Cultural appropriation, colourism and racism exists on an abnormally large scale in KPOP culture. This can have a negative effect on the psyche of a fan who might not be Korean and is particularly a person of colour.
The black face is one of the most common trends amongst some KPOP idols who claim to be imitating their favorite black singer or actor. The black face is when some individuals paint themselves black in order to appear as a black person. This has historical background of a certain race of people painting themselves black and creating derogatory acts and negative discourses about black people or the black race as a whole. This is still used to create prejudices about black people. They claim ignorance when they are questioned by people regarding the black face matter but some idols have repeated the offense more than once.
I sat down with a person of colour to find out their views on racism, colourism and cultural appropriation.
South Korea is a homogeneous country that prides itself in ensuring that people look the same and meet the beauty standards they feel are suitable for their people. Pale skin is glorified in South Korea. Being dark-skinned or tanned was historically frowned upon. It is still today. This is due to the fact that in the past, the rich people or royalties would stay inside while their workers would be outside in the field working all day in the heat of the sun. This resulted in the workers being tanned while the rich people, who didn’t work but stayed indoors, being pale. As a result, being dark-skinned was associated and still is associated with being poor and being a mere worker while being pale is associated with being of a high statues. Today, you will often not find many dark-skinned individuals on Korean television. I asked Candace what she thought about the pale skin being a beauty trend. “It is in a way racist. I do feel a bit hurt as a person of colour because certain people think white skin is better than other skin colours or tones.”
Candace highlighted the problems with cultural appropriation by stating, “If you do not like a race but you want their culture, it is hypocrisy and double standards. Black culture has helped establish black people so now Koreans want to profit off other people’s culture.”
She the further explained, “They want to reap the benefits of doing hip-hop but do not acknowledge that it originated from American black culture, something they did not create. Doing the black face is offensive; I would get offended. In South Africa, a few years ago, when people did the black face – it was a big thing. Extremely offensive. You cannot do something that will hurt people just because you want swag.”
It becomes difficult for people of colour who like KPOP to comprehend how their favourite singer could do something offensive about their identity (such a black face). One starts forming a love-hate feeling towards their favourite KPOP idol. It is being stuck in two worlds: having to bear the discriminations of being a person of colour (while having to love oneself). And at the same time enjoying the music which is inspired by some of your favourite KPOP idols who do not like your skin tone. Yet they still benefit from you consuming their music which they get inspired from your people. It is a blurry world.
I asked her what the solution could be. “If you want to experience black culture, why not meet and collaborate with a black person and understand their culture. Two cultures uniting for a song will ensure people (particularly the artists) get a better understanding and feel of other cultures.”
It is surprising that the CEOs of the entertainment companies who promote these KPOP idols and want them to make it big internationally (particularly in America), do not know the history of the black face, cultural appropriation and racism when they are going to sell the KPOP music to people from many different walks of life. How does one expect to make money from the same people they exploit?
I mentioned the use of the N-word by KPOP idols to Candace. She was surprised when I told her that the reason some idols use the N-word is because they say it was in the music they listened to. “It is a lame excuse. You don’t go after what other people do. It is like saying you will jump in the fire if your friends are doing that.” She continued her comment by saying, “Korean culture is not American culture. Distinguish what is Korean culture and what is American culture. African-Americans and other black people can say the word but once people from outside say the word – it is offensive. It is not Korean people’s culture and it is not their history. One must …be willing to learn other cultures and not offend anyone.”
KPOP is taking the world by storm. With many KPOP videos hitting a million views within hours of release and KPOP being introduced to the BMAs. With videos hitting more views than Hollywood’s well-known music videos, KPOP seems to cater for specifically the youth and their uniqueness attracts international viewership. Candace suggested, “They have a lot of fans because of their unique culture. It is different. They should not conform to western culture in order for them to be popular. They are throwing away their identity.” However, they have conformed to western culture. Often representing it in an upsetting manner like when B.A.P casted black people in a scene in Bad Man video where there was people rioting and, as it seemed, some committing crime.
We live in a racist world. Throughout history, white has been seen as dominant, superior and beautiful. While people of colour are portrayed as lesser. Time will tell if racism, cultural appropriation and colourism will diminish or end.