Global K-Pop sensation BTS closed out Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month today with its first visit to the White House. The group joined press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at a briefing—an event that’s part of the Biden Administration’s response to combating Asian hate crimes in the U.S. “It’s not wrong to be different,” one of the group’s members, Suga, said during the event. “I think equality begins when we open up and embrace all of our differences.”
BTS, which stands for “Bangtan Boys” or “Beyond the Scene,” consists of seven members: Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. Named TIME’s Entertainer of the Year in 2020, BTS is the most successful group in the Korean-Pop industry, and the members are no stranger to using their platform for advocacy. “We were devastated by the recent surge of hate crimes, including Asian American hate crimes,” singer-dancer Jimin said during today’s briefing. “To put a stop to this and to support the cause, we’d like to take this opportunity to voice ourselves once again.”
In the last few years, the group’s emerging presence in the music industry has run parallel to an uptick in Asian hate crimes in the U.S., a country with a strong “BTS Army” fandom presence. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 339 percent nationwide in 2021, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
“People of all communities within the greater API movement should come out in full force to say, we’re not going to take this,” Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit that tracks hate and discrimination against Asians in the U.S., recently told TIME. “We are Americans, just like everyone else. We may not speak English in the same way. We may eat food that’s different at home. We may worship in different venues, but we are still American.”
Since taking office, Biden has had to respond to the spike in Asian hate crimes. He signed the COVID-19 Crimes Act last May, which aimed to improve state and local law enforcement’s access to hate crime reports, and recently returned to the U.S. from his first presidential trip to Asia.
The group members have been vocal about their own experience with discrimination, tweeting in March 2021 to their more than 40 million followers: “We recall moments when we faced discrimination as Asians. We have endured expletives without reason and were mocked for the way we look. We were even asked why Asians spoke in English.”
The group shared sentiments in both Korean and English today, before leaving a reportedly packed briefing room to join Biden for a closed-press meeting in the oval office.
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