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Author Dhonielle Clayton Says Students Called Her a Racial Slur on Zoom

Author Dhonielle Clayton Says Students Called Her a Racial Slur on Zoom

The Belles author and We Need Diverse Books chief operating officer Dhonielle Clayton says she was called the n-word several times during a Zoom class.

The situation sounds eerily familiar to fellow young adult author Kelly Yang who said last month that a student called her a “Chinese virus” in the floating comments on an Instagram Live lesson for students now out of the physical classroom due to the COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine. She said a few days later the student apologized.

Dhonielle tweeted on April 23 that students unmuted on blank video screens kept calling her the n-word while they also kept calling their teacher fat. She said the teacher “burst into tears” and in another tweet that she too wanted to do the same. The students were 11th graders in Los Angeles, she revealed in some tweets later when many big-time authors chimed in the comment section on Twitter to send their apologies over the situation.

Dhonielle further added her concern for security during Yallwest, or YallStayHome this year, a popular book festival for YA authors that attracts many teens, so the new virtual format could unfortunately be a breeding ground for hateful comments as well.

While these authors are making time out of the kindness of their hearts to directly interact with their audience, it raises the question of security when racial slurs and other inappropriate comments can be typed in or verbalized in a virtual setting.

As most Americans were beginning to do school and work at home, the videoconferencing provider Zoom became a popular tool in late February but so did the term “Zoombombing” in which people uninvited to a meeting enter the meeting with many using racist terms against particular groups who were meeting on camera.

The Anti-Defamation League wrote about one incident on March 24 “when a white supremacist interrupted a webinar about antisemitism hosted by a Massachusetts Jewish student group by pulling his shirt collar down to reveal a swastika tattoo on his chest.” CNET reports that though this phenomenon began in March there are still privacy concerns as Zoombombing has led to meeting attendees being exposed to racial slurs and pornographic material from uninvited parties.

Zoom said in an April 1 blog that the company was making improvements to privacy and security. The company wrote that it set up a dedicated policy for education users from kindergarten to 12th grade. It also added that its videoconferencing software was designed for clients with full information technology support, meaning Zoombombing was never supposed to happen since Zoom would be used by corporate clients that had the means to avoid such occurrences. Now as the tool ballooned in the number of public users, Zoom’s founder and CEO Eric S. Yuan has started weekly webinars on Wednesdays for input from users.

Many authors are also using Instagram Live as a source to reach readers, especially kids, which is what Kelly Yang used. The social media network’s parent, Facebook Inc., hasn’t given any information on the hate speech that could be spread on the video part of the platform though users can press the restrict button on any bullies in written posts.

Dhonielle is the author of The Belles, a multicultural fantasy YA novel, and its sequel The Everlasting Rose. She’s also the co-author of Tiny Pretty Things and its sequel Shiny Broken Pieces with Sona Charaipotra, who’s her business partner at Cake Literary, a media content company focused on kidlit to women’s fiction projects. She’s an outspoken advocate for diversity in literature, especially in kidlit and YA books, and is one of the more recognizable authors in the Twitterverse with 30,000 followers.

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