white privilege and power: kpop
in middle school, i wanted to be white. i didn’t accept being Asian because i never felt comfortable expressing my own asianness at school. the judgement I felt at school for doing something even remotely different and un-white made me distance myself from my own identity as a half-filipino, half-korean american. i wanted to be accepted, so i tried to act white.
music was one aspect of my “whitewashing” journey. in lower school, i listened to the OG kpop: 2ne1, big bang, and dbsk (the golden age of kpop). in middle school, i slowly started to distance myself away from kpop until i completely stopped listening to it altogether. i turned towards “Show Me” by Kid Ink and “2 On” by Tinashe. i stopped listening to korean music because i just wanted others to see me as normal and not “weird.” i was so sick of feeling judged by my classmates for being “too Asian,” so i completely cut myself off from one of my strongest connections to the korean culture.
however, everything changed last spring. in 2018, kpop hit the American Billboard chart HARD. all of a sudden, white people started listening to it and liking it. i will never forget when i saw BTS’ song with Desiigner “MIC DROP” on Spotify’s Today’s Top Hits playlist. i was proud that Korean music has started to spread globally, but something bothered me inside.
the fact that white people had the sole power to make something i felt ashamed of earlier into a popular trend bothered me. it didn’t seem fair to me that the people who mocked Asians for their culture had the privilege of making Asian culture cool all of a sudden. more importantly, some white people are still oblivious to this privilege. some people were acting like they were setting the coolest trend by stanning kpop. i felt betrayed. i felt like i shut myself off from Korean music for nothing. to make matters worse, “koreaboo” memes started appearing on my instagram feed. a “koreaboo” is a non-Korean person who fetishizes Korean culture to the extent of desiring to act and look Korean (i can talk about how my Asian features undermined my self-acceptance and confidence FOR A LONG TIME, but i will save that for another time). the whole situation angered me to the point where i had an extreme “us vs. them” mentality for the rest of the school year.
some white people need to recognize the power and privilege they have in a myriad of aspects, including music. you can’t pick and choose parts of a culture and act like it’s your own. i want the toxic stereotypes and stigmas around Asian cultures to disappear. They only harm Asians and condition them to lower their self worth. just the other day, my classmate Zada brought up a point about the intense stigma around Japanese anime, which i am guilty of contributing to.
through a taxing personal journey, my “whitewashing” experience ended in freshman year. i finally felt comfortable expressing at least some aspects of my Asian heritage at Holton. over time, i’ve grown to become proud of my identity. part of the reason i chose to run Asia club with Su Shen is because i don’t want the younger Asian students to feel forced to select and erase parts of their Asian identity to fit in at Holton and society. all in all, observation of the stigma around kpop over the years taught me how to react to and position myself amidst the game of power dynamics and white privilege.