Fulbright Forum – May 30, 2014

Whitney Barr

We Real Cool?
Exploring the Influence of Hip-Hop Consumption on South Korea’s Racial Consciousness

A course taught by Dr. Stephen Knadler at Spelman, titled “Imagining Afro-Asia,” heavily influenced Whitney’s return to Korea as a Fulbright Junior Researcher. Her 2012 seminar paper entitled, “Investigating Images of Korean Women in K-pop and African-American Women in Hip-Hop Culture” ignited her current interest in racial dynamics through the lens of Hip Hop in South Korea.

This research study investigates the influence of Hip Hop (both American and Korean) on Korea’s perception of racial consciousness, and identity through an ethnographic approach. As Korea is becoming more diverse and less homogenous, Koreans are being forced to confront “foreignness” and race. This project does not aim to challenge the authenticity of Hip Hop but more importantly to unfold how Koreans are negotiating race as a result of how they do or do not juxtapose Hip Hop culture and Blackness. Will Hip Hop be the leading agent, in a historically homogenous nation, to encourage diversity, acceptance, and “polyculturalism”? Or does Hip Hop act as a cultural imperialist that encourages a consumption of commodified Blackness? Do Korean men look to Hip Hop to assert masculinity denied to the Asian male body by white supremacy?

Data collection includes the use of interviews, focus groups, and surveys with both consumers and various Hip Hop performers. Chi-squared regression tests are being run to note if there are statistically significant associations between Koreans’ racial attitudes and their exposure to and consumption of Hip Hop media and culture. In order to answer these questions, Whitney spends ample time fully immersing herself with Koreans who consider themselves consumers and/or agents of Hip-Hop music and culture. The researcher’s own intersectional identity, as a Black woman, continues to contribute to her project’s development. Qualitative trends from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and sites of Hip-Hop culture within Korea are also being critically analyzed. She has been advised by Assistant Professor Michael Hurt at Hongik University, and Dr. Hyun Mee Kim, Chair of Cultural Anthropology at Yonsei University. For the remaining duration of this grant, Whitney will continue to collect video recorded interviews and focus group results. If Hip Hop proves to encourage Koreans’ racial consciousness, this written and visual collective intends to serve as a means of unlearning racial stereotypes and provoking necessary dialogue concerning Black-Korean racial tensions.

Whitney D. Barr, a native of Columbia, South Carolina, is a proud 2013 alumna of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia where she majored in English Literature, through the lens of race and gender. She studied Korean at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and Yonsei University in Seoul. During college, Whitney developed a keen interest in the plight of marginalized people internationally and studied abroad in Botswana, South Africa, France, and South Korea Her reputation as a writer for a campus newspaper led her to South Africa where she served as a U.S. Delegate for the 65th African National Congress (ANC) sponsored World Youth Festival in Pretoria, South Africa in 2010. In 2011, under the guidance of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Botswana, she implemented renewable energy sources to support the economic sustainability of women living in rural villages. While in France in 2012, Whitney focused on North Africans’ utilization of Hip Hop as a political means of dealing with racial oppression. During her undergraduate summers, she interned for Coca-Cola Refreshments in Orlando, Florida and successfully penetrated healthier beverages and brand variety into Puerto Rican, Black, and Cuban markets. In the fall of 2013, Whitney became the first Spelman student to study abroad in South Korea at Yonsei. At Yonsei, she took courses concerning Korean language and culture, 19th Century British Literature and international marketing. During her Fulbright grant, she has had the honor of co-MCing, Korea’s arguably first Black History Month Festival in Daegu and to discuss its implications on “1013 Main Street” of Korea’s #1 Foreign Language Radio station, 101.3eFM. Whitney was also featured in an article about racism in the Korean workforce by the Korea Times newspaper. After the completion of her Fulbright grant, she will return to Delta Air Lines as a Commercial Strategy Analyst in Atlanta, Georgia.