For long time readers, it may be no surprise that I both love K-pop band BTS as well as love BTS fanfic. However, as much as I enjoy a great variety of BTS fanfic writers and their stories, I find myself searching for fics written particularly by authors of color and featuring protagonists of color. As an Asian American person, I long to see myself in stories and narratives I consume. I want the media and pop culture I ingest — yes, even fan fiction — to reflect the world in which I live — and that world is full of folks of varying ethnicities, sexualities, nationalities, and abilities.
The world of BTS fanfics is so, so white
You would think that diverse portrayal of people wouldn’t be a problem since the fanfics are about a South Korean band, but alas. That is not the case at all.
I would argue that despite many fics set in South Korea, very often, the BTS characters themselves are written as if they were white people — usually steeped in American culture — only with Korean skin slapped on top as a thin veneer and Korea the country as paper-thin background.
There is no actual attempt at understanding how people in South Korea live or navigate life. There is no actual attempt to know what South Korean laws, culture, schools, or relationships are like except maybe through K-dramas and whatever BTS or other K-pop content the author may consume. The writers might not even know any Asians — let alone Koreans — and that’s obvious, too.
The obvious whitewashing of BTS characters and their lives is even more evident when the stories are set in America or another western country. In fact, I — and many other readers of color — can almost always immediately tell if a writer is white.
You know how ARMY can usually sniff out a fake ARMY or a celebrity/interviewer who’s only in it for the clout? It’s kinda like that.
The reader inserts are obviously white. Their families are obviously white. Their storylines are obviously white. Their problems are obviously white.
It’s evident in the way writers portray BTS members. It’s just not quite right in how they name themselves, what names other people use for them in the stories, how members speak to each other, how they move about in the world, how they speak to their parents, what words they choose to use, what foods they eat, and how their various intersecting identities affect all these aspects — both big and small — because that’s how people of color move in a world that caters to whiteness.
Everything is just white, white, white — and as a person of color, I find it exhausting.
Why we need writers of color in the BTS fandom
Forgive me for belaboring the obvious — actually scratch that. I have no need to ask for forgiveness because I am not the offender here. I am not the aggressor. I am not the one who needs to shape up.
We need authors of color to write BTS fanfics because accurate and nuanced representation always matters.
Just like every other area in life, every person deserves to see themselves reflected in the world around them. People of color exist. We have always existed. In fact, we are the majority on this swiftly warming planet — and yet — why are the stories predominantly featuring white-coded reader inserts? Why are the worlds — fantastical or otherwise — coded so unbearably white?
ARMY loves to spout the platitude that the BTS fandom is diverse and varied in representation and experience — and though that is empirically true, the actual experience as a fan of color in the U.S. is just as isolating, exhausting, and toxic as I find navigating America in general. Of course, the reason is because white supremacy is the prevailing hegemony of the U.S. You cannot divest white supremacy from U.S. and western BTS fandom anymore than you can divest it from Americans and westerners. If that were possible, we would have already done so.
This is why I always get so very excited when I find BTS fanfic writers of color.
I am thrilled when their reader inserts are obviously a person of color. I am especially ecstatic when I find Black or Brown writers who write the lead as Black and Brown. It brings joy — actual joy — to my heart when I see my Black and Brown BTS friends find themselves in stories about their faves.
Also — aren’t you bored? Aren’t you weary of always reading the same experiences? The same ideas? Don’t you notice that your worldview is so limited? Don’t you long to get into the head of people who aren’t like you perhaps in phenotype and how the world perceives you — but are like you in so many other ways that matter?
And if you’ve never noticed the lack of stories featuring people of color — why not?
No, really. Why not?
Does this mean white BTS fans shouldn’t write fan fiction?
The way I want to sigh at this question.
No, this does not mean white BTS fans shouldn’t write fan fiction. This is a false dichotomy.
What I want are more stories. Especially stories featuring people of color, people of varying abilities, people of varying backgrounds and identities — written by those very same people. Of course, I want white BTS fans to see themselves represented. This is not the issue.
It is not an issue of or but of and — and also, of how. The how is important — particularly if you are writing people who are historically and systematically marginalized and disenfranchised and you are not part of that community.
What can you do to support BTS fanfic writers of color?
Truly, I hate articles with trite takeaways and to-dos. It feels so cringe and corny — and also, no one likes to feel as if they’re begging (or a token). However, I do recognize that many of us would like to support BTS fanfic authors of color but don’t know how to start.
And thus, here are some ways you can support writers of color:
1) Follow more writers of color
Check out my article BTS Fanfic Writers of Color You Need to Read ASAP for a starting off point. Ask your moots for recommendations. People are always happy to share their favorite authors!
2) Use your platform to amplify fics by writers of color
Recommend. Share. Bookmark. Leave kudos or hearts. Leave comments. Reblog — don’t just heart — their fics and masterlists on tumblr. Add them to your compilation lists. (You can also post links to AO3 on your tumblr or whatever social media you prefer to use.)
3) Contribute to their ko-fi or Patreon
If you are able, consider tipping folks or supporting them monetarily. Writing is lonely work — and often, finances can prevent writers from pursuing it full-time. Every bit helps.
4) Do the work to decolonize your worldview
Diversify your regular reading list. Decolonize your media in general. Expand your worldview and listen if readers and commenters tell you if your fic is problematic or hurtful. (They don’t have to tell you — and their feedback takes a lot of emotional labor.)
5) Help actively dismantle white supremacy and fight anti-Blackness
Seriously. If you see racist or harmful tropes in fics, point them out or remove it from your own work. Learn about anti-racist work and apply that to your life.
Why can’t you just chill out? It’s just fanfic.
Yeah, I get it. It’s just fanfic.
Why should you have to do so much work? But also, why shouldn’t you? I — and millions of readers of color — labor to simply survive in an environment hostile to our very existence. We are constantly reminded that we are invisible — while participating in a fandom for seven men of color. That hardly seems fair either.
And also I mean, I’d really like to , but like, I can’t erase my race and the way I experience the world because America just won’t let a bitch forget.