Black Lives Matter. BTS breaks the silence: it is bare minimum behaviour


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cw: mentions of anti-Black racism, mention of Manchester and Las Vegas attacks

The K-pop industry cannot be divorced from Black culture. Influences taken from rap and hip-hop are everywhere and truthfully, there’s nothing wrong with that – cultural exchange is the spice of life.

The problem is the lack of Black visibility. (really only Han Hyun-Min had come across my radar before since he’s an MC on M Countdown, but a quick google search showed Yoon Mi-Rae and Sam Okyere as the only other really visible Black people in the Korean entertainment industry right now.)

The problem is the exploitation of Black culture.

The problem is that the K-pop industry is worth $5 billion dollars, a capital made off the back of Black culture, and yet historically, it has done a terrible job of acknowledging Black lives.

It’s no secret that the industry has a questionable history with blackface.

It’s no secret that the industry unabashedly practises cultural appropriation.

It’s no secret that despite continual outrage from Black and Brown fans, apologies are rare. Rarer still are ones that feel genuine (but refer to Mamamoo’s to see what that would look like)

It’s worth remembering that most idols have no control over their styling whilst on schedule (i.e. comeback stages/music videos/fan-signs), so cultural appropriation in these instances is not their fault. The fault lies with the agency and the industry, not the individuals themselves.

In terms of BTS, however, the dialogue becomes trickier. Yes, they apologised for the most overt instances of anti-Black racism and cultural appropriation in their past, but is that enough?

Truth is, time and time again, when Black ARMYs have criticisms, neither BTS nor Big Hit seem to respond appropriately.

Even just September of last year, J-Hope’s song “Chicken Noodle Soup” broke records, and yet we saw another instance of culturally appropriative hair – this time, gel twists. Despite backlash from Black ARMYs and requests for an apology, at the time of writing (6th June), there’s still no hint of one.

Perhaps it seems like we’re holding them to a higher standard than the rest of the industry, but is there any reason we shouldn’t?

It is not only the fact that BTS’s success in particular cannot be divorced from Black culture (they started out as a hip-hop group with their School trilogy and even just this week, Suga’s new mixtape “D-2” broke records (ones which were previously held by J-Hope and RM, other members of the rap line)), it is the fact that they have a precedence of cultural awareness. It is the fact that they went to LA to learn about the roots of hip-hop; that they chose to switch out the Korean word for “I” to avoid it being misconstrued as the n-word during the BBMAs;

it is the fact that they respectfully referred to the dance move they used during “Idol” promotions as the Gwara Gwara, all to then turn around and appropriate a black hairstyle. And on top of that, to not offer an apology after doing so.

It’s a slap in the face for Black ARMYs.

As for Black Lives Matter, BTS’s week-long silence spoke volumes

Perhaps certain public figures aren’t obliged to comment on civil rights movements – that’s a discussion for a different day. But the truth is, for a group that “paved the way” thanks to Black culture; for a group that built its identity on the idea of “speaking yourself”; for a group that launched the “Love Myself” campaign with UNICEF, partnered with its #EndViolence program, and then spoke! at! the! United!! Nations!!; for a group that will address the American 2020 graduating class this!! weekend!!!!, an entire week of silence in response to Black Lives Matter is inexcusable.

Looking at the tweet that BTS finally(!) produced on June 4th:

is this not bare minimum behaviour? Doesn’t this seem a lot more generic and formulaic compared to what they’ve said in the past? We know that they’re eloquent – they’ve proved that countless times over the years.

Why is Black Lives Matter the time they decide not to say anything substantial?

When we look at the language used in their tweets addressing what happened in Manchester and Las Vegas:

when we look at the timing of them, doesn’t something seem off here?

Who are BTS allying themselves with? Who are they sympathising with? 

In their Black Lives Matter tweet, there is no link. There is no encouragement for fans to inform themselves (btw here is a google drive with the black history month library!) or for them to donate.

BTS know the purchasing power that they can mobilise. If they can use it to sell out massage chairs and Hyundai Palisades, they should use it to support Black rights. If they had tweeted a link and even 1/10 of their followers saw it and donated $1, that would be $2.6m!! (also -> here <- is a way to donate via clicking on links! I know some of us are broke broke rn smh)

Also!! this is a google doc started by annika hansteen-izora which compiles a list of black funds and creative systems! They centre black queer, trans, and non-binary folk + black women! There’s currently one uk based one on there (UK Black LGBTQIA Therapy Fund) but it’s gonna be updated through july 2020, so keep an eye on it!

If we disregard money (but tbh we should not be disregarding money here – pay!! reparations!!), if BTS had spoken up earlier, Black ARMYs simply wouldn’t have been subjected to so much emotional trauma.

For the past week, simply mentioning Black Lives Matter was enough to be attacked with racial slurs and other anti-black rhetoric, both on twitter and weverse.

I’m obviously not holding BTS responsible for their fans’ behaviour (and honestly, most ARMYs have been amazing this whole time and have helped drown out right-wing tags and crash police apps with memes and fancams), but it does need to be said that with a platform as big as theirs, bts should be using it to educate.

We wanted to see recognition for Black Lives, not a selca.

We wanted to see active condemnation of police brutality, not links to pre-order the next Japanese album. 

Here’s a thread briefly explaining the relationship between Black ARMYs, BTS, and Black Lives Matter:

(cw: reply 2 contains screenshots of racial slurs/anti-black rhetoric) 

We deserve more than a wishy-washy “we’re all in this together” statement.

We know stan culture – if BTS were to come out and actively condemn anti-Black racism, Black ARMYs wouldn’t receive half the verbal abuse they do. Yes, stans that wait for their idols to speak up on Black Lives Matter before doing anything about it are part of the problem. But the fact is, if idols took a hard stance against anti-Black rhetoric, fewer stans would feel entitled to spout racist nonsense directly contradicting their idols’ words.

It also must be said that BTS’s current position as industry leaders, their initial silence, and their ensuing minimal response is indicative of the generally lacklustre East Asian solidarity in terms of Black Lives Matter.

If we look at this graphic of the 8 white identities by Barnor Hesse (which can also be applied to some poc):

BTS’s response, whether we like it or not, falls at number 5.

They spoke up a whole week after the protests started; after heavy criticism from fans and industry peers; after multiple other K-pop artists explicitly condemned anti-Black violence and donated; after Korea’s Black Lives Matter protest was announced???? make it make sense.

Isn’t this just performative activism? Could this not be a way to cover their asses, a way to ensure accountability to the black community later on? Let’s also not forget the racial gaslighting that’s happening to Black ARMYs right now.

But of course, it’s not just BTS. We need to note that there are multiple other idols who have no excuse for not using their platform to the best of their ability. People with group-mates (and potentially division/label-mates) who have already spoken out – this means management doesn’t rule them with as much of an iron first.  Especially the fluent/near-fluent English speakers – there’s no excuse to not be reading the literature. (btw here’s some more free texts on policing/surveillance!)

(I personally don’t know how much Korean-language literature there is on anti-Black violence, so perhaps we can cut monolingual idols some slack for not giving substantial statements, but they’ve seen the news, they’ve seen sns. They can spread awareness to their fans somehow.)

We know that it’s harder for rookies to speak out – they don’t want to be kicked out of their group and slapped with the exorbitant training fees but honestly, Denise from Secret Number did it without a moment’s hesitation.

If idols truly wanted to speak up, they would.

If people world over are out there protesting against an oppressive state tool used to enforce cultural hegemony (ch. 10, Rachel Herzing in this free(!) ebook (it’s in one of the google docs too but this might save ur eyes slightly)), surely the least an idol can do is protest against their management?

We need to stop putting our idols’ careers before black lives.

We need to stop making excuses for our faves. When it’s about human rights, we need to stop being grateful for the bare minimum and start demanding the maximum. We need to hold the industry accountable for constantly silencing our idols. We need to hold our idols accountable for not trying hard enough to break the silence.

Yes, the dark underbelly of the K-pop industry seems to be a cruel and terrifying place, but if anyone’s in the position to challenge authority, surely it’s the people currently at the forefront of the Hallyu Wave? Surely, it’s BTS? The group with the largest platform, the group who generates the most economic capital? (let’s not forget: capital = power in our society’s model! don’t keep victimising your faves if they’re conscious cogs in the capitalist machine!)

It’s always been evident that K-pop stans are treated like cash cows – why are there so many versions of the same album? What is all this paid V Live content of different camera angles? What the fuck even is a hi-touch???? 

Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, how are BTS trying to charge ARMYs $30+ for an online stream???? Wake!! Up!!

Wake up to the fact that the capitalist mode of production is exploitative in nature! There’s a reason why most of our idols are overworked and underpaid!! We’re literally supporting their exploitation by dumping all of our money in! Stop paying into an industry that doesn’t pay out!! 

Wake up to the fact that it’s this same mode of production that reinforces class hegemony!!

(on the reproduction of capitalism by Louis Althusser is a good starting text – it’s the last one in this google drive)

Redirect that money to trans funds -> HERE <- (don’t forget it’s pride month!); redirect all those aggro V Live heart taps to signing petitions (also don’t forget Palestine and Hong Kong!) Redirect your passionate comeback streaming to this playlist!

It’s evident now that the “authentic relationship” we cultivate with our idols isn’t as powerful as we believe. If it were, they would have cared enough about their Black fans to speak up. 

This isn’t about BTS as people because we don’t know them as people, not really. We know them as the image they portray to the world.

This is about BTS being an allegory for contemporary East Asian existence. This is about East Asians at the top of their game who have literally nothing to lose and yet are still reluctant to speak out on “taboo” topics: newsflash! Black rights are not taboo!

East Asians need to step up individually, yes, but East Asians with the biggest platforms, with the biggest global influence, need to lead by example. 

It’s not a competition for the quickest response or the biggest donation, that’s true. It is, however, a question of showing true solidarity. If we want to look at examples of thoughtful allyship right now, we can perhaps look at Jamie‘s and CL’s responses. This is what a response to Black Lives Matter could look like coming from an artist in the Kpop industry, coming from an East Asian in the world.

I’m not saying that we should stop supporting our faves. I’m just saying that we should be critical. We shouldn’t blindly stan them for every single thing they do even if it’s contradictory. Even if it’s wrong. 

Real change is effected, not affected.

BTS’s response was lacklustre, we can’t deny that. It could have been a press release issued by any faceless corporation. It was optical allyship at its finest.

Black ARMYs deserve better.

Black lives deserve better.

Soph x

(update 07/06/20: i wasn’t gonna put this in but there has been/there will be backlash bc of donation size compared to western artists/donation sizes in general – donations are important, undoubtedly so, but undoing systemic racism is also important. if activism doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, it’s not genuine. celebrities donating $10k/$50k/$100k etc., our friends and family donating £10/£100/£1k etc., the point is partially the amount of money, yes, bc orgs need funding, but throwing money at a problem doesn’t make it go away. throwing money at blm without actually acknowledging black lives – how is that going to dismantle the system of white supremacy? how is that going to stop police brutality? how is that going to stop the exploitation of black culture? how is that going to stop the daily micro-aggressions? how is that going to encourage intersectionality? if we don’t acknowledge all the intricacies of a problem, we haven’t really addressed the problem at all. ppl need to use all their resources, not just their money. and ppl with platforms need to use them.)

say how u feel lmao

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