When Oppa Means It But It Is What It Is

I am not completely sure why I felt compelled to write about this but I’ve been reading/watching various opinions from all over the internet and it’s startlingly obvious that we’re entering a new phase of Kpop. This new stage is one where the international platform is much more broad and diverse, allowing for many people to blog or vlog about the music, the lifestyle and the culture. It’s larger than a handful of voices that represent the monolith that we used to refer to as “international” fans, and now allows anyone to voice their opinions freely. You don’t have to agree with it but you can’t also ignore it.

For some background, the this I am going to be talking about is Got7 member Jackson Wang, who rocked dreads for a Pepsi ad and when called out for it, snapped back and called dissenters “haters”. Now, some fans were under the impression that Got7 isn’t problematic and had an existential crisis about their love for Kpop. I know about those because I have one of them at least once a month as a Shinhwa fan. It happens. Then there were the groups of fans that didn’t see it as a big deal because they “know” oppa and he’s not a bad person. Then there was a smaller contingent of people who didn’t give a shit if Jackson was racist or not and if he was, then that’s okay because the blacks are too damn sensitive for their own good. And honestly, fuck that group.

The first issue was the dreads. Braids have been a part of many different ethnic and racial groups throughout history. Germanic tribes and many diverse people of colour throughout Asia, Africa, South and North America include traditional braided hair. It’s their culture and I do not want to take that away from them because braids are not exclusive to black people historically. But the dreads that Jackson rocked were specifically an “homage” to black, hip hop culture. This has nothing to do with the Ngagpas of Tibet or his love for the Vikings. In Jackson’s own words, his hair is directly credited to his love and “respect” for hip hop. Saying it’s Pepsi or the stylist fault is in fact, incorrect.

Now the root of this issue is that black people all over the world cannot wear their hair in protective styles (cornrows, braids) or in its natural state (afro/dreads) for fear of backlash or punishment. A simple google search can attest to this being a common occurrence. It’s not just hair. Our hair is a movement, it’s a message that black is tidy, clean and beautiful. It is anxiety that you won’t get hired. It is the knowledge that you may have to slap a white person for putting her hand in it because it’s so edgy and different. It’s all those years of burning scalps because your momma knew that she had to get you Just For Me  if you wanted a future. So once again kids, it’s not just hair.

To make matters worse, when other races rock our hair styles it’s completely acceptable and even at times applauded or awarded. The message is that blackness is fine except for when black people are involved. The black diaspora has been very vocal about culture appropriation so this isn’t a new concept and it certainly isn’t one that is new to Kpop. The Kpop machine was heavily influenced by black music and the artists continue to be unapologetic culture vultures while at the same time Korea is known for being openly antiblack.

The second issue was that Jackson’s initial response was defensive, offensive and all around lousy. The worst thing you can do when someone tells you that you’ve hurt them is to dismiss what they’re feeling because you’re in your own feelings. It’s a very human response so I do understand why Jackson responded the way he had but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he put that post out in the world.

We’re used to being told that we’re sensitive and that racism doesn’t exist anymore because we can vote and buy a house and work. We’re very used to microaggressions and the doubt that creeps in ever so often when you wonder if you are really imagining things. That’s something I’ve unlearned in the last couple of years due to all the overt violence by the police and the lack of punishment they face. It’s due to the high amount of free black labour within the prison system. It’s watching talent like Viola Davis being ignored and then spoken over by people telling her that her lived experience isn’t real. It’s seven plus years of Julie Plec and her team diminishing, abusing when they weren’t ignoring black bodies. A quick glance at the world is all you need to know that anti-blackness is very real.

Jackson may not be Hollywood or the CW. He isn’t a politician or a principal. He’s a Hong Kong idol who lives abroad to work. I don’t think he knows the full extent of this issue and I don’t expect him to but I do expect him to be respectful and to listen to his fans. Many fans from around the world tried to teach him why his hair was offensive and I’m sure he saw those posts along with the nastier comments. His focusing on the worst of the bunch over others probably did motivate his initial response, which then led to this issue becoming even bigger then it would have been if he’d just not responded at all.

I’m sure at this point, you may expect me to mention Ben Baller but I’m not. He’s irrelevant.

By now you know that Jackson did return with a second response. One that wasn’t as defensive. He explained that he did it for his love of the culture because it’s in his heart. He explains that this was a misunderstanding. At this point you can take it as an apology. He didn’t apologize but it’s as close to one as we have gotten so far and it is a much better note to end communication on.

I’ll make it clear that I don’t care if you choose to continue as a Jackson and/or Got7 fan or if you decide to leave them/Kpop altogether. It’s not my decision, it’s yours. I honestly don’t have the right to judge you for loving someone or something that is problematic. Nothing is unproblematic and you’re lying if you think it is. However, I will judge you if you try to bring uninformed, racist and/ disrespectful opinions into the mix because oppa didn’t mean it. It’s 2017, we all know how the internet works. We all saw Taeyang get dragged from the moon and back for his ugly hair during Big Bang’s last promotion. We all know that non-black people shouldn’t say the n word and that black face is a huge NO. The excuse that these idols don’t know isn’t just wearing thin it’s nonexistent.

As I tried to get a handle on this situation, I watched a lot of YouTube commentary on this subject and honestly, it opened my eyes to many different views and opinions. The best video by far was by TheJessLyfe and Malice which was moderated by Multifacetedacg. This live stream did a fantastic job of giving dynamic perspectives on this situation and on Kpop as a black fan. An important point of discussion within this video was that at the end of the day, people evolve by getting better or worse but the affect of that music and what it means to you remains. I don’t want to belittle it by saying “it’s just music” but I do want to separate the artist from the output. I love Kpop. I grapple with this more often than I should but I do want to continue being involved with it and interact with other Kpop fans. I want to go to Cons and see my favourite groups in concert. This is an incident that has happened before and it will happen again. I am choosing not to let Jackson’s, frankly, unprofessional behaviour ruin my love of the music.

Another video that I thought is worth mentioning is by GeeWizGrl. I appreciated that she wanted to be unbiased and did not try to make excuses for Jackson. She’s a fan at the end of the day but she’s not caping for anti-black behaviour which is super important for people to understand. You can still be proud to be black AND like Kpop.

Lastly, there was a video that I didn’t agree with but wanted to mention. LeDawn Lewis notes that she herself doesn’t have a problem with Jackson’s hair but that she can only speak for herself. The importance being that she isn’t here as a representative of black people. She’s just a black person who happens to not be offended or insulted by Jackson’s hair or behaviour. Nothing annoys me more than a black person starting with “hi I’m black and I don’t see a problem with this, it’s those fake woke or sjw’s” and I can appreciate that she did not try to be a spokesperson for black people or come for those who were offended. LeDawn simply stated her piece and ended the video.

Of course, there were other videos that were not well thought out and even downright offensive.

I want to remind white people that while you have a right to an opinion, we don’t want or need it. All of the offence. Our lives have been dictated by whiteness for a too long and you frankly don’t have the lived experience and empathy (at times) to truly grasp where we’re coming from. This is the same for non-black people of colour. Yes, we do share common issues but many of you need to root out that anti-blackness you got clouding your opinions and leave us alone in our lane.

There was one abhorrently awful video by a black woman that I can’t even bring myself to break down or post. If you check my twitter account, you’ll find my comments towards this video. It’s not only downright offensive but it’s straight up stupid. Racism is real, it’s not something we choose to see in the world or ask for. Anyone saying differently is doing that to their own benefit, not yours. A lot of people believe that we imagine oppression in an effort to disrupt or dismantle the good work that is being done for their own selfish reasons. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done for these people. It’s truly best to just disengage because ignorance at this level is highly stubborn.

I’m not a Got7 fan but I have always been aware of Jackson and the love that people throughout the world have for him. I don’t know what his next move will be but I hope that it’s one that begins with a real apologize that shows he has reflected on this situation. Not just because it’s the right thing to but because it’s what many of his fans deserve. His fans keep mentioning that he’s only human but so are we and we deserve just as much consideration.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to wade through this ever growing Kpop world and continue to enjoy the music. That is the reason we’re here.

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