An overwhelming majority (93.5%) of her 10th and 12th-grade students had seen/interacted with racist jokes/memes surrounding the coronavirus. Sixty-one percent reported these jokes/memes targeted Asian people. Students described some of the racism that they had seen.
"Yes. I’ve been right there and seen people making comments, covering their mouths and faces etc while my friends that are Asian walked by."
"At the [recent conference] trip, a woman said, “Hold your breath,” as two Asian students walked by her and her friends outside of our hotel."
"There was a picture of a little Asian boy and underneath it was like a news set up and it said “ if you move, I cough”
"I’ve seen people make jokes where they would pull their eyelids and say how sick they are. Also talk about how they won’t eat the food because they think they’ll get sick."
"There was a tiktok where an Asian child was “kidnapped” and then kidnappers said “why would u kidnap him, he has the Conronavirus.”
"On the bus two guys were talking about another “friend” of there’s and said jokingly that they would have to “use the (chemistry) showers” before interacting with him. There was another Asian guy right in front of them and it was obviously he was uncomfortable."
It makes me feel sick. I wonder what the 5th-graders are seeing. Many of them have TikTok and Instagram and who knows what else. Have they seen these memes? Have they seen people hold their breath around Asian people (including themselves)? I can only assume that they have. But the day is feeling too fuzzy to really process what this means and what I can do.
On Wednesdays I teach at Crescendo Detroit, a program that offers music, dance, literacy, and finance classes to students in Detroit. It also gives them meals on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. I get to the parking lot and see a text from my friend Jacob that U-M was shutting down. That is when it started to hit me. I had only just graduated from U-M and it felt very real to hear they were shutting down. I get a text from one of the 5th-Grade band teachers and head of our department, Matt, saying he is being called to central offices to come up with a contingency plan for schools closing. I do not really think we are going to close, or maybe I do. I text my friend Madeline (Seattle) and ask her if schools have shut down. They have had cases of Covid for awhile, so I am trying to gage what will happen here. She says public have not, private have, and kids are very aware of that. We talk some more about the uncertainty and fears of what will happen to kids who need school lunches to eat.
I walk into the Salvation Army where Crescendo takes place and see the magic man behind the organization, Damien. We do our brief catchup that starts with a hug. After I step away I realize that the hug had not felt safe. I express my uncertainty of what is happening and he echoes it. In class, my kids are the same as ever. They are first and second graders who often get close to me, hug me by surprise, and have a hard time respecting their peers personal space. I have one new student. We size her for an instrument. I ask Damien if he wants me to pull her out of dance class to get her started on the violin. We agree that next time would be fine.
"So next time then."
I am on my way out and pass the grandparent/kitchen worker who I always see on my way out, and who always wishes me a safe drive home. She is talking to a mom and a building worker about the Coronavirus. I join the conversation. The mom shares her thoughts: "You know, my belief is that everything happens for a reason. Maybe this will all teach kids of this generation some survival skills. Kids of this generation have no survival skills." The three Detroit women nostalgically share their memories growing up rationing food and hiding money in the house. "Mashed potatoes and beans!" They laugh together. The mom shares that her dad was an alcoholic, and before her mom died, she had taught her to make beans, so beans she made. The conversation went many places after that, from finances, to personal hygiene, to puberty, to when someone is really an adult, to differences in black and white and hispanic cultures. I mostly listened and nodded, unless they asked me something. Forty-five minutes later I left feeling more connected to the people there. As I got in my car, I realized I didn't the names of the mom or building worker.