“Ran into this girl. I said I’m tired of explaining. Man, this shit is draining. But I’m not really allowed to be mad.”
— “Mad,” Solange
I’m just going to come out and say it:
Being a black fan of Korean pop music hurts. A lot. Often.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being involved (in a very small way) in the Korean music scene, it’s that no matter what I do, I am invisible. One step away from being irrelevant in the eyes of an industry whose contemporary pop culture is predicated on my history. Of course, when considering the absolute depth of hatred for black people (in my particular case black Americans) in the world, this shouldn’t surprise me. It certainly shouldn’t continue to fluster and anger me. But I’m only human, and even after years of forging thick armor plated to withstand all the nastiness in the world, at some point the sharp end of the lance is going to pierce a vulnerable spot.
This is an ongoing conversation, one that while important, has hit a plateau. We’ve discussed ad nauseam the whys and hows of antiblackness and its prevalence all over the world. We’ve jawed at length about colorism, discussed and debated the use of “The N Word” and African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Argued and shouted about the aesthetic stereotyping of hip-hop culture, about black hair, about dark skin.
Ultimately all we’ve actually done is a lot of running in place. So here’s the point as I see it: This shit hurts. It’s an incessant, throbbing pain, a sore tooth in the mouths of people who’ve been pleading and screaming for centuries. After all that, people are now just sick of talking, and certainly hearing, about the cultural negligence of artists and their record companies. Which, of course, has the effect of only bringing the ugliness back full circle.
Fans are quick to show their deep-seated antiblackness for the sake of keeping their precious favorites free from any sort of personal responsibility. Forget persecution, these hordes of blind and tone deaf “oppar” defenders will strike at the throat of anyone who’d dare ask for something as simple as a sincere apology from their bias.
Harder still is knowing that one’s own people are more willing to defend and coddle the offender than to even sympathize (a damn shame that’s all we can hope to expect from our black brothers and sisters) with the offended. So many of us are ready to hand out the now proverbial invitations to the “Family Cookout” to any non-black person that can spout “Black Lives Matter” rhetoric and carry the look of blackness on them relatively convincingly.
In this societal microcosm, it’s easy enough to see that when it comes right down to it, whatever my thoughts or opinions (based on years of living a truth), my personal stake is invalid.
My pain. Invalid.
My anger. Invalid.
My existence. Invalid.
Even when one attempts to voice discomfort or even an intimation of aggravation, the overall sentiment is this person is just trying to find something to be offended by or just needs to stop being so sensitive, emotional, hot-headed. Mad. I find it particularly interesting that the only time anyone is actually forced to intellectualize their emotion and their pain is when it has anything to do with the mockery of their culture and ethnic identity.
Still, the most frightening aspect of the black fan girl experience is the understanding that at some point every artist that you admire and respect for their craft is going to let you down. It’s never a matter of if it will happen. It’s the proverbial question of when it will happen, and it’s usually accompanied by some half-assed attempt to win back the affection and attention of a people that a particular artist has let down and unapologetically disrespected.
It’s never been more profoundly confusing and difficult to accept one’s own ethnic identity than when having to justify appreciation of a culture that, as a whole, sees you not only as an “other” but one that’s meant to be mocked and whose existence doesn’t warrant any sort of research, intellectual depth or any consideration of the historic and institutional hatred from everybody around the world. Yet this is a people who seemingly have zero compunction whatsoever, or don’t find any sense of irony in profiting from a sound, a look, a style, a flavor, a taste of a culture that has for some reason always been on the beating end of a stick.
So what do we do with this?
What do I do as a black woman interested and at least mildly invested in a country that isolates itself from the rest of the world and is slow to accept my culture, particularly because its economy benefits from exploiting it?
The short answer is hit them where it hurts.
We can get emotional, try to intellectualize why “Racism is bad.” We can scream to the high heavens with our new-age “Wokeness™,” call out all perpetrators of colorism and tone deafness. But ultimately it’s only a self-serving need to prove to everyone else just how “Un-problematic™” we are.
None of that affects the bottom line.
It’s a long-standing truth that if anyone wants to enforce change, they must find a way to dismantle the power of the beast. What gives businesses power? Money. It’s exceedingly rare to find artists in the K-pop industry who are independent enough in their companies to enact change themselves. Most idols are very much a product (in every sense) of their record companies. Their power is limited. Even in cases where they do earnestly disagree with a concept, lyric or style, “No” isn’t a word many of them can easily fling around. The repercussions are severe enough to force a fear-induced silence.
So if we’re waiting for artists to rally behind that cause, especially when it doesn’t directly affect them, we’re just wasting our time.
The only way anything will get done is if these companies feel a threat to their bank accounts. Unless fans put on an actual united front and decide their money is better spent on companies that actually give a damn about how they’re using their artists’ fanbases, nothing is going to change.
This is when my cynicism rears its head.
What hurts is at the end of the day, black fans are a niche market that Korean artists can actually live without. If they promote exclusively to their Korean fans, whose knowledge of black culture is from what they see and hear on the most popular stations, they don’t even have to worry about branching out. Hell, if they do want to expand to a Western market, which seems to be the ongoing desire and trend, they’ll have a multitude of white fans and black apologists who’ll gladly patronize them.
So again … what do we do? The question we have to ask ourselves is what are we willing tolerate? Most fans seem satisfied with a few words of apology. Even more stew in anger for about 15 minutes, then are ready to forgive their favorites when their next “bop” skips merrily across their T-line. The truth is racism is very profitable. Has been since the first of us were dragged across the Atlantic Ocean to provide free labor. Unless we root out the heart of the problem — the acceptance of “a little racism” as an inevitability — instances of cultural insensitivity will continue to thrive.
Enough jabbering and fluff pieces about antiblackness in K-pop.
We need to get serious about cutting out this cancer and start seriously fooling with these companies’ paychecks.
No more squabbling. No more “well, our oppression is worse than yours.” No more games. Let’s begin a serious discussion about how to finally rid ourselves of the mindset that misappropriating any culture while exploiting it to further a profit margin is hunky-dory.
I ask our readers, where do you think we should begin?