BTS in the (White) House

BTS’ recent trip to the White House demonstrated once again that the group’s global impact reaches far beyond their domination of musical charts. The group opened the White House’s May 31 press briefing before entering the Oval Office for a conversation with President Joe Biden. Their visit capped off several events held by the Biden administration to commemorate AANHPI (Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander) Heritage Month and combat the recent rise in anti-Asian racism and hate crimes. ARMY Magazine breaks down the significance of this historic moment.


Setting the Scene for “Beyond The Scene”


The impact of BTS’ visit was clear even before the septet entered the White House briefing room in matching black suits last Tuesday. The room was far more crowded than usual for White House press conferences. Over 310,000 people logged into the YouTube livestream (compared to a mere 16,000 at the previous week’s briefing). This level of engagement was unprecedented but unsurprising; after all, the administration’s decision to invite the boys was partially inspired by the group’s 2021 joint statement on Twitter condemning anti-Asian racism, which was the most retweeted post of last year.


RM opened their speech in English, introducing the group and thanking the administration. Each of the other members followed with remarks in Korean that acknowledged the diversity of ARMY, affirmed the unifying power of music, and encouraged listeners to “open up and embrace all of our differences” to achieve equality. The group took no questions, but did smile and bow when reporter William Moon shouted out, “BTS Fighting!” and “감사합니다 (Kamsahamnida/thank you)” as they exited.


The Power of Representation


Moon’s words of support, though brief, underscore the deep impact of BTS’ visit. As the journalist discussed in a later article, “I was so moved to see Korean singers being welcomed at the White House that I screamed.” Speaking loudly can get press members banned from the briefing room for up to three years, so why did BTS’ appearance make a professional journalist take this kind of risk?


It can be difficult to describe being Asian in America, an existence often fraught with struggle and pride. Of course, there isn’t one “Asian American” experience; the community is remarkably diverse, even more so when including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. What brings AANHPIs together more than anything, however, is a shared sense of “otherness” within a country that often excludes everyone who isn’t white. Almost all Asian Americans will face the paradox of being told they need to “assimilate” by getting rid of their language, food, and traditions while knowing that no matter how much they do, they’ll still be asked: “So where are you really from?”


This is why watching BTS speak Korean unapologetically at the White House because their work has celebrated and uplifted Korean culture worldwide was so powerful for so many Asian Americans. At a time when many hate crimes rely on the presumption that all Asians are foreign (and thus spreaders of the “China virus”), the group’s presence sends a powerful message: you don’t have to speak English, or even hold American citizenship, to matter and deserve equity in the United States.


On Global Anti-Racism


That being said, there were some who were more skeptical about the group’s visit as being a mere publicity stunt, as none of the seven members identify as Asian American and all grew up in a country where most people share their identity and culture. However, it’s worth noting that conversations about American racism have always been, and continue to be, global in nature. Prominent anti-racist advocates, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Yuri Kochiyama, have long demonstrated that liberation for everyone requires those who are oppressed in the United States to stand in solidarity with those struggling for equality abroad. As both these leaders and BTS themselves have pointed out, many of the strategies and bigger societal systems used to enable racism in the United States are replicated in other countries, often by the same or similar oppressors. After all, the US-Korean relations began when “the self-proclaimed disinterested and peace-loving Americans had introduced themselves to Korea by killing its people” in the 1800s after refusing to respect Korea’s sovereignty and trade policies, a pattern that has occurred and continues to repeat itself around the globe.


Equality “Yet to Come”


America, like many countries, is a complicated nation. The US’ focus on freedom and equality has fundamentally changed the globe, but issues such as anti-Asian racism are the tip of a large oppressive iceberg in which the US government itself is deeply entangled. BTS’ visit represents an important first step in representation, one that will hopefully be backed with important policy changes that provide resources and support to Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders domestically and globally.


Written by: Mariko

Edited by: Ren

Designed by: Martina


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