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The 2020 Grammy nominations came out this morning and ARMY (BTS‘s fandom) is pissed. BTS received a grand total of ZERO Grammy nominations and ARMY is screaming everywhere that The Grammys robbed BTS and used ARMY for clicks and BTS for clout.

While I completely agree with this assessment, I’m more aggravated by the response of some fans to the situation. And to be fair: a lot of ARMY response is petty in the most delightful way possible. For example, when BTS didn’t win any People’s Choice Awards on November 10, 2019, we re-charted their latest album, Map of the Soul: Persona as well as all of their Korean (and Japanese) albums. In fact, as of this posting, we’re charting all of their Korean albums again.

I’m all for petty when we flex our purchasing power. What I’m not okay is trotting out the “xenophobia” spiel and being at all shocked when historically white and racist institutions act white and racist. (And in case you need things pointed out, that’s the white privilege coming through.)

The problem is racism

Every time BTS doesn’t get radio play, award nominations, or something doesn’t go their way in the US or the UK, some fans get pressed and cry “xenophobia.” As I mentioned in my piece for Overachiever Magazine, every time I see that comment, I’m 99.9% sure that person is white.

Look, I acknowledge that xenophobia and the fear of foreignness happens. But let’s think critically about who that foreignness applies to. Why are predominantly non-white groups and cultural trends considered foreign? Aren’t the French or German equally non-American? (Oh, wait. I forgot the Russians. We love to vilify Russians.)

Let’s call it what it is: racism.

Don’t sugarcoat and call it xenophobia so folks can claim it’s about the non-Americanness of BTS (and kpop in general) versus their race – which is Asian. Because if we acknowledge it is mostly about race – then that brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions such as:

  • Why do some fans only care about BTS and/or Korean pop stars but not Korean Americans (and by extension, Asian Americans)?
  • Why do some fans only care about BTS and/or Korean pop stars but not pop stars of other races and nationalities?
  • Why do some fans caveat with, “I don’t normally find Asian men attractive, but…” and think it’s okay? Asian men were hot before BTS, are hot now in the time of BTS, and will continue to be hot after BTS is legendary status.
  • Why do some fans only care about fairness and equality when it’s the group they stan but not when it affects the millions of Asian Americans, black people of color (BPOC), and people of color (POC) in general?
  • Why do some fans only care about fairness and equality of music award shows but not representation in the arts/movie/media/power/politics/leadership?
  • Where is the outrage among some fans about the lived reality of police brutality and the need for Black Lives Matter?

The fact that so many BTS fans are shocked is telling.

The Grammys are problematic and have been problematic since the beginning. The snub to BTS is only the latest incident. Though the Grammys are slowly diversifying its voters and board to represent the community at large, BTS (let alone any POC artists) winning awards is going to take a lot more time than we are hoping for.

Why? Because the Grammy nominating group is still populated mostly by old white dudes. Being overlooked or ignored except for hype and clout is just the reality of being a POC and/or a foreign group in America.

That has ALWAYS been the reality of POC – and to expect BTS to break through when the Grammys regularly shaft BPOC artists is tone deaf at best and offensive at worst when folks have been doing the work for decades with barely a response from the Grammy Association.

It’s this shocked response of “how dare they?” that is telling – as if merit or quality ever gives POC and BPOC what we deserve and have earned. Because that’s just the experiential reality of POC and BPOC every day. We can say it’s more of a “disappointed but not surprised” feeling – but I bet a lot of people, until BTS didn’t get their Grammy nomination, didn’t care at all about #GrammysSoWhite or #OscarsSoWhite.

Racism is systematically built into the very fabric of our country – which includes its artistic and cultural associations. For many fans, to have had the ability to ignore this very fact until it negatively affects their group, who happens to be BTS and Korean, is the very essence of white privilege.

What can we do?

Personally, I don’t think it’s my job as a person of color – and a woman, at that – to help non-POC figure out their responsibility – and yes, they DO have a responsibility. However, in my journey of progressiveness, many underrepresented folks paved the way for me so I will pay it forward.

Here, then, are a few steps you can take to be an ally in this situation (and most situations, really):

  1. Read this primer on how to be a white ally. Search for more and read those, too.
  2. Amplify the voices of POC and BIPOC (black/indigenous people of color).
  3. Speak up about how the Grammy snub is disappointing on a personal level – BUT also acknowledge and point out its problems on a systemic level.
  4. Point back to the work POC and BIPOC have already done in this area because trust me, it ain’t news.

Closing remarks

In the end, I only find the Grammys relevant because BTS member, Suga, wants it so badly. I didn’t care about it before BTS and I won’t care about it after BTS. I care only because BTS cares – because that is what happens when you love someone. You want the things they want for themselves.

And if you’re in the fandom and love BTS, I hope you take this as a learning opportunity to check your own privilege and how you may be contributing to the broken systems of our country and world.

If you like this and want to read more about my BTS Obsession, then you’ll love these posts: