March 11th, 2020 – Students in Belgium are being criticized after posting a racist photo showing them wearing Chinese costumes while holding a “Corona Time” sign. The high schoolers were celebrating the last 100 days of their secondary education at Sin-Paulus Campus College Waregem.
19 boys and girls posed for the photo wearing various Asian garb. A few are seen sporting panda outfits, nearly all are wearing bamboo hats, some have latex gloves, and one girl is seen slanting her eyes. The school quickly deleted the photo after online backlash, but comments about cultural appropriation and disregard for the racist connotation attached to the Coronavirus remained.
An Instagram account called “broodjekaasmetsambal,” which works to expose racism against the Asian community in The Netherlands, shared the photo and called for the school to take responsibility.
“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,” they wrote. “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.Maybe it’s high time to take responsibility?”
The school briefly changed the privacy settings on both their Instagram and Facebook accounts, but the image has still made its way around online. While a lot of attention has been placed on the students wearing stereotypical Chinese outfits, even more focus has been put on the damaging connection to the Coronavirus, which has now been labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
According to a Belgium media outlet, the students had planned on wearing the Chinese costumes before the outbreak but decided to lean into the virus humor in recent weeks. On the “Corona Time” photo they drew a person wearing a protective face mask as a “playful nod” to the pandemic.
A campus director for the school spoke to the outlet saying the students never intended to offend anybody; they simply hadn’t fully thought through the reaction.
“Neither the school team, nor the students in question, have intended to hurt [with] this photo,” director Philip Demuynck said. “We want to apologize explicitly, because we had not correctly estimated the consequences.”
Despite their naive intention, plenty of people were hurt by the photo. Rotterdam-based photographer Rui Jun Luong shared the photo on Facebook saying she couldn’t understand how the image got approved by those in leadership.
“This IS offensive and you can’t call this playful either,” she said. “This is far from playful, it is racist, ridiculing our culture and NOT FUNNY.”