stans and we know that.
Being a super fan of one group doesn’t cancel out our identities?
It also… doesn’t change the fact that again, almost all of our groups are similarly problematic.
Out of all of the groups I’ve listened to since I started on my journey into East Asian media over a whole ass decade ago, I can’t think of any group that I like outside of like… tomorrow x together that hasn’t once let me down on some level because of a minor to major brush with antiblackness.
And txt is a rookie group.
They have time to pull a Hair Crime or two considering that the first thing I learned about VERIVERY was how one member got slapped in a very culturally insensitive wig for a SHINHWA stage they did last year.
The “But Namjoon” is such a staple of these fandom spaces, that I probably should’ve seen it earlier. Especially because it is far older than 2019 and even BTS themselves.
“But Namjoon”-ing is peak whataboutism in fandom and it wasn’t even born in the fandoms for Korean entertainers. It’s everywhere in fandom because one of the things folks in fandom hate a whole huge ton… is any expectation that they make fandom a better and more welcoming place for anyone else.
Especially, as we’ve covered not just in this series but multiple other pieces on my site, Black people in fandom.
Rather than choose to be understanding or empathetic towards Black people talking about antiblackness and making sure that we have the room to unpack our shit, folks in this and many other fandom spaces gravitate towards active antiblackness and refuse to make fandom better for us so we can talk about these things on our own.
If you like an artist that’s problematic in any way, there’s apparently no way that you’re capable of being aware of the issues in any capacity for them or when those issues happen with another artist in the same/a similar industry.
Like (apparently) automatically, stanning one of the many artists who’ve participated in minor to major antiblackness means in their pasts… you can’t recognize it when other artists do it in their present.
Y’all, the “But Namjoon” defense against antiblackness is a beyond ridiculous swerve to keep people from engaging with actual issues in their own fandoms.
It’s derailing at its most annoying because it’s the kind of commentary that seeks to let you know that your lived experience as a Black person in Korean pop fandom spaces (and that’s critical of said spaces and artists) don’t matter because you like one artist who’s shown a problematic (lack of) understanding of Blackness in their past.
There’s no real way that anyone can be 100% confident that their idol group favorite isn’t participating in or that they haven’t shared antiblackness. Just a few weeks ago, I went through that whole thing with Wonho and a Michol reference that’d I’d missed until properly rewatching a video from July.
And he’s someone who I would literally commit crimes for if he asked nicely – or even if he didn’t ask but just needed it done in a timely manner.
Like… that shit hurts to see and realize.
But it’s also… not even remotely unexpected because of the global nature of antiblackness and how, pretty much everywhere including the United States, a disrespect for Black people and our culture(s) are encouraged as part of life for everyone else.
So, the “But Namjoon” (or whatever artist you actually like) is functionally useless as a clapback unless you stan zero non-Black celebrities.
Because, as we’ve seen in recent years with all of the non-Black artists around the world who’ve been called out for minor-to-major antiblackness… lots of non-Black celebrities have dropped the ball in recent months when it comes to Not Being Antiblack As Hell.
Beyond that, it’s also… actually a harmful tactic because it’s used primarily to shut down Black fans trying to unpack their problems with documented – and rarely corrected – antiblackness in the past or present from an artist they love.
Y’all, when I’m talking about how once again I’m disappointed by casual antiblackness from artists who claim to love all of their fans, I know that the last thing I want to deal with is some smug little shit rolling up to be like “okay but [you like] Namjoon” as if that means anything.
Meanwhile, I am constantly trying to figure out my internal feelings and how to balance a deep love of artists and mild like of an industry that legitimately do not feel like they like or even care about Black fans or people around the world.
Meanwhile, can I get a list of how many idols have exhibited a genuine understanding of and interest in pro-Black politics?
Are there any idols up to date on critical race theory and ideas of intersectional feminism?
Are there any idols who can speak to unlearning and being critical of antiblackness in their industry and from their peers?
And it’s bad enough that Black fans have to figure out if the latest instance of minor-to-major antiblackness from an idol is their last straw with that particular artist or with the industry as a whole… without having to deal with other fans – including other Black fans – showing up to derail and dismiss their concerns.
Are there times when fans of one group brings up another group’s antiblackness just to start shit and disrupt conversations about their faves’ past or present antiblackness?
And that also sucks because of how it derails the conversations we’re trying to have too.
But those conversations folks’ll bring up as an excuse not to care are frequently super obviously in bad faith. They’re also relatively easy to see how different they are from the Black fans who are struggling to find that balance and still have fun in their fandom(s).
Want to know what you can do when you see a Black fan bringing up things like cultural appropriation, repeating the n-word in a cover, or blackface from a group you’re fond of?
(Aside from like… listening to them, that is.)
If you already know all that there is to know about antiblackness from a particular idol and you’re personally satisfied with how they’ve handled themselves following? Just mute the person talking about it and move on.
If they’re hurting others while relaying their hurt, block them.
But there is no need to pull a “But Namjoon” because it’s one of the least helpful aspects of the way discourse works in these fandom spaces.