“They Expect us to All be Yellow”: Rhetorical Construction of Asianness in Blackface Controversy Around Jella’s Yellowish-Brown Tanning Makeup on YouTube

Seonah Kim


This study investigates the online controversy surrounding Jella, a South Korean beauty creator and influencer whose beauty performances have raised suspicions of engaging in Blackface. Performing in yellowish-brown tanning makeup, Jella has received ambivalent reactions from viewers around the globe. While some viewers applaud Jella for presenting unique beauty styles, others critique her for appropriating the Black aesthetic in her cosmetically darkened look. Through an in-depth analysis of comments from transnational viewers of her YouTube channel, I explore rhetorical strategies commenters use to defend Jella and her beauty identity. Contextualizing their rhetorical strategies within the globally and regionally shaped racial contexts, I critically triangulate the cultural connotations of Asianness, Blackness, and Whiteness constructed through transnational viewers’ understandings of race and skin color. In so doing, I seek out the rhetorical possibilities and limitations of (re)articulating Asianness in relation to Blackness that Jella’s cosmetically darkened representations can have in digital media.


Jella, digital Blackface, triangulation, Asianness, colorism, and Blackness

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