Social media deepens divide
Photo sparks criticism of POC solidarity, online apology, anti-Asian backlash on social media
A Snapchat depicting two sophomore Asian-American students was met with criticism from members of the Washington University community and beyond this weekend. A Facebook post by sophomore Morgan Bryant on Saturday prompted the initial response, as Bryant, who is black, described her reaction to the photo.
The photo, picturing the two girls wearing multi-colored face mask beauty products along with the caption “we’re in the zulu (sic) tribe,” was shared by one of the girls on her Snapchat story Friday night—a friend then shared a screenshot of the photo with Bryant, who decided to share the photo along with her response on Facebook.
By press time, the post had garnered 406 reactions and 254 shares on Facebook. The photo itself was also shared by users on Twitter and other platforms.
In her original post, Bryant wrote that she didn’t want to see more discussion groups and diversity centers set up on campus, as has happened in response to previous incidents of bias and racism on campus. She also noted her feelings on solidarity amongst people of color.
“[People of color] Solidarity is nothing but another method of overworking Black bodies and having us do all of the footwork while everyone else cowers behinds us and continues to abuse us,” she wrote.
One of the students pictured in the photograph also shared Bryant’s post on her own page and added an apology, while no longer public, noting that she was “reckless” to post and had not intended to cause offense.
“Last night we were putting face masks on our faces, and we simply thought the shapes and patterns resembled tribal art. We know we were being very ignorant and inconsiderate, and we would really like to apologize for our immaturity,” the student wrote.
Emi Wyland, a Korean-American sophomore, took to Facebook after seeing Bryant’s post to share her own thoughts in the form of a lengthy essay. She said that the post was meant to encourage Asian-American solidarity with other people of color.
“When I saw Morgan [Bryant]‘s post I was immediately abhorred and disappointed, but not incredulous. It is tragic, yet unsurprising that Asian students donning blackface and joking about it on social media is the consequence of a toxic mix of Asian anti-blackness and Wash. U.’s culture of white supremacy and privilege,” Wyland said.
A Chinese-American sophomore who wished to remain anonymous agreed that anti-black sentiments are rampant in the Asian-American community.
“I think Asian-Americans need to work way harder to keep anti-blackness out of our community, it is so prevalent,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that every Asian-American has had an older relative tell them that they can’t date black people or to be careful around black people, or things around those lines, and it’s such a problem.”
Dozens of people from both inside and outside of the Washington University community commented on the original post with words of support for Bryant, but not all of the comments were positive, and many were specifically anti-Asian.
“I can definitely understand where they were coming from because it seems the anti-blackness within the Asian community is so strong. Her sentiments were not just her sentiments—they’re cultural sentiments,” Bryant said. “We shouldn’t have to say ‘not all Asians’ or ‘not all black people’ just like we don’t say ‘not all men’ because enough of them are doing it—too many of them are doing it.”
The same Chinese-American student said that the addition of commenters from outside of the Washington University community led to violent backlash.
“[The students] did something super racist and insensitive and [they] should have been called out for it, but I don’t think the callout was handled perfectly, and once it came to the attention of non-Wash. U. students it really spiraled out of control,” she said. “Say what you want to say about [the students] but I think [their] original thing was mostly out of ignorance than actually trying to violently cause hurt.”
Senior Christian Ralph, who is black, agreed that the comments went too far, noting that it could be creating even more issues on campus.
“I think it’s way too easy to just condemn them in the harshest terms possible using this vile language without thinking about it,” Ralph said. “But I don’t think that compassion is a one way street. I think you can be compassionate for the people who are impacted by these words like the black students as well as the person who posted it who are just getting these terrible, terrible comments.”
Many commenters called for the pictured students’ expulsion; Bryant agreed with the idea.
“I think [the calls] are justified. People usually don’t learn until they have to suffer from some repercussions. I don’t think she was genuinely sorry that it happened because had it not gotten out, she wouldn’t have said anything,” Bryant said.
Ralph, however, thought that expulsion might be too drastic a measure.
“I think all of us make mistakes at some point in our lives and I think the focus should not be on punishing people more. I think we should take instances like this seriously but I think having a very punitive response is not the good way forward,” Ralph said.
The anonymous Chinese-American student believed that the pictured students would not be expelled because the offense was not extreme enough, but added that it was also a sign that the University “isn’t really the best place for black students.”
“I don’t think it’s just about the Facebook post, I don’t think it’s just about [the students], it’s about anti-blackness in the Asian-American community and anti-blackness at Wash. U. in general and it just all came to light with this one incident,” she said.
Lori White, vice chancellor for student affairs, sent out a school-wide email on Sunday night around 9:30 p.m., noting that her office had been informed of the situation and was working directly with all of the students involved in the photo and posts.
The Korean International Student Society and the Korean Students Association plan to release a statement later this week addressing the incident, but declined to disclose any of its contents at press time. However, the groups plan to host an open discussion on the issue this Thursday.
The students in the photo in question declined to comment.