A picture of a college student has gone viral on Twitter for revealing the ways people actively teach racist behaviors and thinking to their children. While at first glance the photo looks cute and innocent—like any photo of a girl posing in front of her ramen—the background highlights the harsh reality of normalized xenophobia.
The college student, identified as Rebekah Lee, was dining at Ton Ton, a ramen and yakitori restaurant located in Atlanta, Georgia, and took a photo when she unintentionally caught a child being taught a racist gesture on Nov. 13.
“Hold up.. lets zoom in here,” tweeted Lee. The tweet has gone viral, with more than 73,900 retweets, 519,700 likes and thousands of comments discussing the image.
“Is this the time to say someone told me like two months ago that i should ‘embrace my asian eyes’ and ‘love my squint’”? Lee later tweeted.
In an interview with TODAY, she had her companion take the photo, unaware of what was happening in the background.
“I did hear giggling and laughter from the people seated behind me but I supposed it to be normal for a family dinner with a young child,” she said, noting that there was also a man with the woman and child. “After the incident, I received photos from earlier and noticed the actions behind me.”
The child was mimicking her parent’s racist “slanted-eye” gesture, categorized as a form of yellowface, or the practice of non-Asian people pretending to play characters from Asia or of Asian descent. It has often also been used to bully or define a group of Asian people as “other.”
“It was incredibly unbelievable that those two were doing a racist gesture like this in public in an Asian space,” she said. “I couldn’t believe the publicity of that act and the shock to see a recreation of a racial taunt I hadn’t seen since elementary school.”
“To think this happened no less than 1 foot behind me but I didn’t notice,” Lee said, adding that while she can’t say exactly what the woman’s intention was, she “can’t say seeing that gesture didn’t hurt.”
“I think a lot of people have sympathized with me. I think most BIPOC have had at least one negative experience in their life with blatant racism and there’s a weird sort of unity in that,” she told TODAY. She added that a lot of others were shocked that things like this still happen, even in Asian restaurants.
“Though there are trolls and dissenters among the responses, I think it’s important that we remain intolerant to hate and racism,” Lee said. “It’s inspiring to see that we can rally as antiracists together despite our separate and different experiences as BIPOC in America.”
This isn’t the first time a racist gesture was caught on camera unintentionally—and made headline—this year. A group of students were caught making racist gestures at Black players during a high school basketball game. But that’s not all the students were allegedly also yelling, “Here monkeys, come and get it!” while flashing bananas.
“These children should not be taught hatred,” a parent told News 12.
“Unless we are consistent with efforts before there’s an incident to have the kind of measured conversations about race and racism, we’re never going to get out of this kind of cycle,” said Elaine Gross, with the group Erase Racism. Gross noted that schools and parents have the responsibility to talk about race.
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