A photo of a Dutch students donning Chinese traditional costumes and conical hats while posing with a sign which read ‘Corona Time’ posted on social media has sparked fierce backlash from east Asians.
Nineteen students were pictured dressed in men and women’s traditional outfits, and two in panda costumes. One girl in the second row can be seen pulling at the corner of her eyes, a gesture seen as derogatory and mocking to many people of east Asian descent.
A boy on the right hand side wore blue latex gloves and held the ‘Corona Time’ sign, which also featured a drawing of a person wearing a protective face mask. It comes as governments around the world try to contain outbreaks of coronavirus, which has infected over 100,000 people globally.
Sin-Paulus Campus College Waregem, a Dutch secondary school in Belgium, posted the photo on its Instagram and Facebook pages but has since removed it from both and deleted its Facebook profile.
The school’s Instagram profile was changed from public to private since the outrage around the photo began. No explanation or statement was made by the school regarding the photo or the changes to its social media pages.
Broodje Kaas Met Sambal (‘Cheese Sandwich With Sambal’), an awareness group addressing racism against the Asian community in the Netherlands, posted the photo on its Instagram page and called the school irresponsible.
The group said: “The photo above was posted by the Sint-Paulus school community, Campus College Waregem, on their social media channels including Instagram and Facebook.
“In the meantime, the school has silently removed the photos, but this certainly does not solve the problem and shows once again how much it is necessary to deal with racism and discrimination in education.
“As an educational institution, you have a very large influence on the future generation. The fact that you approve of this kind of behaviour and promote it yourself on your channels is far from responsible and shows that something is wrong with you,” it added.
“Maybe it’s high time to take responsibility?”
The photo was also re-posted on Facebook by Rotterdam-based photographer Rui Jun Luong, who wrote: “Unbelievable. How can people get it into their head [that it is ok] to put this on, make the board, pose for the photo including gloves and pulling eyes… that this school in Belgium with the slogan ‘Warm Heart, Fresh Look, Open Mind’ approved and published.
“This IS offensive and you can’t call this playful either. This is far from playful, it is racist, ridiculing our culture and NOT FUNNY,” she added.
The photo has sparked fierce debate on social media, with some defending it as “a joke” and others calling it “trash” and “disrespectful”.
One person said: “Trash behaviour. Super racist and as always people will defend it and sweep it under the rug saying it’s ‘just a joke’. I don’t know if it’s simple ignorance and refusal to get educated or if they’re just plain racist, either way hiding behind ‘jokes’ is very telling.”
Another said: “We feel this is an insult, it’s not funny at all. Try to put yourself in an Asian person’s shoes and be labelled with the word ‘corona’.”
The school told The Independent: "The picture was made during the '100 days celebration' of last Friday 6 March, an event in which last graders celebrate the end of their secondary education in a carnivalesque way. They choose an outfit long beforehand, in this case even long before there was any mention of the coronavirus.
"The students alluded to the recent events in a playful way by adding a sign. Neither the school team, nor the students involved, have ever had the intention of adopting a condescending or offensive attitude.
"Nonetheless, the school would like to express its apologies publicly and explicitly through this statement," it added. "We did not estimate the consequences of publishing this picture correctly and we regret having offended certain population groups by it."
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