So, Angry K-pop Fan got an Ask in concerns with the beginning of MBLAQ’s song “It’s War” containing a snippet of a Malcom X speech, the question being whether or not the usage was appropriate. Angry K-pop Fan, while being bothered by the usage of the quote but not knowing completely how to answer, posed the question for followers to write a response.
So to answer: HELL NO.
From white boys using Nelson Mandela quotes to try to derail people from calling them out for their gross racism, to white middle class socialists twisting a Frederick Douglass speech to make it about (more white-friendly) class oppression when it was actually about anti-United States nationalism and black enslavement, there is a long and offensive history of non-black people taking out of context, twisting, misconstruing, and appropriating racialized black radical language and rage for their own benefit, a privilege black folks themselves are hardly allowed to have, given how often civil rights and radical leaders have been ignored, erased, discredited, murdered, or unjustly thrown to rot in prisons.
In comparison, “It’s War” and MBLAQ’s music in general, is far, far from radical or serious in the least. “It’s War” is another typical k-pop concept with love and guns and the girl perpetually being the object, the possession, the target, the catalyst of male aggression and machismo.* Which OK, not the deepest of subject matter sure, but that’s just fine. It’s fun to listen and dance to, the concept is strong & aesthetically really pleasing, and the MBLAQ boys are fine as hell and are obviously talented performers. That’s what Kpop is all about and they should stick to that**. What brings it to another totally-not-cool level is when there’s such blatant appropriation of a quote of this nature solely for a boy band hit single.
Now, are these quotes and people’s works completely off bounds? Not at all. The thing is, it all depends on the context and the people saying it. POC referring to radical anti-racist efforts have every right to be quoting a radical anti-racists, for example.
There’s even a place for usage in pop music. There is a huge difference between say, a hip hop group like Dead Prez using Malcom X quotes in the beginning of a song, and a pop group like MBLAQ doing so. Dead Prez is are an independent, radical, political, anti-white supremacy/Western hegemony & Imperialism African American hip hop duo who hone & create their own music and MBLAQ is a Korean boy band who merely perform and sing concepts and songs created for them, songs and concepts of the most topical, vapid, and inane nature.
Again, it isn’t that I don’t like fun and mindless pop songs. Obviously, I do. I just know there has to be a level of self-realization, acknowledgement, and respect coming from aesthetics-driven, radio hit-making, chart-topping, trend-focused & driven acts and genres.
If a Western artist of equal frivolity or pop culture status as MBLAQ did this, I’d be just as uncomfortable with it. Though, given Kpop’s track record with horribly disrespecting, exotifiying, and appropriating African American culture, I can’t help but feel even more personally affronted and bothered by it.
*Tired, basic, sexist concept much?
**Except for that sexism stuff. That can stop, too.
And this is why FemiNoonas exist. I feel ashamed for not being able to think about it deeper. Thank you for a thorough explanation - I definitely learned something today.
“….the girl perpetually being the object, the possession, the target, the catalyst of male aggression and machismo.” Oh my goodness i couldn’t agree more… not to mention there was alot of plot holes (although this is the same music video with curving bullets …. trolol) though I don’t have any further commentary on Malcolm X’s speech since it’s all been cleverly acknowledged above.
Seriously though great post, everyone read it.