During Showcase Noir, a very handsome gentleman asked me why I chose to focus on two women who were not in the US?
The answer is complex.
When I started this project I thought about a variety of things.
- The struggle for accurate representation of Black Americans in the media.
o Why can’t American media get it right? We aren’t a monolith.
- How many people abroad are persuaded into believing stereotypes of Black Americans based on what they see in American media?
- Is there anyone challenging these perceptions?
o Specifically, within South Korea.
I’ve always known that American media – specifically music is consumed on an international scale. With this one must recognize the huge influence of Black Americans on American culture and it’s changing cultural trends. In short, anyone who consumes American culture has come across something which traces back to Black Americans.
A bit of Context
Being a Black Kpop fan is a struggle for many reasons – blackface, cultural appropriation, colorism, anti-blackness within fandoms. We've experienced how Black music (mostly Hip hop and RnB) has been globalized -- and how others have used our looks, hair, lingo, swag as a means to prove their authenticity. Or how some have simplified the value of Blackness to being "cool." Although the mistakes of a few entertainers make fans bitter, we all make our own decisions on which faves we cancel after a swift dragging by black kpop twitter (yes it exists.)
For many, positive fan experiences outweigh the negative (I’m not going into detail here) one of which is seeing the impact of my culture on another. Whether positive or negative - the idea of “Black cool” is universal, and our “cool” carries over into the international K-pop fandom.
Back to the original question. Earlier I spoke about my thought process around representation of Black Americans in the media. Both women in these paintings are of African American lineage.
Alexandra Reid (pictured left) is the first African American (non-Korean) K-pop idol in a girl group.
Michelle Lee (pictured right) is a Korean/African American singer ( born and raised in South Korea) who got her start as a finalist on Kpop star.
While following their very recent careers, I've found it interesting to examine the reactions these two women have received from Korean audiences. Alex with the disadvantage of being foreigner, and Michelle who has the disadvantage of being biracial in a homogenous country - which also struggles with colorism. Not only are these women participating in the industry during an era of multiculturalism in Korean media - but they are individually representing varying aspects of blackness in a non black space.
They are not the first Black women to gain visibility in the South Korean entertainment industry, but I want to work my way backwards. I will give more details about these two women in a few follow up posts.
Until next time,