BTS as a model for solidarity

To call BTS a global phenomenon is an understatement. If you are unfamiliar with the boy band from South Korea, a quick Google search reveals numerous headlines that document their record-breaking successes. As music artists, they have attained a number of accolades that signify their impact on music and as a collective of seven men, they have had great impact on social movements like Black Lives Matter and Stop AAPI Hate. It is this latter movement that reveals their symbolic status as successful Asians that have made it, by all definitions of Western musical success, in America. It is a success story that many Asian Americans, including myself, can relate to: the successes of Asian children validate the sacrifices of their parents. All too often these accomplishments in social, cultural, and political life erases the enduring trauma of hate and racism that Asians and Asian Americans continue to experience. This is most evident from the racist rhetoric about the coronavirus, the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans, and the tragedy of the Atlanta shootings.  This new political reality calls for a new collective awakening that dismantles the Western definition of success and the antiquated model minority myth. 

Bangtan Sonyeondan or BTS, the globally recognized moniker, is a seven-member boy band from South Korea. If you ask fans or ARMYs what BTS means to them, answers vary from the impact of their music to the joy of their non-musical content that perhaps figures in fans’ real lives cannot produce. This is not just because the seven members are representative of the age group of their fans but also their telepathic understanding of their fans’ wants and likes from them as musicians and entertainers. That communication explains their global success, an accomplishment that many artists, Korean or Western, only hope to achieve in their musical careers. Furthermore, BTS has inspired social change with their messages against prejudice and violence. In June 2020, at the height of the racial protests over the murder of George Floyd, the septet donated $1 million US dollars to Black Lives Matter, which was later matched by their fans. Since 2017, the band has partnered with UNICEF for their LOVE MYSELF campaign to stand against hate directed towards youth and promote love. That social power is significant, and in a global world with arbitrary borders, BTS are model and productive global citizens. Thus, BTS transcends their significance as musical talent and can be reimagined as symbols for the Asian American experience. 

For some Asian Americans, cultural and social expectations of success are high because something is always sacrificed for it. My parents gave their all to give my sisters and I the best opportunities, and we took them to excel and succeed. By a Western definition of success, many Asian Americans have made it: they are doctors, lawyers, scientists and other white-collar occupations with multiple higher education degrees. This proximity to whiteness is the Achilles’ heel: Asian Americans are conveniently white and non-white. For example, the model minority myth perpetuates a harmful image of Asians as academically superior with great musical capabilities. It erases differences across nationalities within the Asian American category and creates a monolithic image of Asian Americans. When an Asian individual lives up to this stereotype, they become the model Asian American for all others and more importantly, for white Americans to ignore their racism and prove the American Dream is alive and well.  

On the dark side of this coin is the history of anti-Asian racism reveals a record of otherizing and dehumanizing Asians. Stereotypes about Asians were anchored in the image of disease carriers with questionable morals and intellectual inferiority to support narratives that they would degrade racial and social purity in the United States. These stereotypes are reproduced today in the rhetoric of Kung-Flu and China Virus. Unsurprisingly, as these narratives were espoused by political leaders, hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by 169%. This unchecked racism culminated in the violent and racist attack on massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia where six of the eight victims were of Asian descent. Therefore, Asian Americans simultaneously approximate whiteness and occupy racial imaginations. 

BTS represents this in-between: as artists, their musical successes exceed all Western standards and expectations, and as Asians, they still face prejudice for their identities. They shared this reality in a group statement against the number of increasing violent incidents against Asian Americans. This straddling between two racial categories is an issue because it erases experiences of hate and racism for Asians. On the one hand, the proximity to whiteness almost offers relief from experiencing racism. If you succeed, then you can escape experiencing hate. On the other hand, Asian American experiences of racism are not too serious until it becomes too much in terms of the number of reported cases and in degree of violence. At the center of these determinations are familiar systems that dictate the American experience for minority individuals, that distinguish between the fortunate and less fortunate. Therefore, Asian Americans should follow BTS’s lead and show solidarity and community with other minority groups that are oppressed under the same systems.   

(By Michelle Nguyen)

(Photo credit: Hype)

Not Your Yellow Fantasy: #StopAsianHate intersectionality

I went to the #StopAsianHate march in DC because I have experienced verbal and physical assault because of my Asian identity. After hearing of the shooting in Atlanta, I realized that the targeting towards Asian women was not accidental. My friend and I hoped to stress the intersectionality in the march by posting signs such as “Not Your Yellow Fantasy” and “Solidarity with Massage Worker.” I am glad to see the Asian community organizing and protesting, and hope the visibility in politics can last. 

Actually, the slogan “Not your yellow fantasy” is not my original idea. Last summer, I read about crowdfunding on Instagram to help publish a book written by a young Korean woman. In the book, she talks about her experiences being discriminated against and sexualized in the US. I donated some money for her, and in return, I can read her book chapters in advance through email. Through her emails sent to potential readers, I came to know that her book’s name changed from “Yellow Fantasy” to “Not Your Yellow Fantasy.”  So when brainstorming the signs with my friends, I immediately thought about her book’s name. The book, Not Your Yellow Fantasy: Deconstructing the Legacy of Asian Fetishization is now complete.  I have only read the Introduction but I will continue reading the whole book in the future.

(By Xiyuan Wu)

(Photo by Xiyuan Wu)

No, Actually, This is Exactly Who We Are

Tuesday, a 21-year-old white man went on a killing spree, murdering 8 people in Georgia. His targets were mostly Asian American women, working in massage parlors across Cherokee County and in Atlanta.

He was arrested, alive. He was called a kid. He had had a bad day and was mentally ill with a sexual addiction. Apparently, the Captain decided to buy a shirt a year ago telling everyone that COVID came from “Chy-na”. 

Funny how, for men who have committed violent acts can use the mentally ill excuse. If we were really using violence as an indicator of mental illness and trauma women would have burned this entire country to the ground centuries ago. 

There must be something else to this story. 

Maybe the deaths of these women were a culmination of nearly two centuries of anti-Asian racism, policies that were designed to bar them from citizenship and deported them when they finished laboring out in the west. 

Maybe it was the continuing fetishization of Asian women, because it is not lost on me that massage parlors and happy endings are still somehow a joke that is acceptable to be shared. Maybe it’s the over-sexualization of Asian bodies, while simultaneously infantilizing them, fantasizing of raping Asian women, and seeing them as nothing more than objectified pieces for white male pleasure. 

Maybe it was the coronavirus, and an entire year of the president calling COVID-19 the China Virus, The China Flu, disparaging Chinese citizens as dirty, diseased, disgusting. 

I wonder, why the English virus hasn’t caught on (because of the COVID variant, and not the bubonic plague, or syphilis, or the many diseases that the English brought to America and wiped-out indigenous populations with) the same way all those amazing slogans above caught on. 

So, when I hear politicians or White Americans tell us this isn’t who we are…I’d like to remind them that this is exactly who we are. We spent a year blaming a group of people for “creating” a virus, when viruses do not have a race, an ethnicity, a nationality. We spent the Second World War interning Japanese Americans because of anti-Japanese racism; we’ve denied citizenship to Chinese because of anti-Chinese sentiment when they built the west; and we continue to other Asian Americans into the model minority to create tensions between other groups of people in this country. 

This is exactly who we are. This is how white supremacy works. The next shooter will still be a white man, and will be called a boy, and we’ll told he was mentally ill and just “snapped”. We’re not going to do much better until we reckon with our history. 

By Nichole Smith

(Photo Credit: AlJazeera)