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Fatou Samba, The Only Black Woman in K-Pop

What her presence in the industry means to the black community

By DamilolaPublished 3 years ago 3 min read
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Fatou Samba

K-pop’s popularity is one that can’t be denied even in western culture today. From BTS to Blackpink, this genre of music originating from South Korea is one that has taken over the charts and become a huge part of the music industry.

From the cult-like following, to the fashion inspirations, to the thousands of K-drama shows on Netflix, millions of fans are obsessed with the South Korean entertainment industry, and to some, it’s become a way of life in itself.

Something that most people don’t know, however, is whilst K-pop is known to have originated from South Korea, there are a lot of K-pop elements that are inspired by African-American music. From wearing braids, to K-hip hop, to rapping, the presence of African-American music in K-pop is very strong. But even with all of this and the fact that there are many African-Americans born and living in Korea, there is barely any representation of black people in both K-drama and K-pop.

Diversity has always been an issue when it comes to the South Korean entertainment industry. One quick look at the successful groups, the training centres and audition videos, it is evident that not only is there no representation of black people, there is also no representation of plus-size women. Everyone is similar in their dress sizes, and South Korean entertainment focuses on slim Asian women as faces of the industry.

There are many cases where women are bullied in the media for gaining weight, and the industry is one with so much pressure attached, that it’s definitely not for the weak-hearted.

Recently, however, Senegalese born Fatou Samba has been announced as the latest member of the Blackswan group, managed by DR music. Whilst Fatou is actually the second woman of African heritage to join the K-pop group, her predecessor Alexandra Reid, after many debates on cultural appropriation and appropriate representation, exited the group in 2017 to pursue a non-K-pop standalone career.

The impact of Fatou’s emergence in an industry dominated by lack of diversity is one that deserves to be in the spotlight.

Fatou is not an inspiration because she’s the chosen black woman in the industry, but because of her presence in a culture that is very prone to criticism and bullying. Whilst her emergence was met with curiosity and applause for diversity, many natives believe that Fatou shouldn’t be part of a K-pop group and neither should any black woman for that matter.

Some argue that K-pop, as indicated by the name, is only for Koreans, but the truth is there are many other members in some of the most successful K-pop groups who aren’t Korean. People of mixed Asian and white heritages are welcome but when a black woman is included, she’s met with heated debates and hate from the industry.

The issue of being the token black girl is one that I relate to a lot. Having found myself in many professional situations where I’ve felt like my actions seemed to be a representation of my culture, feeling like I have to do more to be appreciated, and feeling like one mistake means I have disappointed the black community, like many other black people who have gone through this, I see myself in Fatou.

There’s an increase in pressure when you find yourself as the only woman of colour in a company, I can only imagine the pressure involved when you find yourself as the only woman of colour in an entire industry, a brutal one at that.

Whilst the intentions of DR music in adding Fatou to the group is unclear, the demographics of South Korea includes people of all colours and nationalities, and as such Fatou’s emergence is one that should be seen as progressive, and a step forward into the diversity the industry needs so much.

Fatou’s presence in K-pop brings visibility to the African-American aspects of K-pop music that has been appropriated, and represents the millions of K-pop fans who are of African-American heritage. Today, when a young black girl listens to Blackswan, she can see a part of herself on the screen, in one of the pioneers, who is Fatou Samba.

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About the Creator

Damilola

poet, wanderer, writer.

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