Why BTS speaking about anti-Asian hate at the White House made perfect sense

New Taipei City, Taiwan — Global K-pop icons BTS traveled to the White House on Tuesday to meet with President Joe Biden and speak to a packed briefing room of journalists about anti-Asian hate. On the last day of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the seven members of the boy band — RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook — took turns at the podium to voice their support for the AANHPI community, condemn anti-Asian hate and promote inclusivity.  

While the many reporters present and more than 300,000 viewers streaming on YouTube were clearly excited about the group’s presence and involvement with the campaign against anti-Asian violence, others, such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, were less than impressed. On his show, Carlson took a quick jab at the Biden administration for getting “a Korean pop group to discuss anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States.”  

By raising an eyebrow at the involvement of BTS in a campaign against anti-Asian hate in the U.S., Carlson and like-minded critics gave themselves away as being ignorant of the group’s history.

His comment may have been aimed at the president, but it caught the attention of the group’s fandom, known as the BTS Army, who quickly flooded social media to push back against Carlson’s dismissive comment.  

By raising an eyebrow at the involvement of BTS in a campaign against anti-Asian hate in the U.S., Carlson and like-minded critics gave themselves away as being ignorant of the group’s history of speaking up about social issues and donating to social causes, even ones pertaining specifically to the U.S. There was no reason to question why BTS was at the White House. 

Following last year’s Atlanta spa shootings that killed eight people, including six Asian women, BTS posted an impassioned statement in both Korean and English to its official Twitter account denouncing anti-Asian hate, violence and racial discrimination of any form. In the statement, the group briefly mentioned their own experiences as victims of anti-Asian racism, making it clear that this was an issue particularly close to their hearts. 

“We recall moments when we faced discrimination as Asians,” the statement said. “We have endured expletives without reason and were mocked for the way we look. We were even asked why Asians spoke in English.”

The tweet became the most retweeted tweet of 2021, with approximately 1 million retweets and 2.5 million likes worldwide.  

In 2020, the group made a $1 million donation to Black Lives Matter shortly after the death of George Floyd. Standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter supporters, the group posted to its Twitter account using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.  

There is no denying that by being from South Korea, BTS may not have had the same experiences as those in the AANHPI community who grew up in the U.S. But this does not mean that the band cannot understand what people who have experienced anti-Asian hate, or any racially motivated hate for that matter, have gone through and continue to go through, nor does it preclude the band’s members ​from being allies and lending support to such an important cause.  

Unlike some of the group’s peers in the K-pop industry who are generally advised to stay mum about social issues, BTS is among the most prominent of K-pop artists who have spoken out about such issues. This, some have said, is in part a result of the group’s large number of international fans who have urged the group to use its platform to shine light on these issues, but it is also because of BTS’ own experiences with racism.

This personal connection to the issue, coupled with its sense of responsibility and love for its fans around the world, seems to be what continues to motivate the group to speak out and act to effect social change. And it is what makes the band members the right spokespeople for the issue of anti-Asian hate — even in the U.S.  

BTS has a massive global fanbase with fans of different races and nationalities. So, when the K-pop superstars speak and address their BTS Army, as they did during their speech at the White House, they are speaking to Americans as well as to people from all over the world. Their message to promote Asian inclusion, diversity and representation is one that will give hope to their Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander fans and inspire non-AANHPI fans to join the movement against anti-Asian hate.  

When it comes to changing social attitudes and culture, a good message is not enough. A message is only as strong as who delivers it, and how. As artists, the members of BTS have always genuinely addressed the issues young people go through and conveyed a message of hope in their music, which is one of the reasons their fans connect with the group so deeply. Personally, I got through a particularly rough bout of homesickness when I lived in Hong Kong by listening to the band’s “Map of the Soul: 7” album and watching its hilarious behind-the-scenes videos. 

As BTS became more prominent globally, it partnered with UNICEF for the “Love Myself” campaign to end violence against children and teens so that they may lead safe lives. The band has also spoken at the United Nations General Assembly three times about a number of important world issues such as poverty, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. What the group has said and done has resonated with its fans, and the BTS Army has modeled many of its own projects after the group’s philanthropic efforts and causes.    

Anti-Asian hate is a global issue, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was only fitting that Biden, the leader of the free world, invited BTS — undeniably a global force to be reckoned with — to speak out about the issue and, it is hoped, make things better in every corner of the world.