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Sacramento Zoom class shows school employee making slant-eyed gesture, disparaging Asians

Grant Union High School in Sacramento
A woman identified as a teacher at Grant Union High School in Sacramento was condemned after a video captured her making anti-Asian gestures during a Zoom class last week.
(Google)

A Sacramento school district employee has come under fire after video during a Zoom class showed her making a slant-eyed gesture that is disparaging to Asians.

Officials quickly condemned the racist stereotype, which was captured on video last week.

The images show a woman, identified by the Sacramento Bee as Grant Union High School teacher Nicole Burkett, pulling at the corners of her eyes to make them into different shapes.

“If your eyes went up, they’re Chinese. If they go down, they’re Japanese. If they’re just straight, you don’t know,” the woman says in the video.

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“I should leave your class right now!” another voice can be heard in the recording.

Grant Union High School’s website lists a Spanish teacher named Nichole Burkett, who is also an advisor to the Class of 2022 and two student clubs: Lao Xang Noy and KPOP.

“I love teaching and supporting all students at Grant,” her staff biography reads.

News of the racist incident was met with a wave of blowback from elected officials across the city, including Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

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“I am appalled by the growing number of incidents of bias and crimes targeting members of our Asian-Pacific Islander community,” he wrote on Facebook. “We cannot tolerate such mindless hatred.”

School board President Michelle Rivas said in a statement that the board is taking the incident seriously and would “do everything within its authority to address the situation.”

“The Board of Trustees in Twin Rivers was stunned and appalled by the derogatory and racist comments made by a district employee, which have been posted to social media and are prompting understandable outrage throughout our community,” she wrote. “The Board of Trustees has a tremendous responsibility to set the highest standards for professional conduct, and our employees have equal responsibility to meet these standards, always.”

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Grant Union High School is in Del Paso Heights, one of Sacramento’s most diverse neighborhoods, where demographics are neatly divided into near-equal parts — Asian, Hispanic, African American and white residents each representing about a quarter of the population. The high school’s student population is 51% Hispanic or Latino, 17% Asian, 24% African American, 5% Caucasian and 3% other (mainly Pacific Islander and Native American), according to a 2018-2019 report.

Since the video surfaced, community members have called for accountability at the school, with nearly 5,000 people signing an online petition demanding the district “denounce racism.”

The petition outlined several actions, including a formal apology from Burkett, the high school and district; community service hours for Burkett in Del Paso Heights; mandatory racial equity training across the district; an ethnic studies core curriculum; and funding for Asian and Pacific Islander youth development programs.

“Racist and hateful acts like these have been experienced by Asian American students many times in the past. Fortunately now, our students are equipped with the tools such as camera phones to capture the details and trauma they experience in these classrooms,” the petition reads.

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“Anti-Asian behavior, as such, disempowers Asian American students and families and violates the values of diversity, equity and inclusion of Twin Rivers Unified School District.”

Sacramento Councilwoman Mai Vang wrote on Facebook that anti-Asian discrimination in the city isn’t new, but it is especially heightened now.

“Perpetuating racist stereotypes of Asian Americans is harmful under any circumstance, but they are particularly egregious at a time when anti-Asian racism and violence is at an all-time high,” she wrote in the statement. “Students should feel safe in their learning environments and the actions of this teacher violates that safety and creates a climate that excuses hateful acts.”

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Reports of anti-Asian discrimination and hate incidents have increased across the country in recent months. Stop AAPI Hate, a group formed last March in response to a wave of discriminatory rhetoric, reported more than 2,500 anti-Asian incidents nationwide in five months, according to an August report.


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