Pepsi seems to be making all the bad advertising decisions — although this time, involving GOT7’s Jackson. After a picture of Jackson wearing locks for a Pepsi advertisement was leaked, international fans were either in a rage over another instance of cultural appropriation, or angrily sighing over the fact that there was yet another case of cultural appropriation. Not willing to let it run its course, Jackson added fuel to the fire by saying that the cultural appropriation allegations were ‘ridiculous,’ that he ‘respect[s] and love[s] all race[s]’ and that he isn’t the only one doing it, finishing it off with a ‘haters gon hate.’
Needless to say, the Seoulbeats writers have things to say:
Camiele: There’s too much to unpack here. Firstly, China: didn’t you already show your ass with that gratuitously racist ad where you turn a dark-skinned Black man Asian and call him clean because of it? Secondly, Ben Baller and Jackson are close friends. So him being a complete ass-wagon and acting as the poster boy for non-Black PoC being the most anti-Black people in the world, especially in a culture that scalps Black culture like overpriced tickets to a BTS concert, is him being over-the-top and blatantly racist to appear crazier and more out of touch than his friend, for the sake of taking the heat off his friend.
I’m hurt because this is coming from Jackson, but ultimately I’m not surprised. In K-pop I’ve learned it’s not about “if,” it’s about “when.” I guess there’s no better time than the present for Jackson. Seems he’s been hanging on the drool of his white fans a little too much and has decided that black people not taking too kindly to yet again being worn as costume are completely irrelevant and are just “wrong.”
They just don’t seem to get it, and all the education in the world isn’t helping them get the point, which leaves me pessimistic that they ever will. Nobody hates Black folks more than people who steal from Black folks, then get testy when Black folks call them out on their bullshit.
Cjontai: Yes to everything Cy (Camiele) said. Especially at a time when a so-called comedian can drop the N-word on live TV, put out a textbook apology, and suffer no real repercussions as a result. We got a lot of fans coming in with the “Then just leave if you don’t like their culture” retort, and the poor neglected things clearly need to be dragged for filth and cleansed with knowledge again.
Gaya: I cannot believe he pulled the “everyone else is doing it” excuse. He’s been messing up since debut and people have been giving him passes because each time it appears he’s learned his lesson, but he obviously hasn’t.
Janine: I’m in agreement with everything said so far; particularly Cy; “it’s not if but when” an idol is going to do something problematic. I feel like I’m always waiting for the shoe to drop.
The thing that particularly upset about this particular incident is the frankly arrogant and dismissive way that Jackson responded to people attempting to hold him accountable for this blatant fuckery.
Usually, the timeline for these incidents is: idol does some bullshit, international fans blow up, idol/company issues apology pleading ignorance, rinse, and repeat. Fans do most of the work for the idols involved by distancing these people from the aforementioned bullshit with the familiar excuses that they don’t know and they aren’t in control of styling etc.
All Jackson had to do was ignore it and it would’ve gone away but he cleverly avoided those excuses by saying that he basically doesn’t give a flying fuck about being respectful.
Cool beans, I love clarity of purpose.
His close friend, Ben Baller and his Twitter thesis on how he was an integral part of the creation of hip-hop were also an eye-opener. I don’t even know why I am surprised by the variety of rationalisations for appropriation dreamed up anymore.
All this information is useful to me because it allows a little snapshot into the mysterious lives of kpop idols and the conversations they must be having about these incidents. I feel like now I know they personally think that the concerns of international fans are ridiculous. This attitude coming from Jackson feels particularly galling because he has a reputation for being a generally kind, jolly guy with no bad intentions and I would expect him to do a little thinking if his fans were bringing something to his attention that’s problematic.
Even sweet, soft, Prince of Asia Jacky boy thinks that people that disagree with his actions are ‘haters’? I feel naive and foolish that I thought better of him, and as a cynical, twenty-something I really hate feeling naive and foolish.
So I mentally catalogued all the Got7 songs that I genuinely enjoy (there’s one: “If You Do” – only because I laugh hysterically during the spoken breakdown) and decided that it would be easy to check out of this particular brand of offensiveness.
To quote the man himself, “I’m out.”
Cjontai: You’re better than me, Janine. I was never swayed by their music, mainly because it didn’t stand out, so yeah, nothing will be missed on my playlist either. And yeah, I totally get the feeling of wondering if you were naive in hoping idols gave a crap about feelings of international fans. I’m so jaded by these incidents that it’s difficult to address them in an article. We’ve written about this sooo many times, and we always get the same racist trolls polluting the comments with garbage about how Black fans are just butthurt and need to accept that Koreans don’t like them. There are so many eye-rolling, laughable comments like that, which doesn’t make Ben Baller’s responses that surprising.
It feels like we’re screaming at brick walls all the time. It’s exhausting. I hate knowing that there’s no such thing as a safe space for black people. Half the time we can’t even count on other Black K-pop fans to support each other. It’s like hmm, do fans choose their thirst or their conscience?
And I know it should be addressed. I’m just tired of speaking to an ignorant audience that would rather stick up for some dude who will never follow them on Twitter than hear out a marginalized group that is fed up with being taken for granted.
Janine: On thirst versus conscience — I saw a post by a big account today saying that Jackson Wang can quote “appropriate this pussy” and that’s when I lost all hope for humanity.
Hair stuff hits home particularly for me because even here (South Africa: population 79% black) kids can’t wear dreads in school and you face discrimination in employment — the whole racist nine yards in a country where black people are by far the majority. The majority of people have to pander to respectability politics based in white supremacist thinking instead of being able to use styles that are appropriate for the hair that grows out of their heads but sure, it’s “ridiculous LOL”.
Camiele: And let’s be clear, it’s not “international” fans. It is specifically Black international fans. Their White international fans and Asian international fans carry a hell of a lot more weight and are given the respect befitting human beings. They’ll pander to that because, after all, there’s more of them, despite the music and culture they’re profiting from being the same culture they openly dismiss. Bottom line, I can get shot or be jobless or even homeless because of who I am. You make money off of it, and the worst you get is a social media ban from your company until your white and Asian fans drown out any Black voices of dissent enough that your “controversy” is forgotten.
Janine: I always want to laugh when people say they’re sorry about hurt feelings when they’re enforcing systems of oppression that contribute to the quality of other people’s lives. It’s not actually bants over here (excuse my slang), it’s material issues. Black international fans are not just sitting around with hurt feelings; anti-blackness is fucking up money, safety, and relationships in serious ways. I feel sick about this to be honest.
Camiele: Anti-blackness is such an integral part of humanity, our own men find us disgusting, and our sisters are quick to justify it in their “oppars.” And the various facets and levels of anti-blackness…. It should be a degree track in college.
Brianna: What shocked me (aside from the blatant disrespect and ignorance) was the fact that the day before everything went down, Jackson stans (myself included, I guess) were celebrating that he was going to be a model for Fendi, and now they were pissed that he was acting the way he was about the situation.
To both fans and non-fans, Jackson was this open and loving guy with a heart of gold who cares about people and would never mean to hurt anyone, yet he was being a complete asshole with his Instagram comments. I honestly feel like had he not said what he did, the situation wouldn’t have escalated as much as it had. Calling some of your fans “haters” because they’re trying to educate you on the mechanics of your wrongdoing? I can’t get behind that.
This entire controversy was just another instance of black people’s feelings being sidelined for non-black pleasure and enjoyment. Non-black people are so quick to co-opt black culture when it fits their aesthetic, but the minute we call them out for it, it’s a problem.
Cjontai: Thing is there’s always this underlying sentiment that black fans are haters looking for an argument when all we’ve ever asked for was basic human respect.
What makes me more upset is knowing more people are willing to fight over animal rights than care about the feelings of Black people. When you’re listening to people justify shooting Black people over shooting a gorilla (noting the irony of using an animal that racists love to compare Black people to), how do you not become enraged?
Appropriation is a gateway to a dangerous mindset. When you can’t even respect the bodies of a culture you steal from, you obviously can’t be expected to respect their minds, souls, and hearts.
Carly: I’m really sorry you guys have had such shitty experiences, and it sucks that the world is such an immensely shitty place so often.
Sometimes I just want to get access to K-pop idols — not to get sleazy, but just to shake some sense (and cultural awareness) into them! What I don’t understand is how can K-pop companies not even bother in this international era to hire someone with some idea of international multicultural understanding?! From a business perspective, it’s so dumb!
Camiele: As for your question as to why companies don’t have some sort of “cultural sensitivity” training, Carly? It’s because they don’t have any reason to whatsoever. A colleague and friend of mine who happens to have some close connection to the SK entertainment industry believes it will happen, must happen eventually. And with any other demographic, she and you would be 100% correct. However, the Black demographic is their smallest, in fact just a niche audience. You go to their shows, who do you see? Whites and Asians. So what if they piss off their Black fans? They’re still getting that White and Asian (and honestly non Black PoC) paper. Our money, and thus our voice, is small enough to be irrelevant. And at the end of the day, anyone else can talk a big game about “diversity” and “I don’t see color” bullshit, but you won’t get even 10% of them to drop oppar unless he murders a family member in front of them (and even then it’s questionable if they wouldn’t default to “OPPAR DIDN’T MEAN IT!!!”). So where’s the impetus for any sort of “training” that would a) cost money and b) he insincere? Let the uppity 검둥이 fans disappear if they want. We still have the precious white fans and our ever loyal Asian audience.
Cjontai: At this point, I trust nobody. They maintain whatever image pays the bills. There’s always fans who won’t see an issue as long as they’re fed the fantasy of being the ideal type for their idols, and that’s all these companies need. Black fans generally don’t have that mindset based on their experiences in K-pop. Fanfics aren’t for us. The music isn’t for us. The concerts aren’t for us. The fan service isn’t for us. The idols are most definitely not for us. We’re allowed to create things K-pop will unapologetically take for their own gain while reminding us that nothing they do is intended to include us.
That’s it for the writers. How do you feel about the issue? How does this rate in the cultural appropriation scale? Sound out in the comments below.
(The Guardian. Images via JYP Entertainment, YG Entertainment Instagram )