Recently I had a friend ask me about the name of this blog, The Melanin Ajumma, and why I had chosen such a name. Being Black American, she understood the melanin part of the name, but not being familiar with Korean Culture, she had no idea the reasoning behind Ajumma. It then hit me, that just maybe she’s not the only one who reads this blog and not fully understand the idea and the meaning behind the name.
The Blacker the Berry
The Blacker the Berry is a saying or terminology that is used quite frequently in the Black American community. It comes in part from the 1929 novel of the same name that tells the story of an African American young woman learning to become comfortable in the darkness of her skin, aka her melanin. At times her darker melanin is seen as a negative and gives way to discrimination. Being apart of the world of the Korean Entertainment community can also give way to feelings of judgement, misunderstanding and discrimination.
As some of you know, at least those that have read the “About Me”, I am Black American aka African American. With that comes a lot of pride and also a lot of tribulations, especially in the K-Pop community. Although there is a lot of love and community within the various fandoms, there have been many times in which POC’s (People of Color) were not always respected or welcomed for voicing their opinions. POC’s have been bullied when speaking out about how they feel regarding an idol or group using what is at times perceived as Black American culture in songs, music videos or stage performances. Some non POC’s would say that Black fans were “overreacting” or making everything “about race”. As you can imagine being dismissed, bullied or invalidated in such a manor is not only disrespectful, but also hurtful. To be told that your opinions about how your culture is being used or represented can be discouraging at best, and can make you feel like maybe you don’t “belong”. Although these incidences do not happen frequently, it happens often enough to make some POC’s feel unwelcomed and that their voice doesn’t matter.
I do understand that there is a fine line between appreciation and appropriation. I have myself had long and heated discussions on fansites and online groups, specifically for Black fans of Korean Dramas and K-Pop about this very topic. We don’t always agree, so I can just imagine how some idols or agencies may also be confused by the fine line between the two. What is missing is the respectful conversation of what it means to not only be Black in this world but what it means when others mimic, use or represent a culture that is not their own. For many reasons this is why I started this blog, to be able to have a judgement free voice and create a judgement free zone for others. To give insight and perspective to topics that on social media may be ignored or become incendiary.
No Explanations Needed
I had a non-POC friend of mine, who is a big fan of Asian dramas, ask about the Facebook groups I was apart of for fans of Korean Dramas. I told her it was a community for Black fans to discuss dramas from our perceptive. At first she seemed taken aback that the group was so specific. She didn’t ask me to explain why, she accepted it and moved on. Please understand, she has friends of various ethnicities and cultures, so that could be the reason why she implicitly understood why there was such a group. Yet, for some, it may seem off putting or discriminatory to have a group that is specifically for Black fans. The purpose is not to exclude, there are members from other POC groups (Latinx, East Asian and South Asian, etc), however it is about creating a safe place for understanding and discussion. There is a certain commonality and unexplained understanding of the joy and ultimately frustration of seeing a black character in a drama to just be disappointed by the all too often stereotype being displayed. When you watch Season 2 of Penthouse and see black characters on screen to immediately realize they are playing the bad guys. Or in Itaewon Class when character Kim Toni is turned away at a club because he is Black and the club prohibits Blacks or rather Black Americans into the club. This scene from Itaewon Class alone turned into several days long discussion about being Black in Korea, especially from those that currently live there or use to live there. When the experience of being Black in a drama, song, MV or just in general comes up it’s a cause for deep discussion and sometimes you just want to talk about it with others in the POC community who just inherently understand.
Ajumma (아줌마) means a “middle-aged woman, ma’am or madam”, and can be used by anyone, but with caution. It originates from “ajumeoni (아주머니)” to refer “female relatives” who are one generation older, such as 숙모 (sukmo or the wife of your father’s younger brother), 고모 (gomo or your father’s sister), and 이모 (emo or your mother’s sister), which are all translated as “aunt” in English.- Linguasia.com
I have often asked myself , when did I become the “Old One”. I still don’t feel or look my age, especially when I’m engrossed in the wonderful would of Korean Entertainment. For the past 5 years I found myself laughing, crying, screaming and fangirling with fans 20 years my junior. Since most of my interactions are online I don’t realize it until I go to a meetup or concert. The first time I realized my “Ajumma” status was at a Got7 concert. Most times I go to K-Pop concerts solo since most of my circle of friends are not K-pop fans. If you have ever been to a K-Pop concert, you know that it is quite easy to get into conversations with fans while waiting on line to either get into the venue, waiting for merch or waiting to get into the bathroom. I always say “you’re alone, but not really” when you go to concerts because there are always ways to make a new friend, even if just for the night. However, I realized that at times I was one of the oldest fans around. One time I volunteered to watched the stuff of two young girls who wanted to go buy snacks and were afraid to leave their jackets and merch. I told them don’t worry go ahead, I’ll watch their things. I later heard them call their mom and tell them I was watching out for them. It hit me then, I was the like the neighborhood “Auntie” or Ajumma that looked out for the children in the community. I was the one who these young girls saw as being around the same age as their mother who “took care” of them.
Being an older fan in any fandom can be a little difficult. First, some only see fans of K-Pop as being young teenage girls who have raging hormones and crying for the “pretty” Asian boys. At my very first K-Pop concert (Winner), the bartender at the venue asked me if I was her with my daughters. She just assumed that I was dragged by my children, and that was the only reason I was willingly there. I quickly and proudly exclaimed that I was there just for me. That I was the fan and then continued a 15 minute conversation giving her some recommendations of Korean Hip Hop and R&B groups to listen to.
Some think that the multibillion dollar business of Korean Entertainment is fueled by the dollars of those under 20. That they are spending the money given to them by their parents or saving up their allowances, for some that is true. Yet, a large piece of that spending power in Korean Entertainment are fans 30 and older. Some of them are parents who are supporting their child’s interest. Some are revisiting their youth and enjoying music that’s apart of their culture and they loved growing up. And, some are like me, single middle aged women with no kids and out just enjoying life.
Want to know more about the specifics of using the term Ajumma, please read this informative and entertaining article by Linguasia.com https://linguasia.com/ajumma
The Creation of The Melanin Ajumma
I started this blog almost three years ago in the summer of 2019. I did so as a way to express myself without limitations, as an older, mature fan of Korean culture and entertainment; who also happens to be Black. It was meant as a platform for other POC fans and those of all cultures and ethnicities to be able to learn, commune and grow. It was created to have a free voice, to share opinions and be heard, even if that meant that others may not always understand or agree. I wanted a safe space for melanated fans to see themselves and be heard. I wanted to explore the commonality between the cultures and have respectful conversations. To show connections between my own Black American culture and heritage, while exploring Korean culture. The fact that both are so similar in their experiences and how both have had to survive during and after times of immense oppression.
A friend of mine really brought into focus why it was important to start this blog. She came with me to my first KCon NY in 2019. She is not into Korean Entertainment what so ever, but she loves to learn and experience new things. So, she came along with myself and my friend who started me on this journey. She saw how the community really respects each other for their differences, whether that’s culture, ethnicity or physique. She saw how easy it was to get into conversations about almost any topic that involved music, movies, dramas or food. She told me a few days later how much she enjoyed herself and the experience. But, mostly she enjoyed how she saw people of all ages, ethnicity and physique enjoy themselves the way they did. How comfortable and confident every one seemed and that left a lasting impression on her that she still talks about years later. I created The Melanin Ajumma to be an extension of that experience. Another format for others to “find their tribe“, communicate, commiserate and celebrate all that is so wonderful and at times not so wonderful about this community. Either way, I’m in it till the wheels fall off. Hop on, buckle up and enjoy the ride…… Weeeeeeee……
Until next time….