On May 31, 2022, the end of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month, the K-pop group BTS came to the White House to discuss the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States with President Joe Biden. This meeting comes days after President Biden returned from his trip to South Korea and Japan to improve cooperation between allies.
During the visit, the group delivered a press briefing and released a video on the @POTUS Twitter handle featuring a discussion with the President. In the discussion, RM, the group’s leader, told President Biden: “We want to say, thank you, sincerely for your decision, such as signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. We just want to be a little help and we truly appreciate the White House and the government’s trying to find solutions.” During the brunt of the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States (from Mid-March 2020 to December 2021), more than 10,000 hate incidents against AAPI persons were reported to the organization Stop AAPI Hate, which the bill seeks to address.
BTS’ visit follows last year, when the group shared a letter detailing their own experiences with racism following a racially motivated shooting in Atlanta. Part of the letter reads “We have endured expletives without reason and were mocked for the way we look. We were even asked why Asians spoke in English,” and included the hashtags #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate.
BTS are also no strangers to breaking AAPI barriers in America. For example, on November 3, 2020, their song “Life Goes On” became the first song sung predominantly in a foreign language to debut at No. 1 in the US Billboard chart’s 62-year history. On November 21, 2021, BTS made history as the first Asian act to win the top prize at the American Music Awards (AMAs), the Artist of the Year award.
While BTS are likely the most high-profile guests to the White House for AAPI heritage month, they were not the only celebrities invited -- other guests included Hayley Kiyoko, Yumi Nu, Richa Moorjani, and more. Additionally, 15% of the Biden administration’s appointees themselves identify as AAPI, and on December 9, 2021, the Biden-Harris White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders officially launched. For context, as of 2019, there are over 21.8 million Asian Americans living in the United States.
BTS’ visit, as well as the Biden administration’s increasing focus on stopping anti-Asian hate crimes demonstrates stopping AAPI hate matters for more than just Asian Americans -- it affects Asians visiting the United States as well. Thus, the issues that affect Asian Americans are not just a local problem, they have global impacts as well.
Kimery Lynch is a Projects Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington. She graduated from the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa with her MA in Asian Studies.