“It’s white people in Asian disguises”: Contesting Race in YouTube’s K-Town


  • Linda J. Kim Arizona State University
  • Brooke Johnson Northeastern Illinois University


Korean Americans, racial-ethnic identitities, YouTube


This paper utilizes ethnographic content analysis to analyze the discourses surrounding the negotiation of Korean American identity in a YouTube series, K-Town, a reality web series with an Asian American cast set in Los Angeles, California. We find that ethnic stereotypes about Korean Americans (KAs), as well as Koreatown, Los Angeles (KT) as a foreign space, are actively constructed and contested by users on YouTube. We argue that YouTube user-generated comments illuminate DuBois’ concept of stance and disalignment whereby users invoke their ethnic or racial identities as either Korean American (KA) or more broadly Asian American (AA), to validate their own social location and to make claims regarding the authenticity of the webisode in portraying KAs and KT. YouTube users also deployed Butler’s concept of “abject identity” to critique the portrayal of unacceptable KA identities while simultaneously affirming acceptable ethnic identities. We conclude that YouTubers not only contributed to the discourse of what it means to be KA or AA, but also brought to the forefront who ought to determine what is an “authentic” portrayal. This is significant considering mainstream media’s perpetuation of racial stereotypes in mostly White-centered narratives.

Author Biographies

Linda J. Kim, Arizona State University

Linda Kim is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Arizona State University. Dr. Kim’s primary research interests include gender, critical race studies, and popular culture.

Brooke Johnson, Northeastern Illinois University

Brooke Johnson is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Women’s & Gender Studies at Northeastern Illinois University. Dr. Johnson’s primary research interests include sexualities, gender and militarization.


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