As back to school season starts, the Monsoon VPP thought we should take a look at what won’t be taught this school year: Critical Race Theory (CRT). In June, Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s governor, banned teaching CRT in our schools. Those who voted for the ban called CRT “indoctrination”, not education. Among other things, the ban prevents the teaching of institutions, past forms of oppression, and people as being inherently racist or sexist. If you read between the lines, what this really does is deny that white privilege exists. In addition, the ban encourages people to not feel psychological distress or collective guilt. They also claim that CRT was created by one race to oppress another (i.e. the “reverse racism” phenomenon -- which is a whole other blog topic). And it’s important to note that Iowa is only 1 of 21 states where critical race theory is meeting political opposition. However, those who oppose CRT so staunchly, often misunderstand what it’s all about.
Critical Race Theory was developed in the 1980s by Kimberlé Crenshaw and is a way of viewing the world. As an activist and scholar, she also coined the term intersectionality (and if you want to learn more about that, check out our other blog!). CRT states that individual bias or prejudice is not solely responsible for racism, but rather racism is intertwined into laws, schools, and infrastructure through governmental policies. For example, red-lining is responsible for unequal access to housing, education, and policing. Used in the early to mid-1900s, banks and real estate agents outlined a majority of black neighborhoods in red. It deemed these residents as “unsafe to do business with.” This means that black people could not secure loans or investments to purchase a house that could be passed down, blocking wealth retention in black families. And this is just one example. Today, racism and bias still exist because of these practices. CRT takes these phenomena into account while other viewpoints don’t, thus showing how vital of a tool it is in the classroom.
Although critical race theory is banned in many schools across the United States, we still encourage everyone to educate themselves on their own time. The most important thing to emphasize here is that reading or hearing about CRT, while valuable, is not the same as practicing anti-racism. We should seek to emphasize and center the voices of black, indigenous, and other youth/people of color and apply an intersectional lens to our work. CRT teaches us to actively interrogate systems that we take for granted, be open-minded, and most importantly, think for ourselves with well-informed opinions. Furthermore, CRT is a mindset, but can and should also encompass a wide range of actions we can take, from practicing anti-racism in our own lives to advocating for legislation that benefits marginalized populations.
Finally, we should remember that learning about critical race theory is a journey, not a destination. We definitely haven’t come close to even covering all the intricacies of the work of CRT authors and activists, so we will take this opportunity to share some more resources!
There is no doubt discrimination in the US is widespread, all over the country we see never ending attacks on personal freedoms. We see women, people of color (POC), LGBTQ+, etc… face discrimination for their identity. Although the idea that one’s identity can be oppressive is not a new concept, the role of intersectionality in oppression is. Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality in 1989 as a way to help explain the oppression of black women. Intersectionality is the concept that each one of us has a different set of characteristics, including but not limited to gender identity, sexuality, (dis)ability, racial identity, nationality, and ethnicity, that create a unique experience and oppression. Using intersectionality can make the world a safer place and attack hate and discrimination as a whole. For example, an Asian man cannot fully relate to the experiences of an Asian disabled woman. Despite having the same racial identity, they might have a difficult time relating to one another because they have different overlapping identities. But unfortunately misconception is acted on time and time again by the media.
The media often represents POC in an oversimplified fashion which can end up creating tropes and stereotypes. This singular narrative does not apply to everyone it is supposed to represent. Instead of using one common narrative to represent a group as a whole, creators need to consider how a combination of experiences and backgrounds shape their audience. Intersectionality involves taking into account a spectrum of identities and listening to people we hear from less to move beyond the simple, popular narrative. A person wouldn’t expect an apple to taste like a banana just because they are both fruits, so why do we expect a Chinese teenager to identify with an Indian mom just because they are both Asian? TV shows and movies like to pat themselves on the back for including a “diverse character” and expect everyone that shares a similar characteristic to enthusiastically relate to the character, a tactic called tokenization. Representation of marginalized groups does not need to be perfect, there just needs to be more of it so that people aren’t basing assumptions off of one character and a whole group isn’t expected to feel depicted by one experience.
The negative impact of representations that aren’t fully constructed is also extended by the little representation that oppressed characters have on screen. The limited representation leads to solidifying harmful stereotypes and biases as well as creating a surface-level classification of BIPOC. Many times marginalized characters are used as a comedic tool for the show. Whether it is making fun of the character’s culture, accent, traditions, or always using a character's disability as a punchline. People seem to think it is acceptable to use marginalized people’s experience as comedy or to add humor to a “joke”. For example, Comedian Rosie O'Donnell did a racist impression of an Indian doctor at her standup show, because she felt it was acceptable to poke fun at what she wrongfully thought was a “good” stereotype. Despite O’Donnell’s assumptions, she still hurt the community she was discriminating against.
With low levels of diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representations, it can be exciting to see AAPI representation. But it should not fall on the shoulders of one character to portray a lifetime of experiences for a variety of different people, not only because everyone lives a different experience, but because we are made up of more than just one element. Yet, we expect one BIPOC character to be enough representation for all BIPOC, even when the representation plays into stereotypes and creates a single image in people’s mind about what the BIPOC experience is, such as the Asian model minority myth or Black women being loud and aggressive.
Overall, in order to address racism, sexism, and other social justice issues, we need to use a broader scope to analyze these issues because they involve multiple identities and intersectionality. Discrimination occurs on multiple levels, including age, gender, sexuality, race, and religion. Whether it be a mixture of their age and sexuality or their gender and their religion. To help combat this discrimination we can take time to implant solutions on a multitude of levels. By creating a more diverse representation of marginalized characters and making sure that marginalized people are at the forefront of creating these representations, we can move away from enforcing stereotypes. While many of us probably find it easy to visualize ourselves as a combination of overlapping identities, we are quick to match people to one label and base our assumptions about that person off of it. Understanding our habits and making a conscious effort to battle our assumptions and keep an open mind, can help us see others as a whole. Also, refraining from using oppressed people’s experiences as a joke and calling out others who do, can educate people on the importance of respecting everyone’s experiences and avoid perpetuating a single image. Although this problem is widespread and tackling it will demand change at all levels, there is a lot that can be done to combat discrimination and promote intersectionality at an individual level. Take time to explore more on the concept of intersectionality and oppression to educate yourself on how to be a better advocate. Check out our other blog about Critical Race Theory in Schools to learn more!
Dating back to Early Rome, Valentine’s Day was an international holiday celebrated throughout North America and Europe. You may imagine the holiday as colorful and romantic, if not garish, with pink lace, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and sappy social media posts. Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day can be a dark time of year for some teens. Teen Dating Violence (TDV) during Valentine’s can manifest as unhealthy pressures to get/stay in relationships, show affection in grandiose and over-the-top ways, be public in private relationships, and more. As teens, we (the Youth Interns) wanted to reflect on our experiences with Valentine’s Day during February (TDV Awareness Month) and share alternative ways the holiday can be spent in a fun and healthy way.
Before we get to that, we thought it would be a good idea to refresh ourselves on what Teen Dating Violence is. If you haven’t already, check out our previous blog post on TDV (https://monsoonvpp.weebly.com/blog/archives/12-2020)! It’s far more detailed but for our purposes today, TDV occurs when boundaries and consent are violated in teenage relationships, often resulting in sexual violence. This can be from physical violence, emotional/psychological violence, and digital violence. Digital violence includes posting offensive/humiliating content, cyberstalking, etc. Millions of teens around the world experience some form of TDV while trying to navigate relationships. This month is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, and we can all help spread awareness. We, Monsoon VPP, urge anybody who’s experiencing TDV to speak with a trusted adult and/or seek professional guidance. And before you enter a relationship, whether it be on Valentine’s Day or not, sit down with your partner and set clear boundaries of what you are and aren’t willing to do.
Q: What does Valentine’s Day mean to you?
Carter: Valentine’s Day for me has never meant anything of huge significance. My parent’s wedding anniversary is Valentine’s Day though, so normally they go out to dinner alone, but other than that it has always just been an excuse to eat too much chocolate. As I’ve grown up though, I have felt slightly left out as I never really dated anyone around the day and dating has never been a high priority or an important thing to me. I would just feel a little down seeing all the couples around school (even if they’re completely cheesy), but my friends for me have always made up for it. I would say it’s still an excuse to eat a bit too much chocolate with the added bonus of maybe getting a teddy bear or two from friends.
Jalyn: This sounds pessimistic, but I’ve never really liked Valentine’s Day because I find the hordes of couples in the hallways at school mildly annoying. However, I confess that I still get a little sad to see other people supposedly enjoying being in relationships when I’m alone, with no one to celebrate with me. In my opinion, modern Valentine’s Day has become a corporate scheme to sell “romantic” gifts and market cheesy slogans, but I think Valentine’s for me is a time of self love and reflection. I like buying myself some discounted chocolate and flowers (on Feb. 15th, nonetheless) to remind myself that I am always enough.
Q: As a teen, have you ever felt pressured to be in a relationship because of Valentine’s Day?
Madelin: As a teenager not in a relationship, watching friends and classmates develop romantic relationships can take a toll of your self-esteem. Especially on holidays such as Valentine’s Day, that seems to indicate self-worth is directly related to being in a romantic relationship, approach. For me Valentine’s Day was just another reminder that I wasn’t in a romantic relationship and that I needed to be in one. The way that Valentine’s Day is portrayed is a representation of society’s idea that your importance is based on how much your significant other cares about you, when in reality love from friends, family, and yourself are equally if not more important, especially as teens. Although Valentine’s Day can bring about a lot of negative emotions and pressure, I think that we should all remember that all types of relationships are important and should be celebrated.
Cindy: Honestly, throughout my childhood, having low self-esteem didn’t help when it came to romantic holidays. I’ve always played myself off to be apathetic and arrogant. But at the same time, middle school was a period when most kids try to fit-in and find themselves. Despite putting up an attitude and barrier when it came to boys and relationships, the most prominent feelings were to be wanted and liked. Every year when Valentine’s Day came, I tended to act nonchalantly, and unaware that it had even come. When truly, I still hoped to find a candy bar or maybe even a secret admirer note in my locker. Valentine’s Day I think… has been overly popularized for us, and as young as we were, being friends was probably going to be the healthiest relationship for us at that time.
Q: What’s the best memory you have from Valentine’s Day?
Carter: I’ve never really had a good romantic relationship during the holiday but, when I was younger my elementary school would always have a Valentine’s Day “party” where we would bring in treats and valentines for our classmates. My classmates were fairly competitive so we’d normally compete on who could bring the best treat and one year this kid from my class brought a whole cake that was topped with chocolate covered strawberries in the shape of hearts. It was a really good cake and we all shared valentines with each other passing out treats to one another. I would say that’s probably my favorite memory from Valentine’s Day.
Shreya: My favorite memories from Valentine’s day were definitely in elementary school. That day we would cut class short and have a little party for the rest of the day. Everybody would bring candy, and there would be games, and of course, Hyv-ee sponsored sugar cookies in heart shapes. I remember that one year, there was a competition for the most creatively decorated box, and I didn’t win, but it was hard to be upset because I lost to a person who had transformed their box into an evil minion from Despicable Me. That day, I passed around candy with my friends but I didn’t eat any, so I came home with a jackpot. Memories with family, friends, and food are always the best.
Cindy: I think all of us remember our elementary days as being the best at celebrating Valentine’s because truthfully we were all young and childish back then. Elementary school was a time when relationships were not the focus of our lives and having fun was. I think that is why I liked Valentine’s Day so much back then. As with Shreya and Carter, I always wanted to give my friends the best candy possible and receive as much candy as possible home. It was like Halloween indoors!
Lovely ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day
By Emily Le, Risha Shetye, Ondrea Li and Hla Paing
Cultural appropriation is a controversial topic in today’s world. Feuds between the distinction of appropriation and appreciation have occurred over the internet and have sparked extensive attention. An example of religious appropriation that we commonly see is using manifestation as a method of success (instead of the practice from the Hindu law of Attraction) or even religious figures as house decorations. So what is religious appropriation, how do we distinguish between appreciation and appropriation, and where do we see it occurring? Religious appropriation is the act of taking something for one’s own use for the exploitation of another’s religious and cultural traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and music. Don’t mistake this term for cultural appreciation. Cultural appreciation seeks to understand and learn about another’s culture to broaden their perspective and connect with others while appropriation is taking one aspect of a culture and using it for your own personal interest.
Cultural and religious appropriation has been seen throughout history. Colonizers throughout history have taken meaningful practices, symbols, and rituals from their original cultural context and copied them in a way that has either devalued its symbolism or completely flipped the pure meaning of the symbol.
A widely known example of this is the Swastika. Originating in Hindu culture, the Swastika in Sanskrit is a holiday symbol that represents “well-being” and purity. During World War II, Hitler took control of the swastika and used it as a symbol to represent hate, xenophobia, and used it to perpetuate fear. The once pure symbol has now lost its meaning and its value in Hindu culture and is one of the ways Asian religion has been appropriated by colonizers in history.
Another example of this is the Buddhist idea of Nirvana. Now a commonly used phrase and light-hearted joke in the Western world, Nirvana is a sacred and ultimate goal practicing Buddhists desire to reach. In Buddhism, followers believe that life is a form of suffering and humans are reborn in a cycle referred to as ‘samsara’. Attaining Nirvana is incredibly important to the disciples of Buddhism because it is a point that you are released from your suffering. It is highly valued in this region and now has become a passing and ignorant joke that many people make light-heartedly without understanding the full cultural context.
By understanding the history of cultural appropriation, we can fully understand how they look like today. For example, many people use religious figures like the Buddha statue for the sake of decorating their house. The Buddha’s image has been used so commonly due to the lack of understanding of what Buddha’s image really represents. In many places like spa resorts, a decapitated Buddha head is used as a justification of “art” when in reality, decapitating a Buddha’s head is an act of violence as mentioned above. Buddhist symbols should not be used for the “aesthetics” or the “exotic” look but rather the journey of achieving self-fulfillment through peace, meditation, and self-reflection. Learning what Buddhism is about is crucial before choosing to put a Buddha up. It is important to remember that the Buddha belongs in a temple or in places for prayers. They are not decorations but have religious significance. Many people forget that Buddhism is a religion and that it is our duty to respect it.
In another aspect, the fashion industry is notorious for diluting religious symbols and ideas. There is a big argument in the fashion industry on whether the use of religious symbols in clothing is appropriation or not. Some examples we found included, “Jesus Leggings” “Virgin Mary Leggings''. It is not just limited to consumer use, when examining the runway fashion industry there are even more egregious uses. In 2018 Gucci had white models go down the runway with Sikh Turbans. A dastār which can refer to any turban is a sacred religious article of faith. The turban represents equality, honour, self-respect, courage, spirituality, and piety. It is a unique and important part of the sihk identity. Gucci attempted to sell the “Indy Full Turban” for 790 euros at Nordstrom. It attempts to mimic the sacred clothing article without any meaningful representation of the religion. Despite repeated backlash the fashion industry continues to profit from religions.
For decades, people have been persecuting different religions for their beliefs, and when someone turns those beliefs around to capitalize on them, they become diluted. Yoga and meditation come from eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. These religions have been practicing yoga for centuries, and now with the commercialization of wellness the true roots are lost. Yoga and meditation are extremely crucial to spiritual journeys, consciousness, and walking down paths of knowledge. Instead of marketing towards POC which these practices come from, the market targets white people as participants. Gwyneth Paltrow is an example of a wealthy white person who has dominated the yoga scene. In the past, she has even claimed to be an important factor for its popularity in the media. Meditation has been steered away from spirituality and taken on a westernized approach of productivity and focus. The global wellness industry rakes in at $4.2 trillion dollars. Speaking of businesses and profiting off religion, selling religious symbols as decoration has also become a harmful yet popular practice. Westerners are using buddha statues and other Hindu gods as decoration without actively participating or learning about the religion. This takes away the importance of these religious symbols and lessens their believers’ ideals and culture. Westerners continue to discredit and discriminate against those who practice the beliefs of which they profit off of, and this practice must be stopped as it is disrespectful. It is also important for a clear distinction to be made between those who practice the religion and genuinely want to share the beauty versus those who purely use it for monetary gain. Money cannot be prioritized when the integrity of a religion is at stake.
Similar to how we have normalized the idea of cultural appropriation in society, we have also normalized the idea of sexual violence in our own API communities. In our communities, we tend to avoid the conversation around violence against women, men, and trans folks.
It is important that we also ensure that we have conversations about sexual violence in our own communities and talk about how violence has been normalized, just as we are doing here with cultural appropriation.
Why Should we care?
Religious appropriation disproportionately affects oppressed peoples. Exploitation of resources and people have been the legacy of white people. Throughout history peoples have been forced to give up religion due to oppression but in the modern age, these religions are now being profited off. With continuous appropriation all value regarding the religion, the importance, significance is lost and becomes another item readily thrown away. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure that you are using it for the right reasons:
*To be clear of some things, if you are a white person or not Hindu/Buddhist, you are more than welcome to practice yoga and meditation. What is not okay is that these practices are being appropriated and capitalized by companies in the West.
By Madelin Schwager, Carter Jones, Cindy Hoang, Jalyn Wu and Shreya Joshi
Consent means setting boundaries and having mutual respect for each other. Consent is not a compromise nor a permanent status, but rather situational, including factors like coercion, power dynamics, and sobriety. Sexual violence occurs when these boundaries are violated, when respect is forsaken, and when consent is not given. This occurs without respect to age, so for this post, we will be focusing on sexual violence in teenage relationships, also referred to as teenage dating violence (TDV).
At first, teens who experience TDV may be in denial that their partner could be abusive. Sexual violence is more than just rape. It includes (but is not limited to) groping, coerced intimacy, stalking, and obsessive behaviors. Recognizing the warning signs of abusive relationships means viewing abuse as complex and deeply personal, rather than a black-and-white situation.
Offensive/humiliating messages or images, cyberstalking, and revenge posting are all examples of digital violence. While many of these situations cause immense stress and danger, many teens have no idea how to report digital violence. Although it can be difficult to deal with these digital situations, especially due to the anonymity of social media, there are some steps that can be taken to bring back safety and comfort. First, it is important to reach out to a trusted adult to help discuss and handle the situation. Other actions to take include keeping evidence, blocking account(s), and reporting it to the social media platform.
Given the lived realities of millions of teens around the world struggling to navigate dating and relationships, there is a lack of information on everything from preventing violent relationships to recognizing red flags when they occur. Here at Monsoon VPP, we encourage all youth to speak to a trusted adult (such as a teacher, parent, counselor, or coach) or a trusted friend if you ever feel uncomfortable in a relationship. We also encourage all youth to seek professional guidance in these areas, like referring to a therapist or a mental health counselor. However, we also acknowledge that not everyone has access to these resources, so here are some tips to consider when preventing/confronting unhealthy relationships.
We are no stranger to the expectations of women. Cute, sexy, and innocent. But these are not the only standard for females. Females are at the hands of judgment and double standards when it comes to their personal lives. Many K-pop videos portray women as glittery sex objects, but at the same time, they are expected to be conservative about their private lifestyle, while men can do as they please. They are confined to gendered norms to cater to optimize their fans desires. It is easy to point out the sexism and sexualization towards female idols but believe it or not, they exist towards males too.
We can easily point out the sexualization of K-pop stars: pushing singers and dancers to look more sexy and attractive, conforming to fan’s fantasies and producing sexualized songs or music videos, so much so that it has been normalized. In fact, when they aren’t dancing suggestively or pushing their boundaries, “fans” start to become uninterested and they ultimately die out in popularity. Examples of agencies and “fans” pushing K-pop stars to terrible mental health conditions and even worse include Stellar’s Gayoung and former f(x) member Sulli.
Stellar’s Gayoung, former girl idol, revealed her agency forced members to do provocative concepts in order to bring in money. She debuted in 2011 and said the group found it difficult to become famous for doing concepts suitable for their age. In 2014, with the switch of management, Stellar released “Marionette,” a concept so provocative it was unsuitable for minors. She recalls a scene when a member was asked to drink milk and spill it on her; originally the members thought innocently of the scene until they read the comments. The member was left traumatized and unable to drink white milk forthward. Another incident included a photoshoot, when members were requested to wear sexy clothing. Originally, all the members refused but after coercion they took some photos. The members did not consent to having the images released, but the agency continued with it anyways, and stating afterwards they “wouldn’t do it again,” but the damage had been done. Gayoung concluded tearfully, she would not have become a K-pop singer had she known the dehumanizing experience she would go through.
f(x) member Sulli was faced with criticism over every aspect of her personal life. It was discovered that when she was 9 years old, she wrote the following in her diary: “I think I’m pretty but I don’t get why other people think so too”. After this discovery, she faced public backlash and was called out for being egotistical and self-absorbed. There exists a double standard in K-pop because male idols routinely talk about their own attractiveness and are lauded for it, but women are forced to live with negative self-esteem issues. Furthermore, Sulli was confirmed to be dating popular rapper Choiza (translating to “big dick” in English) during a peak in her career. After this, her career took a hit since she was no longer single. She was never able to recover from the public backlash and ultimately left f(x). It’s shocking to consider that such a minor thing could trigger the end of someone’s career, especially when Choiza was able to joke about the scandal surrounding their relationship on Korean SNL and otherwise remain free of negative backlash. Unfortunately, due to online hate and thousands of negative comments from “fans”, Sulli was driven to suicide and took her own life in 2019.
Women are not the only performers who are sexualized. Men are sexualized as well but in a different light. They are sexualized through their abs or how much their hips move. They often take their shirts off to be seen as sexy or manly but when a woman does the same thing, it is considered preposterous. For example, in male idol Rain’s “Love Song”, the focus of the dancing is on body rolls and other sexually suggestive dance moves, all while shirtless and oiled up. There are also music videos featuring women and men positioned in sexually suggestive shots, like together on a bed or dancing inappropriately together. We continuously see this trend. When guys strip, it is considered sexy whereas when a girl does it, it's considered dirty. There are two issues highlighted here. K-Pop stars are heavily sexualized and there is an overshadow of double standards between women and men.
Kim Sujeong, a communication science professor at Chungnam National University stated, “The way people rage and threaten female idols who show even the smallest sign of being feminists shows how [what people expect of women] is blatantly different.” We couldn’t agree more with this statement and came up with a countless number of scenarios where this has happened. Oftentimes, female idols who are feminist or defend themselves are bashed and degraded on social media. This can also happen for the most ridiculous reasons.
In an interview, Red Velvet’s Irene was asked what book she was currently reading. In response to Irene reading Kim Ji Young, Born 1982, a popular feminist novel, male fans were quick to ostracize her. Men proceeded to burn her images and merchandise and began to bash her on social media. Irene was consistently objectified and sexualized on social media and these male “fans” proceeded to target her on social media, as if she was not entitled to read any types of literature. This just shows that female idols are scrutinized for every move they make, even for something as small as the novel they are currently reading. This was greatly different from Infinite’s Sunggyu, a male K-pop idol, who also swore at a fan but faced no repercussions. Although these were two fairly similar scenarios and Mijoo was just standing up for herself, Mijoo was alienated and received hate for doing the same thing her male counterpart did with no consequences.
After all this research about the realities of the K-pop industry, many of us felt shocked by all of the terrible things that happen that many fans are unaware about. From sexual assault to toxicity and stalker “fans” to hypersexualization, it’s important that viewers around the world--including us here in the US--are aware of the industries we support when we book tickets to shows or engage in commenting online. We have to recognize that any time someone online makes an inappropriate or demeaning comment about a young K-pop female idol, there is another person on the other side of the screen internalizing it, such as the case of Sulli and countless other K-pop idols driven to take their own lives because of toxicity. The hypersexualization of young girls forced wearing revealing clothing to “sell records” and men with ideal body types and suggestive dance moves/lyrics show that the media produces what it can sell and that sexualization of these idols does indeed sell. It is also equally important to hold entertainment companies and even the “fans” accountable for things like asking girls to expose more skin or forcing men to go shirtless constantly.
Even with all of this in mind, what actions can be taken to stop any of this negativity in the K-pop industry? We’re not advocating that you should stop listening to “How You Like That” or “Dynamite”. Rather, it’s important to not participate in online toxicity and to actively stand against it. Report creepy and hateful comments on respective social media sites, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. Support and listen to K-pop groups that actively commit to safe and inclusive spaces for women and young people in Korea and around the world, and not ones that have numerous misconduct and rape cases against them. Finally, always make sure to respect every idol, even the ones whose music you don’t like, because they are a person deserving of respect and privacy even in such a media-heavy world. Listen and educate yourself on any ongoing issues in the K-pop industry, because it is ultimately a consumer-driven force. If enough people start demanding change, who knows what K-pop would look like?
K-pop (Korean Popular) has broken out of the East Asian market and into the world with their music and film talent. Similar to American Pop culture, they have music shows, talk shows, and comedy sit-coms. In the K-pop community, artists are referred to as idols and are admired by thousands of fans. These idols are on a pedestal, rivaling politicians in terms of influence because they are well-loved by the public for their squeaky clean images set by the company. With years of investments into trainees to hopefully one day debut, these idols are often objectified by their companies to maintain a perfect image and be a crowd pleaser. With this type of culture, it has sometimes led fans to cross boundaries and forget that their idols are also human. These people are called “sasaengs”. In the upcoming blogs, we are going to discuss scandals, harassment, sexualization, and sexism in K-pop.
The way we view K-pop in America is one that reflects thinly veiled orientalism. When K-pop scandals occur, viewers and listeners around the world find it difficult to confront the true realities of K-pop. They don’t want to admit that they themselves are complicit in all this craze. Viewers want the glory of K-pop--the attractive artists, the concerts, and the merchandise--but they don’t want to engage in topics that are harder to digest, dubbed the “dark” side of K-pop.
Idols are recruited and trained from a very young age, taken away from their families and any lives that they knew previously. They enter a boarding school program by entertainment companies, such as SM Entertainment, JYP, or YG Entertainment where groups like BlackPink and BIGBANG originated from; then expected to perform with long, grueling practices, strict rules, and excessive diets. Executives routinely judge and evaluate their performances, which lead the trainees to have negative self-esteem issues and depend on much older adults (generally men) for validation. This is especially important as it contributes to toxic masculinity in young male K-pop trainees and internalized sexism for young girls in K-pop. Executives make every final decision on forming groups and the types of music that they will produce, planning out tours, press conferences, and debuts to fit the narrative of K-pop.
In January of 2019, a scandal arose called Burning Suns, a Seoul nightclub reported to be involved in sex trafficking, date rape, spy camera recordings, and bribery. It began when Kim Sang Kyo claimed to be beaten by guards after trying to stop a sexual assault from happening on an online forum. That post went viral in January and prompted a police investigation. What shocked most people was that Seungri, a prominent and influential singer-composer, and several other idols were involved as the owners of the club. In late January, a South Korean news outlet published text messages allegedly from Seungri, asking staff to hire prostitutes for investors and revealed that several other K-pop celebrities were all in the same private message group chat--some even discussing raping women at the club. As mentioned earlier, the aura of innocence the K-pop industry once had, shattered and was revealed merely as an illusion. Despite a police investigation, it was revealed that the police had dismissed Kim’s reports and accepted an explanation from the club instead. They then accused Kim of engaging in the sexual harassment himself which he denied.
As these scandals of sexual violence and police bribery continued to unfold, it led to Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, to open a thorough investigation into Burning Sun, police force, and other alleged crimes that go way back to the Park Geun-Hye (former president of South Korea) administration (she sparked millions to protest against her administration) involving the justice minister, Kim Hak-eui in 2013. He said, “If we fail to clarify the truth behind the cases that occurred within the privileged class, we will not be able to talk of a righteous society.”
Women are often too afraid to come forward out of shame and fear of judgment. There exists the idea that idols are supposed to be “innocent and kind”, which shields idols from accusations of crime and misconduct.
It is often misunderstood the boundaries of loving/admiring someone to obsession/stalking. Idols are required to provide fan service such as taking pictures with their fans, sharing their daily life, and sometimes greeting them in public. However, some people have crossed the line into harassment. It should be made clear that there are no excuses and explanations for harassment towards anyone. Common instances have included breaking into idol’s homes, invasion of privacy in public bathrooms, and even selling private information that would endanger the lives of people.
In 2014, a post circulated through the internet supposedly selling EXO’s D.O.’s underwear. The user stated, “I am selling Do Kyung Soo‘s (D.O) underwear, I went to their dorms myself and got it. It was really hard to get it. I’m thinking of around 10.0. You don’t believe me? There’s a few hairs on the underwear so you can check the DNA. I also have his socks. Don’t criticize or attack me.” The post also included a picture of male underwear. It is mindblowing to me that this event occurred. Trespassing, stealing, and invasion of privacy is just the tip of the iceberg. No one deserves to have their home invaded because of their work/career.
There have been extreme instances of sexual harassment to idols such as when 2PM Taecyeon recieved a letter with period blood writing and pubic hair. The note reading: You can’t live without me. Another recent incident included TWICE Nayeon and Josh, a stalker. Josh’s obsession with the idol is extremely appalling as he has documented his behavior in following the group from public to private places, and eventually finding the girl’s plane information to “confess” his “love” to her. Fortunately, Nayeon’s security guards were able to handle the situation and thwart his plan. She and her members are now under police protection.
There have even been more extreme versions of stalking when it comes to sasaengs placing hidden cameras in hotels rumored to house K-pop idols! During an overseas tour, Suho (from EXO) spotted one of the cameras in the gym that sasaengs had set up over the hotel when working out and proceeded to cover his face and quickly exit the gym, horrified over this privacy breach. Fans also managed to set up hidden cameras inside Luhan’s (former EXO member) room, while he was getting his make-up done. Sasaengs released these pictures all over social media, infringing on his basic right to privacy.
From the Burning Sun scandal to stalking and harassment, it’s clear there is a problem of sexual violence and privacy infringement in the K-pop industry, but there has been headway to taking a step in the right direction! South Korea has passed laws to ensure teen idols will not be coerced into dangerous situations such as wearing hyper-sexualizing costumes or acting out sexualizing scenes. In addition to this, laws have been passed that limit the hours minors can work, to avoid late hours so they can be safe, healthy, and mentally healthy. We should want the best for K-pop idols as they have helped create a community that is grounded in diverse music, popular culture, and passionate,loving fans. Not only has K-pop become the center of pop culture in Asia, but it has expanded its reach and is celebrated worldwide!
This October is Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness Month. This month, we will take time to raise awareness, recognition, and provide support to those experiencing or have experienced domestic violence. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (https://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/), every minute, 24 people become victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year. Domestic violence affects millions regardless of their age, gender, race, culture, religion, and status. For that, it is imperative for everyone to take action.
What is Domestic Violence?
Although there are many forms of domestic violence, they commonly include: behavior that is used to gain power over a spouse, partner, or close family member. We (the youth interns) also learned that DV methods can be learned over time in a toxic relationship- it may not just happen under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Many times the root cause of domestic violence can be a perpetrator’s insecurities, or stress from external circumstances.
Specifically in the Asian Community, we (the youth interns) found that domestic violence can manifest itself differently in different communities. The API community consists of vastly different cultures, languages, and traditions. Studies have shown that about 1 in 5 API women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence.
Common forms of domestic violence can include the following:
Due to social distancing and lockdowns worldwide, people who are experiencing domestic violence are trapped in their homes with their abusers. Victims and survivors have been isolated from people and potential resources that could take them out of these harmful situations.
Current organizations that provide relief to victims are working in overdrive due to the difficulty of reaching isolated victims. It has become a near-impossible challenge to keep families safe and provide them with shelter, food, legal aid, and counseling. This was a major reason that we found it so hard to find statistics specific to COVID-19 on this topic. We (the youth interns) found that DV has become incredibly hard to research during the global pandemic due to widespread isolation.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations reported an increase in crisis hotline phone calls and abrupt disconnections. In this sense, victims and survivors are faced with a double edged sword. On one side, abuse can be reported but there aren’t enough resources to help each survivor due to the increased need of relief due to the Coronavirus; on the other side, victims are not able to call for the help they need because of the highly volatile living situations they are in. Both of these cases are psychologically harmful to victims and survivors.
Cultural Factors that Affect Domestic Violence Discussions and Research
We know the statistics on domestic violence and gender based violence. But why do Asian American/Pacific Islanders have less specific stats?
We look into the root of gender based violence in our community. What factors silence victims/survivors in the AAPI community from speaking out? What cultural and immigration barriers do they face if they report domestic violence?
Growing up as Asian Americans, we (the Youth Interns) have learned time and time again that sexuality, sex, sexual health, and intimacy are taboo topics that should never be discussed. We are discouraged from finding romantic partners until we are adults, we rarely talk with our parents/community about sexual health, and we are left to learn everything from the internet or our peers. These cultural traditions of silence around the idea of partnership and intimacy are found elsewhere in the world, but are especially prevalent amongst our communities.
For many Asian communities, talking to families and friends about domestic violence can be taboo due to certain stigmas in the Asian culture. Oftentimes, victims/survivors feel afraid to speak out in fear of bringing shame upon their family. The idea of “saving face” is often the most important place to display a family’s educational and family background. However, public perception conceals emotions that can display signs of violence in the household. Traditional cultural values also play a factor in DV since gender roles force women to stay silent. Speaking out can cause a greater stigma attached to the victim/survivor than the perpetrator. In addition, internalized patriarchal values also see violence against women as justified by male partners. While culture represents identities and connection to one’s community, it is also used to justify domestic violence evoked by traditional beliefs and practices.
One key factor in reporting domestic violence is just that—the reporting. Many AAPI-identifying victims/survivors do not have a comfortable relationship with the police. Some originate from nations torn by violence and are generally distrusting of authority as a result of previous historical trauma. Many more are not well versed in how to even broach the subject of reporting to the police—who do they call? Where do their complaints go? What happens next? Some AAPI face language barriers that make it difficult for them to communicate their violence to the police and authorities, compounded by the psychological violence that can occur with anyone being forced to relive and recount traumatizing events. It is also important to recognize the differences among API communities, such as language, immigration status, and degree of assimilation, in public services and policing. However, there exists little to no culturally relative policing training in regards to Asian American Pacific Islanders. On the whole, police/authorities in the US are simply not equipped with the cultural knowledge required to handle domestic violence in the AAPI community.
Another factor that contributes to the silence around reporting domestic violence in the AAPI community is immigration status. In many communities, a male adult may move to the States and gain a visa or citizenship, and women in his community may feel compelled to marry him to secure citizenship and remain in a marriage that turns abusive. Further, many AAPI choose to stay in abusive relationships because they fear losing money to send back to their families. Take, for example, an AAPI woman who fills traditional gender roles and does not speak fluent English and does not have a job in the United States, supported financially by her husband who sends money back to both their families. If her husband were to become abusive, she may feel financially coerced into remaining with him to protect her family as well as shamed into staying silent because she does not want to disappoint or worry her family. This isolation from any support, whether it be family, friends, or community, can be psychologically difficult for any victim/survivor to navigate.
Resources for Victims, Survivors, and Allies for Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence:
Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) https://www.icadv.org/legal-clinic.
Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (IowaCASA) https://www.iowacasa.org/resources.
Monsoon Asians and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity https://monsooniowa.org/resource/.
How to be an Ally for Victims and Survivors of Domestic Abuse:
Here are a few tips on how to become an effective ally for victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault:
By: Animesh, Connor, and Ondrea
Now that we’ve discussed some of the factors that influence anti-blackness in Asian communities, our next step is tackling these problems through some different solutions. We’ve just brainstormed a couple, so we urge you to continue this process on your own.
The Power of Conversation and Activism:
The first step you can take is starting a conversation. It may not sound as flashy as other things, but when it comes to internalized racism, this is an important part to any meaningful change. Activism of other kinds is obviously good, but there also need to be specific conversations that engage with how anti-blackness exists, and persists, in our communities. These conversations are often hard to have – for all the reasons illustrated above – and are especially difficult with family members. But we cannot stress how important it is to initiate them. Consider these strategies: Start small. If a family member is lamenting police brutality and the criminal justice system, agree with the person and offer more information. When approaching the conversation, start with breaking down the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement. This means carefully explaining it in terms and ways which they would understand--something one of our interns tried. The approach can also be beneficial for the conversation to develop since it allows everyone to clarify any misconceptions the other party has. Educate. Bring up statistics about rates of police shootings and incarceration (make sure you get your information from trustworthy sources.) This information can often become a springboard for future conversations that continue to problematize anti-blackness. Challenge assumptions by offering different opinions. Maybe a passing comment is made about looting being bad. This can become an opportunity to voice your own views. Maybe you can qualify the initial comment by agreeing that looting in a vacuum is bad, but it becomes an alternative action when peaceful forms of protest are being dismissed. Emphasize that a lot of the wanton destruction hasn’t been perpetrated by protestors, but by opportunists. Use history as your ally. Reference how peaceful demonstrations haven’t always worked and bouts of violence have often led to legislative reform. One of us connected it back to Indian history and independence to prove the point to our parents. Mahatma Gandhi is known to be a champion of non-violence, but history often ignores the concurrent violence of Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, and others that also put pressure on the British to leave India. Finally, start picking holes at specific anti-black tropes Asians have internalized. This can be anything from the Model Minority Myth to racial hierarchies. Call them out for what they are – racism – and disprove them.
These are all different ways you can spark meaningful conversations in your own families. Obviously, you don’t have to go around convincing every relative. But there can be real change that you create in your inner circle of family and family friends. Overall, we would recommend not jumping into the deep end. Another one of our interns wasn’t as successful when discussing with their parents. While conversations were initially productive, they ultimately stalled on topics such as the validity of protests and violence as an impetus for change. Still, it was important to begin these discussions and start breaking down our assumptions. The process of reversing internalized racism is a long one, and we have to start slowly and pick up the pace as we go along. There are tiny things you all can do that will eventually culminate in longer and impactful conversations.
This grassroots-type work can also translate to your larger community. The goal of these protests isn’t to be a one-time thing that we all forget about when the immediate furor subsides: it is to create lasting change. Work with Black-led organizations to spread awareness and help the material situations of people in need. As Asians, we can set up networks with our own social justice organizations and connect them with Black ones. This community building is just as important as interpersonal conversations.
Another conversation to have in your community is addressing the anti-black language around you. Racism is not only perpetuated by racial acts but also by our words. One such example is the use of the N-word. For people who grew up listening to songs by many Black artists, hearing the N-word (or its derivatives) has become customary. We encourage you to examine and understand this term, originally used to dehumanize black bodies, reclaimed for empowerment by African-Americans and co-opted or used to disempower by others. Another phrase commonly used to justify racial slurs is “I have Black friends” or “my Black friends gave me the permission to say it.” Just because one Black friend says it's okay doesn’t mean that other Black people are okay with non-Black people using it. When you come across a person using racial slurs – casually or as an insult – we urge you to call them out. For many of us, confronting people about racism may seem like a difficult conversation because you “don’t want to make everything about race” or they are family members whom you want to enlighten, but by calling them out, you can make your stance clear over how you feel about anti-blackness in the Asian community. Along with that, it allows people around to become educated and sparks conversations on anti-blackness. Another way to call out the use of racial slurs is to be a supportive bystander by amplifying the voice of the person doing the calling-out; your action is likely to create allyship with people you didn't even know shared your philosophies.
Lastly, an important component to remember is that we should not homogenize experiences as people of color with the experiences of African Americans. A part of dismantling anti-blackness is knowing that the histories of oppressions differ, and lumping them together undermines the disparate experiences of violence targeted at Black and Brown bodies. In addition to educating yourselves on racism, oppression and privilege, continue conversations in your family and community and become an activist through social media, news articles, meetings with your school officials and local leaders, and joining anti-racism movements. Throughout history, it is evident that intentional activism can bring about major changes. Think about the Boston Tea Party, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights movement. They all promoted solidarity by bringing together both people who were affected and those not affected.
Thus, there are a plethora of ways for us to take a stand against anti-blackness in Asian communities. At a time when the world seems to be in chaos, including faced by a pandemic onslaught, in reality, there are ample opportunities for us to make changes. Stand up for what is right. The road to deconstructing these stereotypes and stigmas is a long one, but if we acknowledge our privileges and work to better our communities, progress is a sure thing.
By: Animesh, Connor, and Ondrea
Preface: The following blog is a representation of our own understanding, as Asian American students in Iowa, of Asian involvement in the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter Movement. The views and opinions expressed in this blog by no means capture those of all Asian-Americans. Moreover, we do not intend to discount the amazing work of Asian American activists who are making a difference. Rather, we hope to educate those who have chosen so far to remain indifferent and silent.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died shortly after being violently pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer. His death sent shockwaves throughout the nation, inspiring communities globally to speak, rally, and protest against the violence Floyd and the Black community have faced. Eventually, we came to learn that Tou Thao, an Asian American police officer, remained a bystander to his fellow officer’s brutal treatment towards Floyd. For many, this discovery came as a shock, a surprise that one of our own had allowed such an atrocity to take place. Although Asian American’s being involved with police violence is certainly not new, Peter Liang and Akai Gurley come to mind, the graphic nature of Floyd’s recorded death brought back this issue to the fore.
After reexamining our own communities, we believe that Thao’s decision to remain a bystander is almost symbolic of the apathy many Asian Americans feel towards the Black Lives Matter movement. In the days following Floyd’s death, civil uprisings took place all across the country. It seemed as if everyone had something to add to the growing conversation against racial injustice. Yet, in our lives, there was a disproportionately smaller Asian presence in these conversations, especially among adults. This realization led us to reexamine our own communities in hopes of understanding why many Asian members simply don’t engage in similar movements.
For many, the very premise of the Black Lives Matter Movement is antithetical to the beliefs of some first-generation Asian-Americans adopted when immigrating to the United States. (Later, we’ll see how this is an incomplete reading of history.) They came to the United States, not with power or money, but with ideals of hard work and self-reliance. Many Asian immigrants, especially refugees who were overcoming great hardship themselves, became proud of their successes in their new homeland. Seeing their own accomplishments, they believed other minorities could do the same. However, these first-generation immigrants failed to realize the difference between the institutional challenges Asian-Americans faced and the ones African-Americans faced. Even with nothing, Asian-Americans didn’t need to fear being gunned down by police officers for an incident where a white person might only receive a ticket. They didn’t fear being viewed as criminal for nothing more than the color of their skin. Moreover, these immigrants were reaping the benefits of more than a century’s work by African-Americans fighting systemic racism in the United States. By universalizing their own success stories against the failures of others, Asian-Americans were co-opting the work of their predecessors against them. By internalizing the Model Minority Myth, they were re-entrenching societal stereotypes on both sides and pitting minorities against one another. An important consideration when discussing the Model Minority Myth is the existence of whiteness. As Asian-Americans learned to persevere and achieve, they were learning to exist within the system. A well-paying job, a nice neighborhood, and a good school district – each a key component to the “American Dream.” Striving towards the American Dream became a means of securing Asian-Americans securities and benefits guaranteed by whiteness.
A key piece of history often overlooked when analyzing anti-blackness in Asian communities is the lived experience of colonization – and of transgenerational trauma from this colonization. There are a lot of obvious things we take away from colonization: it’s bad, it created economies that benefited the colonizers and their local sympathizers, subjugated colonized bodies, etc. But what often gets ignored are the more insidious effects of the colonizer carving out racial hierarchies to entrench colonialism and imperialism. In both overt and covert ways, colonization replicates anti-black logic. Take India, for example. For decades it has promoted the use of skin-lightening creams, such as a product called Fair and Lovely. As the name suggests, there is a strong positive association with lighter skin. Although it obviously can’t be proved, there is a likelihood this colorism stems from trying to be like the Western colonizers of India. (There is a historiographic debate about whether this has existed before Western colonization, but that’s something you’ll have to research on your own time.) In trying to be as close to the Westerner, colonized people often distance themselves from other oppressed groups – characterizing them as of a lower station. A similar construct inherited from colonization is an obsession with “correct” English (just like the British) – which is in direct tension with something like ebonics. There are numerous other examples, and while we can’t just pin all of our internalized racism on colonization – accountability is key – keeping our history in mind is crucial.
Speaking of history, inside the United States, there’s a lot more to look at. A great example are the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. Sparked by the brutal beating of Rodney King, thousands of people took to the streets and mass rioting ensued – the most of which occurred in Koreatown where a black teenager was shot by a Korean store owner 13 days after the beating. Tons of small businesses were looted and destroyed, deeply hurting the relationship between African and Korean Americans. Fast forward to modern riots, and some Korean-Americans continue to reference them as a justification for protests being bad (even if they have a greater goal). Another relevant phenomenon is affirmative action. Asian Americans often disagree with the policy (we, at Monsoon, support affirmative action – a topic for discussion at another time) and use it as an excuse to justify oppressive comments and actions. All of this came to a boil a few days after Floyd’s death in a set of screenshots from New York University where an Asian-American fraternity accused African-Americans of not ever doing anything for “us.” There was a lot more said, but the frat members showcased an aspect of anti-blackness often on display in Asian communities: a view where Asians are “oppressed” because of policies such as affirmative action and African-Americans do nothing for Asian rights, tearing them down instead. However, this one-sided view of history is simply incorrect and ignores the various ways the Black community has supported Asians. For example, the Civil Rights movement, and resulting Civil Rights Act, paved the way for Asian immigration through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that repealed racist quotas. In fact, a lot of the rights that Asian-Americans enjoy today can be traced back to Black-led movements. Claiming another minority community has not done anything for “us” is ignorant and oppressive.