A high school teacher in Sacramento, California is under investigation after making a controversial gesture in an online class last week.
Nicole Burkett, who teaches Spanish and serves as a student advisor at Grant Union High School, stretched her eyes up and down to demonstrate “slant eyes,” a gesture considered racist by many Asians.
Burkett allegedly made the gesture while explaining racist stereotypes toward Asian Americans, which she said were more prevalent in the 1980s.
“If your eyes go up, you’re Chinese. If they go down, they’re Japanese. If they’re just straight, you don’t know,” Burkett told her class via Zoom, according to the Sacramento Bee.
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A clip of Burkett making the gesture went viral on social media. An internal investigation has since been launched.
“The video is shocking and disappointing and does not represent the values held by Twin Rivers and the community,” Grant Union Principal Darris Hinson said, according to SFGate. “Please know that Twin Rivers is committed to providing all students with a safe and civil learning environment in which all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect.”
State Sen. Dr. Richard Pan, who chairs the API Legislative Caucus, also condemned Burkett’s actions.
“For many of us who are Asian, the gestures that were made in that video are not unfamiliar to us. We’ve seen it repeatedly, unfortunately, throughout our lives,” Pan said, according to KCRA. “While we can’t stop individuals from expressing prejudice and hate, we can as a community say, this is not acceptable for us as a community.”
Maria Sepulveda has three children in the Twin Rivers Unified School District. She described Burkett’s actions as reinforcing “divisive behavior and attitudes.”
“It’s really harmful to the students right now. It’s not helpful to the community at all,” Sepulveda told KCBS Radio.
Some students have come to Burkett’s defense, saying the incident was taken out of context. She has received death threats on social media following the incident, according to ABC10.
A Change petition has also been created demanding an apology and 200 hours of community service for Burkett. It also called for educators to undergo racial equity training, implement an ethnic studies curriculum, and fund Asian and Pacific Islander (API) programs.
Burkett was hired in the district in 2017. As of this writing, it’s unclear what repercussions she will be facing.
Feature Image Screenshots via Elk Grove Times