Racists Abuse Authors During Virtual Events

Authors, including Kelly Yang and Dhonielle Clayton, have become victims of racist comments on Zoom, Instagram, and other digital platforms used to connect educators, students, and creators during this unprecedented time.

The early weeks of pandemic-forced remote learning saw enormous concerns about digital classrooms and virtual events. Zoom calls were hacked, and pornography appeared. Non-students found their way onto platforms and disrupted classes. There were privacy issues.

It turns out that the danger that should have been discussed and planned for was creating yet another forum for racist attacks. As so many children's and YA authors have stepped up to help educators during this unprecedented and anxious time, they have been subject to racist and xenophobic abuse.

Dhonielle Clayton. Photo by Amir Lowery

On Thursday, author Dhonielle Clayton took to Twitter to share her experience and ask if any of her peers have had similar incidents.

"Are any other PoC authors dealing w/racism during ZOOM Author visits?" Clayton tweeted. "I just got off school visit where kids unmuted continuously to call me a nigger...or ask why the teacher was so fat. It was so bad she burst into tears. The blank video screens make teens bold out here."

The author of the YA novels The Belles and Everlasting Rose, who is also the chief operating officer of We Need Diverse Books, made it clear that she believed the teacher had done everything correctly, creating a meeting ID and a requiring a password to keep anyone not in the class out of the session. Everyone on the call was a student at the Los Angeles high school, she said.

YALLWEST, a non-profit book festival in Santa Monica, CA, which also arranges virtual author visits to schools, had organized Clayton's appearance. The organization released a statement and suspended all future author visits at this time:


One of the authors who responded to Clayton's tweet was Kelly Yang, whose YA novel The Parachutes publishes next month. Yang was the victim of racist attacks while giving a free writing class to teens on Instagram Live in March.

"This is not ok! Today I went on Instagram Live to give a free online writing class to teens to support the community during this time of #Covid19 #SchoolClosures and I got called a Chinese virus. In case there was any doubt that racism is happening against Asian Am," Yang tweeted with the screenshot of the moment she saw the comment.

She wrote about the incident for Elle

"'Chinese virus' flashed across my Instagram Live. I was in the middle of giving a free online writing class during this chaotic time of COVID-19 school closures when the two words made me freeze. What do I do? Do I stop the class?" she wrote in the essay. "I was just talking about the surging xenophobia and racism in the wake of the coronavirus and how it has affected me as an Asian American creator. And as I opened up about this most vulnerable experience, I never expected to be blasted with 'Chinese virus.'”

"My first instinct was to ignore. Decades of dealing with microaggressions ranging from 'Can you actually put on eyeliner?' masked as a serious make-up question to 'Are you really a person of color?' have unfortunately been weaved into the fabric of my 'normal.'"

Yang continued the class but tweeted about the experience because, she said, her days of ignoring racist comments are over and it is scarier to have her narrative silenced than to speak up. So she made it public and, two days later, she had more news. 

"Update: the teenager who said the racist remark on Instagram has reached out and apologized to me. Let’s continue doing our part to help the next generation to learn and reflect and grow during this critical time!"

Many Asian American creators have endured xenophobic attacks during the coronavirus pandemic. In response to Clayton's tweet, Sarah Park Dahlen, associate professor in the MLIS program at St. Catherine University, shared that a recent Asian American YA panel was disrupted by racist comments.

"The panelists quickly shut down and restarted on a diff platform," she wrote. "The hackers were awful."

While Yang continues to participate in Instagram Live and Facebook Q&As, Clayton tweeted that she isn't sure she will put herself in that position again.

"I just know I can't do these anymore," Clayton tweeted. "Felt terrorized in front of people watching. That was just awful to live thru, and I know the teacher is wrecked and devastated."

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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Amy Ryan

I'm so sorry this happened. I cannot imagine how deeply shocking this must have been to the authors and the students. My heart goes out to Ms. Yang and Ms. Clayton. I know they will rise above this, and go on to write even more works that keep a light going in the world. Hugs to them.

Posted : Apr 26, 2020 03:19


Theodore Williams

I strongly commend Ms. Clayton and others in her position for confronting this ugly abuse of a public communications medium. Some people just can't resist a chance to throw half-witticisms (a term coined by writer David Gerrold) or ourright racist jibes into this new kind of public forum; whatever their calendar ages, thery're behaving like snotty kids and need to be brought up short ANY time they indulge their brainlessness at someone else's expense.

Posted : Apr 26, 2020 02:26


Suzanne Anderson

The authors should be commended for reaching out to help during this pandemic. I’m sorry you were treated so disrespectfully.

Posted : Apr 25, 2020 11:05


Sabrina Shuman

This doesn’t surprise me none. When you have what are mostly white kids saying this awlful to a educator who is trying to help student across America would say this. This is the time that we as people are suppose to come together as one. These words are to the Racists in the world. American is the melting pot. So therefore it will never be just White people. Considering how you all came here and took from people (Indians) that were already here.

Posted : Apr 24, 2020 09:28


Lisa Ramee

It makes me heartsick and furious reading about what's been going on. And the people that think this is funny or no big deal. I work at a university and there was SO much concern before spring quarter started about this happening and there were daily updates of security steps to take. I do think that if any author (or anyone) finds themself in this position they should end the meeting immediately. Yes, it may be unfair to the majority of students who were being considerate but no one should have to ignore blatant racist attacks in order to be "fair." Stay safe friends. :f

Posted : Apr 24, 2020 08:05


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