I didn’t expect that I’d be writing about the Black Lives Matter movement in the context of Korean pop and hip hop music – or their fandoms.
But that’s what this post is actually about – barring some all too necessary backstory about fatal antiblackness and police brutality in this country.
Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) in direct response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who had murdered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin the year before.
I remember the birth of the movement, but more than that, I remember watching the news when Zimmerman was acquitted. I remember clearly feeling anger that that man killed a child only a few years older than my oldest nieceling and was going to get away with it. Because we watched as we were told once again that Black lives didn’t matter.
I say once again because the United States is one of many countries to make it clear that Black people – our lives, our opinions, and our hopes – do not truly matter to them. The United States has a history that started with the Triangle Trade, kept on going through Reconstruction Era white supremacy up to the Civil Rights movement and –
Just hasn’t stopped.
There are so many Black people – hundreds whose names we do know, but thousands more that we never will – who were killed because Black lives didn’t matter to the people taking them or the people who could’ve prosecuted them. Emmett Till is one of the earliest that I learned when I was a child. David McAtee, killed by Louisville police shooting wildly into a crowd, is one of the latest. And there are so many more names that we could be saying.
In the past decade alone, there have been dozens of Black people murdered as a result of police brutality and escalation, what seems to be a hair-trigger response to seeing Black people in public.
Tamir Rice and John Crawford III were murdered by cops because they each had a toy gun in a world where white men and women constantly meander around public areas with AR-15s. We still don’t actually know the full details behind what happened to Sandra Bland following the traffic stop that lead to her death in a prison cell.
How about Atatiana Jefferson and Breonna Taylor? Two Black women who were killed in their own homes by police officers whose “shoot first, ask questions never” approach was above and beyond a measured approach.
Those three women created the hashtag that expanded into a movement made the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter because around the world, it is very clear that Black lives at every level do not matter. So here we are seven years later with the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops and a world on literal and metaphorical fire. People around the world watched George Floyd die and out of anger and deep upset, many people came together under the Black Lives Matter umbrella in order to find out how they could help his family and the people in his community.
If you have access to a reputable news service, you probably know about the protests that have gone on every single day across the past week and change. There are protests – and big ones too – in every single state, some US territories like Puerto Rico, and countries around the world where people are rising up in solidarity with Black people and against police brutality.
So, what does this have to do with Korean pop/hip hop?
Korean pop culture writer Jeff Benjamin has been tweeting every time he catches a Korea-based pop/hip hop artist showing support for Black Lives Matter on social media. While I don’t follow him, it’s been one of the best ways to see who’s tweeted what, and when.
More artists than I expected tweeted or posted something about what’s been going on in the world today, stunning for an industry where the artists in question… usually don’t tweet or post too actively about social issues that directly affect them.
I expected commentary from established Korean-American rappers like Tiger JK (who’s been a stunning ray of hope across much of 2020 for me with his tweets) and Tablo from Epik High because they’ve been using their platforms to have tough conversations for years. (Tiger JK’s experiences with racism and antiblackness towards his friends and loved ones here and in Korea literally inform his career and how he thinks/talks.)
The tweets or Instagram posts from rappers like BM/Big Matthew from KARD, Jay Park donating anything, Crush’s donation post calling out his peers, and Dumbfoundead (who you may remember me talking about from Bad Rap) clearly calling out the his peers who have also based their entire careers and aesthetic around Black people while not necessarily respecting us… those were unexpected.
Same goes for rookie group 2Z taking a knee (the protest associated with Colin Kaepernick while he was in the NFL) against injustice on their official account and how Denise of the rookie group 5ecretNumber used her platform (she was apparently punished for speaking out by having her official Instagram and official selfie in the group’s page deleted).
I didn’t expect those things at all.
Now here’s a thing worth talking about: most of the people in the Korean pop/hip hop industries who showed their support did so on Instagram during the poorly planned “Blackout Tuesday” event which led to tens of thousands of black squares clogging the Black Lives Matter hashtag on that social media platform.
PSY, BoA, HyunA, Dawn, Henry Lau, Jessi, and Jamie were among the number of Korea-based celebrities who posted squares, but here’s the thing about that list: there are multiple people on that list who’ve done antiblack things before and some of whom haven’t apologized (and, if they apologized, haven’t done any action to show that they truly Get It).
The earliest and most questionable name on the list?
Super Junior’s Yesung.
Later on in the list is Lee Hi who said the n-word during a cover of a song but then never actually apologized for it, that I can find.
Other artists that I remember being antiblack that have apologized and now have posted squares to show support:
- Amber Liu (cop apologia and saying that a Black man deserved to be roughed up by cops for eating a sandwich in public)
- Moonbyul (blackface with her group in 2017)
- Sorn (took a selfie with a friend wearing a mask made up as a racist caricature of Black features and posted a follow up post that was initially read as being rude to folks calling her out)
- Henry Lau (defended Yesung’s blackface selfie repost in 2017 and compared it to wearing a blond wing and cosplay)
Most of the people on the list in that tweet up there have performed some kind of cultural appropriation as part of their careers and due to the nature of Korean pop and hip hop. I remember Rain had a video that was incredibly uncomfortable to watch because of how the opening treated a Black woman’s body.
If you’re on twitter, you may have seen a new trend where people quote retweet a company or user claiming to be anti-racist or anti-bigotry with an example of a time when they were supporting the bad thing… I could do that for maybe a third of the people on the list. Half at most.
And here they are having posted black squares – usually without any donation links or sources of information in Korean and English for their massive fanbases to go over – while having histories of minor to major antiblackness.
But that’s about right for this kind of situation.
In and out of Korean musical industries and their fandoms, too many people don’t get that they are part of the problem. Many of them saw the 9 minute long video of George Floyd’s murder, or read @yerongss’ widely shared comics about his murder and the subsequent protests and went “oh shit”.
It was a moment where they were finally faced with the fact that in the US, Black people can be filmed being murdered and no one will give a shit unless we raise hell.
So, they got that… but they don’t get that they are part of the problem that is… Black people being systemically abused, dehumanized, and seen as less worthy of full and meaningful lives (and less capable of having them).
Blackface, cultural appropriation, hood cosplay (including Jessi’s blatant Nicki Minaj cosplay), etc…
The thing about all of these celebrities supporting Black Lives Matter now in some way is that many haven’t backed up their hashtag activism with sharing information, proof of their financial contribution, and/or acknowledging the antiblack history of their industry and/or career and what these industries owe to Black Americans.
For a few days now, the antiblack question of the day was “Do K-pop idols/hip hop artists have to say anything about Black Lives Matter”. Noted “Black Man Reacting To K-Pop” BrisXLife and incredibly antiblack ass TK Park both shared the opinion that there was no responsibility for the artists who make their literal living on gentrifying Black culture primarily for their non-Black audiences… to show that they care about the people who make their music possible.
A lot of people across multiple Korean pop/hip hop fandoms have decided that these artists owe Black people nothing – even though they work with Black people on producing or songwriting, want to look like us, idolize Black celebrities, have tons of Black fans, and even have Black friends or loved ones.
They’ve decided that, essentially, these artists owe Black people nothing when the exact opposite is true because anyone with a platform should use that platform should speak out about injustice and violence…
But when you’re in an artist in an industry that take-take-takes from Black American culture to the point where it’s not even remotely subtle?
Yeah, you actually do have a specific responsibility to stand up with us and give a shit we’re going through.
And there are artists who’ve talked about the fact that Korean pop and hip hop owe a lot to Black people. Dumbfoundead, I already mentioned, but then there’s DeVita who tweeted repeatedly about cultural appropriation and Korean pop/hip hop industry silence.
One of the biggest voices who’s used their platform to not just talk about how Black lives matter but the influence that Black people have had on their industry?
In her Instagram post, CL wrote what is basically an essay talking about what she specifically and the industry generally get from Black people. She urged solidarity and that all Korean pop fans give back to Black people in protest to support our quest for freedom. She does what few people in the industry and who write about it (hello TK Park!!) will allow themselves room to do: speak plainly about Black influence and importance to her career as a Korean pop/hip-hop artist from 2NE1 to now.
And she used her platform for change.
Slowly, more artists are speaking up. BTS, Monsta X, and ATEEZ all released tweet-statements on June 4th and may be planning for further donations in the future. There are still people gaining awareness of the situation and what Black Americans have been subject to across the centuries. There are people who are waking up to what America is like for us and how Black Americans aren’t actually as privileged as people seem to think we are for some reason.
And when celebrities post using #BlackLivesMatter, it helps remind their fans that we’re here too with them and we deserve the right to exist without fear, and so I hope they keep at it, but –
At the end of the day, you shouldn’t need a celebrity to tell you that Black Lives Matter.
You just shouldn’t.
You should already think that our lives matter so that when your idol favorite eventually tweets about it, you can be like “yeah! Thanks for getting the memo, now let’s work to change things”.
Your celebrity fave – regardless of where they’re from – shouldn’t be the reason you decide to care about other people.
You should be able to think of Black people as people first and that our lives matter because we are living them. We are doing our best. Our lives matter when you disagree with us, when you want us, when you don’t see us. Our lives matter all the time, not just when a hashtag is trending because once again a human life has been snuffed out by police violence or because a wannabe cop sees us as a threat.
Seeing these idols perform care – that is literally what they’re doing for the most part, like many Western celebrities are as well, don’t get me wrong – is great and it’s clear that across the world celebrities are using their platforms to inspire change within their fanbases but –
Considering how much pressure had to be put on several of these celebrities and their fanbases as well as how antiblack some celebrities and an overwhelmingly large number of their fans online seem to be?
I don’t know if I can be 100% satisfied with the public responses that the celebrities and fandoms I’m here for have provided so far because… at some level it just seems to be a press thing or a game. Not real care.
Because many of these celebrities and their fans have used the Black Lives Matter hashtag while having previously made it clear – because of their (non)response to things like cultural appropriation, antiblack behavior/jokes they or their immediate social group has made, the fans’ behavior towards Black fans who express any critical thoughts, etc. – that Black opinions don’t matter, especially when they’re not goopy and part of the crowd.
Many celebrities and fans using Black Lives Matter and championing us in the moment do not care about our lives as we live them and it is hard to put the present support next to their pasts or our expectations for the future.
So Black lives matter now because your artist tweeted a hashtag or because your fandom has viral tweets with links to petitions going around… Will our lives still matter when our opinions are inconvenient? When we hold our faves and our fandoms’ feet to the fire and press them to commit more strongly to change?
Will our lives matter when it’s not “cool” to be anti-racist?
Will our lives still matter when the world stops watching?
The fact that I don’t have concrete answers for any of these questions and that I don’t know what will come next is bothersome…
6/9/2020 Update: So, it has been a wild week (or so?) since I posted this piece. In the time since, there have been two things of note. First, multiple Korean hip hop and pop stars who had previously posted Black squares on Instagram or expressed more material support by donating or whatever liked an antiblack piece of whataboutism (essentially “would Shaun King care about an Asian boy being bullied by Black people”) – including Tiger JK and Jay Park.
Then, today, that rookie group I mentioned up there? 2Z? Did something truly awful: they posted a song on Instagram ostensibly in support of the Black community and about George Floyd’s death… that had really terrible (and… racially insensitive lyrics) and literally used audio from the video as George said that he couldn’t breathe. I will not be linking to that song because I just… cannot handle that. The lyrics alone are bad enough but retraumatizing Black people (and newly traumatizing anyone else that wasn’t already) is not how you do anti-racism unless you’re Shaun King.
6/21/2020 Update: On June 19th, on the @SMTOWNGLOBAL Twitter account, SM Entertainment posted a statement about #BlackLivesMatter, making a commitment to support this vital conversation and stating in part that they, “stand with our Black collaborators, friends and fans and all who are speaking out to insist that Black Lives Matter. This was an absolutely unexpected statement to see, and I’m looking forward to see if this statement leads to more awareness of cultural (mis) appropriation and the harm the Hood Cosplay does.
Now, if YG or JYP post a similar statement in the coming… well ever, I will assume I have slipped into the Mirrorverse.