WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — K-Pop sensation BTS visited the White House on Tuesday to speak with President Joe Biden about combating the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans — bringing superstar heat to a sad and scary topic.
Band members J-Hope, RM, Suga, Jungkook, V, Jin, and Jimin joined White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at her briefing with reporters on the final day of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Jimin said the group has been “devastated by the recent surge” of crime and intolerance against Asian Americans that has persisted since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is nothing wrong with being different,” Suga said through a translator, “Equality begins when we open up and accept all of our differences.” V said that “everyone has their own story.”
“We hope that today is another step towards understanding and respecting each and every one as a valuable person,” V added.
The members of the group were dressed in black suits and ties and took turns briefly appearing on the podium. BTS was scheduled to have a private meeting in the Oval Office with Biden later on Tuesday.
Since their debut in 2013, BTS has received worldwide recognition for their members’ music and activity, including performances at the United Nations. The group topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart three times in 2020 and have been nominated for renowned music awards such as the Grammy, Billboard Music Awards, and MTV Video Music Awards.
The normally cramped briefing room at the White House was even more crowded than usual as reporters arriving to cover BTS filled the aisles along rows of seats set aside for outlets that regularly attend the event. Not known for attracting large audiences in the middle of the day, the White House’s livestream drew over 230,000 viewers before the event even started.
After the band members spoke and their comments were translated, the reporters began to ask them questions, but Jean-Pierre, who had previously said that the members would not answer questions, intervened, saying, “We’re going to go.” This prompted the BTS members to say “I’m sorry” as they left the podium.
After the panel was Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, who was there to address reporters following Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s meeting with Biden earlier in the day.
“I should go home and tell my kids that BTS opened for me,” Dees joked, adding that he was sure the audience was “just as excited” about the impact of inflation on the US economy as the group.
The scene was funny, but the problem that brought the South Korean group to the White House was different. An increase in hate crimes and discrimination against Asians since 2020 includes the March 2021 murder of eight people at massage parlors in the Atlanta area, including six Asian women.
In the aftermath of the shootings, Asian American organizations across the US organized unity rallies and took to social media to call for an end to the racist attacks. A few days later, BTS tweeted “We stand against racial discrimination” and included the hashtags #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate.
“We condemn violence. You, me and all of us have the right to respect,” BTS wrote at the time. “We will be together”.
On Tuesday, the group thanked their fans, with Jungkook saying, “We’re still surprised that music created by South Korean artists reaches so many people around the world across language and cultural barriers.”
“We believe that music is always an amazing and wonderful unifier of all things,” he added.
Jean-Pierre said the group hopes to “combat the racism, xenophobia and intolerance” faced by Asian communities. She noted that Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and issued an executive order to restore the White House’s Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander initiative while helping advance research to prevent racism against such communities.
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