by ghee dragon
If you’re a fan of k-pop, or the broader Hallyu wave, you’ll be familiar with the criticisms from black fans about ongoing racism in the industry and from Asian celebrities in general. Just recently there was Jay Park’s ill-conceived MV for “DNA,” colorism on Single’s Inferno, and Awkwafina directly dismissing claims of cultural appropriation. There are plenty of other examples and I’d love to cover them in future editions of the newsletter, however, for this one we’re gonna talk about the colorism on Single’s Inferno.
- Number one, we are going to name the broader culture of white supremacy and white skin superiority and talk about its place on the show and in our lives. To start, this culture of global capitalism and white superiority forces us to learn race and even mold ourselves into conduits of racism, in order to avoid the culture’s inherent violence and shunning. As a rule of thumb, if you have a bank account or pay rent, you are not exempt from this.
- Number two, we are all racist and colorist because we all exist and must survive in said culture. We are not going to judge the Single’s Inferno contestants as having unique moral failings because that would make no sense and make us the type of self-righteous assholes that superiority is all about.
- Number three, Single’s Inferno is a product created by Netflix and people working with their money. It exists to make money and deliver entertaining propaganda directly into our faces. This is not a unique quality of this show but of basically all entertainment so just relax and make whatever peace you need to with it before continuing.
Ok, so let’s recap real quick. Multiple guys on the show said they prefer light skin. One guy called one of the girls “so white and pure.” There are a ton of other colorist and racist remarks and indicators on the show but to avoid turning this into the most unnecessary Ph.D. dissertation of all time we’ll focus on those comments as examples that are good enough.
Look, there’s a lot of homogeneity on the show, and that’s no accident. In entertainment, we are basically always watching the lifestyles of the rich and famous or the lifestyles of the poor-as-imagined-by-the-rich-and-famous. That way, all the examples we are flooded with are as narrow as possible and reinforce the dominant cultural principles and values so that we continue to internalize them as deeply as possible and make them our own.
Basically, all the contestants on Single’s Inferno are from the upper crust social class of South Korea. It’s fine, but that’s what it is. So we can’t expect much in the way of radical politics or questioned values because honestly, none of these contestants has ever had it hard enough to need to reevaluate their own beliefs and attachments to power and privilege. Also fine, that’s pretty common.
So when they say racist ass shit, why is it a big deal? They got called out, so what, the people who called them out were right in this case and of course, every one of these shows is going to have racist shit in it. So honestly, I didn’t bat an eye when I was watching the show. But what ended up pissing me off was all the bullshit from Netflix and South Korean English press.
DJ PLO shared that second article in the slack and the further I read on the more annoyed I became.
I find the article, and generally a lot of the discussion about the topic of “colorism in Asia” to be defensive and gas-lighty. The article starts off contradicting itself in saying that light skin was associated with the upper class and power historically but then goes on to say that light skin in Korea doesn’t have anything to do with social class. What 🥴
I think the truth is that regardless of past preferences, today white skin superiority is global (even in my Arab family we align ourselves with white culture as a ‘model minority’) and kpop has proven to us time and time again that it is heavily influenced by and emulates white superiority (e.g. more and more songs coming out only in English, BTS Grammy chasing, kdramas on netflix etc). It’s absurd to pretend that in this day and age light skin preference has nothing to do with race. If anything the fact that “chubbiness” is no longer prized as beauty in Korea is a clear indicator that the current light skin beauty standards are a reflection of the present. And the present is that South Korea wants to secure more power in global capitalism by assimilating as hard as possible to white culture and adopting it in order to build a stronger relationship to American hegemony and business.
It’s impossible to separate beauty standards and power dynamics. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder but is actually just signals of power, wealth, and status. If anything, white supremacy has reinforced and given new life to the light skin preference of the past and this should be reckoned with.
We need to reckon with it inside our own bodies and “personal preferences” and also in our institutions which are all now built off of racism and racial exploitation. However, instead of the dignity of that kind of dialogue, we get dodging of the the issue through a hand wave of culture differences i.e. “Koreans have a different culture; any critique about racism is proof that the speaker just doesn’t understand Korean culture.” With the successful dodging completed, the writers never have to go into what the actual relevant cultural differences actually are in detail and why they are encouraged. Of course culture differences exist but are used in super shady bad faith by the Netflix executive and the Korea JoongAng Daily article
For example, it’s a straight up lie that Korean people have been homogenously light skinned and a single ethnic group throughout history, (so therefore “they don’t see race” as the article claims). 🤣🤣🤣🤣 What a classic line. That’s like when my birth country of Egypt tries to pretend there are no gay people there. Give me a break. Instead of calling these types of criticisms unfair (even though they are super obvious and basic), what’s truly unfair is that, as people of color, especially dark sinned people, we are never given the dignity of a hard introspection and whole hearted rejection of racism and white supremacy culture. Instead our subhuman-ness and the lesser value of our lives continues to be explained away with dodges and half-truths.
Fuck netflix, fuck greedy and racist ass hallyu companies too, and fuck pretending like South Korea or anybody is not racist. First step is admitting you have a goddamn problem.
P.S. by the way, if you haven’t seen Jin Taek’s chest hair it’s worth watching just for that.