A California high school teacher sparked outrage by using a ‘slant eyes’ gesture while explaining racial stereotypes against Asians during an online class.
Nicole Burkett, a Spanish teacher and student adviser at Grant Union High School in Sacramento, was placed under investigation after a video of her making the offensive gesture went viral on TikTok.
‘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 students on Zoom last Thursday as she pulled her eyes up and down at the corners.
The teacher was said to be trying to explain a racist school-yard taunt called ‘Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees’, which she said was prevalent in the 80s.
As the video spread online some students came out to defend Burkett, claiming that the gesture was taken out of context, ABC10 reported.
The outlet said Burkett had posted about receiving death threats on her personal Instagram page.
Scroll down for video
Sacramento high school teacher Nicole Burkett is receiving death threats after she used ‘slant eyes’ while explaining racial stereotypes against Asians during an online class last week
Burkett was placed under investigation after a video of her making the offensive gesture went viral on TikTok (left and right). ‘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 students on Zoom last Thursday as she pulled her eyes up and down at the corners
School officials quickly condemned Burkett’s actions and said an internal investigation is underway.
‘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 in a statement.
‘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.’
Burkett (pictured) has reportedly posted about receiving death threats on her personal Instagram page
Several parents spoke out against Burkett, including Maria Sepulveda, who has three children in the Twin Rivers Unified School District (TRUSD). She accused Burkett of 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.
A Change.org petition demanding an apology and 200 hours of community service for Burkett has garnered nearly 6,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.
The petition, led by the Sacramento Asian/ Pacific Islander (API) Regional Network, also called for TRUSD to implement an ethnic studies curriculum and require all educators to undergo racial equity training.
Burkett, joined the district in 2017, has declined to comment on the scandal when approached by multiple media outlets.
‘I have been advised to not make any statements until my union representative gets back to me,’ she told the Sacramento Bee.
It is unclear whether Burkett was placed on leave pending the internal investigation.
Her bio on the school’s website lists her as the adviser of the Lao Xang Noy and KPOP (Korean pop music) clubs. ‘I love teaching and supporting all students at Grant,’ the bio reads.
Burkett joined the Twin Rivers Unified School District in 2017. She currently works as a Spanish teacher and student adviser at Grant Union High School (pictured)
The incident comes amid a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans in recent years.
In 2020 alone, anti-Asian hate crimes rose by more than 150 percent in 16 of the largest US cities, according to California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
The spike has been attributed in part to former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric blaming China for the coronavirus.
The ‘slant eyes’ stereotype dates back to the late 19th century, when propaganda portrayed Asian immigrants as a threat to the US, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Several local politicians spoke out against Burkett after the video went viral and said her actions could help fuel further violence against Asian Americans.
‘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,’ Sacramento City Council Member Mai Vang said 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. The leaders of the Twin Rivers USD must take immediate action to investigate the situation.’
State Sen Dr Richard Pan, who chairs the API Legislative Caucus, also blasted Burkett.
‘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.
‘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.’
Burkett has declined to comment on the scandal when approached by multiple media outlets