Popular MC and comedian Boom is back from the army and people are excited. Well, people were excited.
Many have been welcoming Boom’s return to the entertainment sphere after a two year military absence. He was recently spotted at the filming for MBC’s “Idol Athletics Championship” – y’know, that Chuseok special where every K-pop idol on the planet does sports and Minho wins everything. It’s a popular show.
And Boom showed up decked out for the event like this:
Cue the explosive, angry response from international K-pop fans everywhere.
Let’s get one thing straight: Blackface is wrong and it’s offensive on every level. The racism-laced history behind blackface makes it more than just a theatrical element, and it should be treated like the act of racism that it is. In the case above, Boom is supposedly impersonating Stevie Wonder, and one may argue that the dark makeup was simply part of his costume and not meant to offend. But the fact of the matter is, dark makeup is far too reminiscent of blackface and its racist connotations and history for it to be used as a modern day theatrical tool. Boom and the production staff most likely weren’t out to offend when they put this act together, but the act still comes across as being offensive because of those connotations. It’s debatable whether or not the behavior was outrightly racist, but it was certainly ignorant.
But I’m preaching to the choir here, as it’s the international K-pop fans that usually acknowledge these behaviors for their full offensive value. When the above photos reached international K-pop fan communities, the response was furiously heated…and just plain furious. The fury was directed all over – at Boom, at the production staff, at Super Junior for being in the photos and thus condoning the behavior, at anyone who tried to make excuses for Boom’s behavior…but most of the fury was directed at Korea itself. “When will Korea ever learn?” asked many.
When will Korea ever learn, you ask? Korea will learn when someone calms down and has the patience to teach them.
Look, as much as I like being an international K-pop fan, there’s one thing about the international K-pop fandom that I absolutely can’t stand. We devour K-pop idols and music like hungry beasts, but when it comes to Korean society as a whole, we look at it with absolute disdain. Korea’s too conservative. Korea’s sexist. Korea’s racist. Korea’s homophobic. Korea doesn’t care about cultural sensitivity. Korea needs to get its head out of its ass and stop being so damn ignorant all the time.
There are parts of those accusations that are true, but every time an event comes up prompting these accusations, international fans respond with anger and disdain at Korea’s backwards way of thinking, expressing their indignation through exclamation points and curse words. The fans’ intentions are probably good, but there’s no way you could tell through the anger of their words. After observing the international fan response to Boom’s blackface debacle, I was saddened. Not because of the blackface itself, but because it’s the fans themselves who are obstructing the way for any true change to occur.
When you do nothing but scream obscenities at a child every time he misbehaves, there’s less of a chance that he’ll ever learn to correct himself and more of a chance that he’ll stop listening to what you have to say. People don’t like to be belittled and disrespected, even if they’re getting reprimanded for doing something wrong. The attitude that the international K-pop fandom has towards Korea’s socio-cultural habits is, quite frankly, hateful. Whenever a K-pop star does something offensive, we’re the first to leap up and demonize the person(s) in question. If someone jumps into the discussion and questions the offensiveness of the given action, s/he isn’t given a straight answer. Instead, people start leaping at him/her with the “you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me”‘s and the “go-read-a-history-book”‘s and the oh-so-popular “I-don’t-even”‘s. The words that we use convey nothing but anger and indignation. And when all the initial fury has finally settled, all we can do is sit back in our chairs, shake our heads at our computers, and say, “When will Korea ever learn?”
How will Korea ever learn if the ones who can teach Korea are also the ones telling actual Koreans to burn in hell for their offensive behaviors?
If international fans are as open-minded and enlightened as we claim to be, then we ought to put that thinking into action. If we want to see an end to the ignorance, we ought not to vilify and condemn, as that only serves to drive people away. Rather, we ought to teach, teach with patience and a genuine desire to make things better. But the fact that we have failed to address the questions of people from our own group says that we have a lot of growing up to do. It’s as if every offensive act by a K-pop idol is just an opportunity for us to simmer in our own unproductive anger, rather than an opportunity to teach and to change people’s hearts. Sometimes I wonder if international K-pop fans enjoy being self-righteously indignant and angry more than they enjoy teaching others and causing real change. Perhaps simmering indignation and self-righteousness is akin to a handjob for one’s ego. I don’t know.
R&B artist Tasha (who is of both Korean and African-American heritage) spoke up about the incident via Twitter, saying, “I am deeply pained and embarrassed to hear that this is still happening…I have spoken out in the past about how I feel and how offensive it is. Unfortunately the war against ignorance seems to be an uphill battle…but not impossible! Education is key!! Much love! God bless you and yours! And always ALWAYS hold your head high! You are…WE are ALL beautiful!!!”
Tasha was praised by international K-pop fans, and many said that they hoped that the rest of Korea could read her message and learn from it. But before telling Korea to do anything, maybe international fans should take that same message to heart first.