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Photo taken at Asian restaurant captures child being taught racist gesture

College student Rebekah Lee caught a shocking moment on camera while posing for a pic with her bowl of ramen.
College student Rebekah Lee posing for a pic while a person behind her teaches a child a racist gesture.
College student Rebekah Lee posing for a pic while a person behind her teaches a child a racist gesture.@yeaenee via Twitter

A college student shared a photo on Twitter that, at first glance, looks like a sweet pic of her holding her tasty-looking ramen, but upon further inspection, has something rather dark in the background.

On Nov. 13, college student Rebekah Lee was dining at Ton Ton, a ramen and yakitori restaurant located in Ponce City Market in Atlanta, Georgia. It was right before she tucked into a bowl of ramen that her and her companion unintentionally caught a shocking moment on camera: a child being taught a racist gesture.

“Hold up.. lets zoom in here,” tweeted Lee. The tweet has gone viral, with more than 73,900 retweets, 519,700 likes and thousands of comments discussing the particularities of the image.

Lee herself later in the thread tweeted, “Is this the time to say someone told me like two months ago that i should ‘embrace my asian eyes’ and ‘love my squint'"?

“I had gotten seated at dinner, ordered and had just received my entree when I had my picture taken of me with the food,” Lee tells TODAY Food, adding that she and her companion who took the picture didn’t note what was happening behind her when they took the picture.

“I did hear giggling and laughter from the people seated behind me but I supposed it to be normal for a family dinner with a young child,” she says, noting that there was also a man with the woman and child. “After the incident, I received photos from earlier and noticed the actions behind me.”

Lee’s tweet uses a succession of images that zoom in to highlight a woman and her child both appearing to make a racist “slanted-eye" gesture. This gesture is a type of yellowface, also known as the practice of non-Asian people pretending to play characters from Asia or of Asian descent, often using make up or costuming to do so.

The gesture is also a form of othering, a racist bullying tactic meant to define a group of people as “other,” using gestures like the one in Lee’s photo in an attempt to taunt another race or identity.

Lee says when she first saw the moment captured in the image that she couldn’t make sense of it, saying she first felt disbelief, then, something a little bit like humor.

“It was incredibly unbelievable that those two were doing a racist gesture like this in public in an Asian space,” she says. “I couldn’t believe the publicity of that act and the shock to see a recreation of a racial taunt I hadn’t seen since elementary school.”

“To think this happened no less than 1 foot behind me but I didn’t notice,” Lee says, adding that she can’t say for certain what exactly they were doing and what exactly their intent was. “But I can’t say seeing that gesture didn’t hurt.”

Still, with that split second caught on camera and shared with the world, Lee says the response to her tweet has been very sweet — for the most part.

“I think a lot of people have sympathized with me. I think most BIPoC have had at least one negative experience in their life with blatant racism and there’s a weird sort of unity in that,” she says, pointing to many of the tweets in response to hers expressing a sort of shared disbelief that moments like this still commonly happen, even in Asian restaurants.

“Though there are trolls and dissenters among the responses, I think it’s important that we remain intolerant to hate and racism,” Lee says. “It’s inspiring to see that we can rally as antiracists together despite our separate and different experiences as BIPOC in America.”