Pre-debut K-Pop group YOURS is very unusual, and not just because of the online voting system set to determine their final lineup. One of the most unique things about YOURS is how one member set out to teach her fellow rookies about cultural appropriation.
In a video uploaded to the YOURS YouTube channel last week, 19-year-old trainee Jia taught her first class on cultural appropriation. Focusing on “Discrimination in Hairstyles”, Jia revealed that the group’s fans (known as MYME) suggested the topic on Discord.
Armed with a webtoon from anti-discrimination advocate and artist Yerong, Jia began by explaining the definition of cultural appropriation.
[Cultural appropriation] is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, and ideas of a people or society. It’s also known as cultural theft.
Next, Jia asked her fellow trainees to think about how the characters in webtoon. The toon depicts a Black woman and her friends watching a television scene featuring appropriative hairstyles.
Knowing the members may think it’s “just a hairstyle“, Jia went on to explain the history of cultural appropriation, showing everyone why it’s wrong to reduce Black hairstyles to “cool” or “hip-hop hair“.
The discrimination still exists in our world.
After discussing discrimination in hairstyles, Jia also talked to her fellow YOURS trainees about why blackface is wrong and how it ties into cultural appropriation.
Blackface is an act of discrimination, so the hairstyle is also an example of discrimination, meaning we must be more careful!
Jia’s lecture also connected the concept of cultural appropriation in the Black community to the struggles Koreans faced under Japanese occupation. After asking her fellow trainees to think about how they would feel in a similar situation, everyone picked up on the concept of appropriation immediately.
During the Japanese occupation period, they tried to erase the Korean culture first, right? Cutting our hair, banning us from using our language… Some people still use [Korean culture] for aesthetic purposes, and we feel hurt, right?
Like all good teachers would, Jia then asked the class to discuss their thoughts on what they’ve learned. 19-year-old Eunseo related the class to her experience training as a dancer. She explained that the older students in her class who dance to hip-hop often appropriate black hairstyles, but that Jia’s class has taught her to be more careful about avoiding discrimination.
17-year-old Juwon shared that they are taught from a young age to respect other people’s cultures, but fail to learn “exactly what other people’s culture is about“. While she already knew some of the things Jia taught that day, other parts of the lecture (such as the history of Black hairstyles) were completely new to her.
Jia ended her class by telling the group that as trainees trying to make it in K-Pop, it’s crucial that everyone learns about discrimination and becomes more aware of the world around them.
We must respect the Black culture. We must be careful and thoughtful. I believe that we have to respect their culture and understand how this culture has been formed. It is not a simple “trend” that we can follow. You have to remember, okay?
Unsurprisingly, viewers were filled with praise for the video. Commenters on YouTube praised the group’s agency, Deep Studio Entertainment, and noted that other K-Pop companies should educate both their idols and their stylists about cultural appropriation.
Many also praised Jia’s maturity and knowledge in handling the topic, as well as how she brought a relatable experience into the class. Linking cultural appropriation to Korean history helped everyone understand and empathize with the topic.
Some did lament that the video should have included more cultures, as many people are unaware that “borrowing” clothing and accessories from other cultures also constitutes appropriation. Since Jia’s class was titled “Cultural Appropriation (1)”, many are hoping the trainees will learn more about the topic in the future.
Early fans of the group are also suggesting more topics for the group to learn about, including the LGBTQIA+ community, world religions, and mental health. But most of all, viewers are hoping that other groups will follow suit and educate themselves about the growing issue of cultural appropriation to avoid hurting anymore international fans.
Watch the full video for yourself here: