4 things we can learn from K.A.R.D’s racist incident in Brazil

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[Disclosure: This article was written from the perspective of a born and raised Brazilian who still resides in the country.]

While in Brazil during their first tour overseas in early July, co-ed group K.A.R.D had a busy schedule that included lots of interviews for magazines, and appearances on Youtube channels and a TV show called Programa do Raul Gil (The Raul Gil Show). What was supposed to be an amazing experience for K.A.R.D, and their first TV appearance in the country, ended up catching more attention than expected due to a racist incident involving the host and members B.M., Somin, Jiwoo, and J. Seph.

After surprising a group of kids who were appearing on show to perform a dance cover of K.A.R.D’s song “Don’t Recall,” the K-pop group was interviewed by Raul Gil, the host of the show, with the help of a translator. Although the questions were as simple as asking how long they had been on the road since the tour began, things got rough when Gil interacted with the crowd and made inappropriate remarks. Invoking Asian stereotypes, Gil pulled on his eyelids and made jokes about how K.A.R.D can’t open their eyes, and impersonated what he perceived as a Japanese accent.

The group’s appearance on the show trended on Twitter, due to Brazilian fans’ excitement over watching a K-pop act on a local TV show, which is a rare occurrence. But after American media outlets reported on the episode, Korean fans took note of what happened, though it seemed like K.A.R.D didn’t even notice since the translator didn’t translate the racist jokes. A war between Brazilian and Korean fans then ensued on Twitter, with each side pointing out previous racist behaviours of the other, mostly through memes and surprisingly aggressive comments.

So now that the dust has calmed down, it’s time to discuss the issue a little bit more seriously. As a Brazilian and a K-pop fan, this is what I believe we all can learn from this unfortunate event.

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1. Racism Doesn’t Have To Be Aggressive & Deliberate To Be Valid

Sadly, some people just did not understand why Gil’s behaviour towards K.A.R.D was problematic. Some people said “racism” is a word too strong to describe what happened; others even said that he’d only be racist if he had directly insulted K.A.R.D; and some thought he was just being funny.

But at the end of the day, as much as he was only trying to be funny and didn’t seem malicious, here’s the thing: whenever you reduce someone to a stereotype based on a generalization of their race or automatically make assumptions of someone based on their race or, for whatever reason, do not give someone the right to be who they are just because you think they are a certain way due to their biological features, you are being racist. Comedy is irrelevant; jokes can be racist. It doesn’t have to be violent or even ill hearted because racism is embedded in societies systematically.

It might sound obvious and unnecessary, but nowadays there are still people who think racism occurs only with black people and no one else! But that’s simply not true. Both Brazil and Korea are countries whose people often get discriminated, stereotyped, and ridiculed —although also loved and praised by many, too— but one behaviour does not cancel out the other. So, even with all the love and gifts K.A.R.D received on Gil’s show, they shouldn’t had been belittled to common Asian stereotypes.

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by Ana Clara Ribeiro

2. Yes, There Is Racism In Brazil

Like many other colonized countries, miscegenation played a major role in the formation of Brazilian people. First came the European colonizers when they took over the native lands of the indigenous Brazilians, which then brought the forced influx of Africans due to the slave trade. Some time later, people from Japan and the Middle East migrated. The diversity of cultures and ethnicities makes it difficult to pinpoint one’s race in Brazil.

Even so, racism is still a serious problem in the country. Living in a multicultural environment doesn’t absolve Brazilian people from racist beliefs, unfortunately. Even though we do not like being confused with other Latinx people (seeing ourselves as Latinxs is an entirely different discussion) nor being mistaken for Spanish speakers, some of us sometimes perpetuate stereotypes about other races and cultures too — even within Brazil itself and our own people.

For example, Brazil nowadays has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, but Japanese people and their descendants are still often victims of racist attitudes from some native Brazilians who think “all Asians look the same” and make jokes about the way they look, act, and talk. I’m not of proud of stating that, but the so-called “jokes” made by Gil with K.A.R.D are a perfect reflection of this.

3. Yes, There Is Racism In Korea Too

If you follow Korean entertainment news, you certainly can recall one or two (or three, or four!) episodes in which Korean TV shows featured black face as a gag— those are well documented. The Twitter war over the incident in Brazil, however, exposed other nuances of Korean racism, when Korean fans insulted Brazilians.

Brazilians fired back by pointing how fighting racism with racism makes no sense.
Of course, the behaviour of those Korean Twitter users, in addition to other racist patterns frequently seen in Korean media, is not an excuse for Gil’s actions, nor those from Brazilian fans who made disrespectful comments. However, since the subject here is racism, it is important to take an honest look at how this issue may be rooted in diversity, or the lack of it, and how being a victim of racism does not always prevent you from reproducing racist speeches as well.

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4. Respect & Education Is A Must For Both K-pop Acts & The Fandom

It’s really unfortunate that this incident might have left a dirty mark on the overall good experience of K.A.R.D in Brazil, and I personally believe that we can get through this with accountability. However, we all should be aware that racism and other culturally related issues can probably happen again, especially now that K-pop is getting so much worldwide recognition and so many acts are touring more countries than they used to. K.A.R.D alone will come back to South America for another leg of their tour, and will also visit Europe and the States.

So, for both K-pop acts and foreign fans, respect, education, and acknowledgement can go a long way in order to avoid the typical problems that might happen when you put two different cultures together. Right in the beginning of the Wild K.A.R.D Tour, for example, the group was involved in a controversy for supposedly have said the N-word during a performance of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” which later was found not to be true. The members clarified the incident at a later show and stated that they would never say anything that would offend fans — a very rare action in K-pop where artists almost never properly apologize for problematic behaviour. (Though we are seeing it a bit more frequently as of late).

It makes me wonder how many K-pop acts are prepared to deal with other cultures, since many artists still appear to be ignorant about how offensive such attitudes can be. But, since I’m speaking from the perspective of a fan and consumer, I can only hope that we, the fans, can improve our sense of cultural intelligence too, and not perpetuate the same problematic behaviours just because we were offended first.

As a Brazilian, I do not think Brazil owes an apology to K.A.R.D, because Gil’s actions do not represent the feelings and beliefs of the entire country. For the most part, K.A.R.D was treated with love and respect during their stay in Brazil, which, by the way, has one of their largest fanbase of supporters.

That being said, I hope the group does not take this incident as a pattern to judge our country, just like I hope people here and everywhere will stop using stereotypes and jokes to mistreat Koreans and all other races. We have a long way to go and it definitely isn’t something we can fix overnight, but we can at least start by acknowledging our own problematic actions and keep educating ourselves. After all, we all are fans of foreign artists, and said artists have foreign fans who contribute to their success, so we should always strive to understand one another’s culture.

What’s your take on the racist incident K.A.R.D experienced? What did you think of it? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.