A young Asian American woman in Davie, Fla., has become the target of racist cyberbullying after she applauded “Middle Eastern peers” for making it through high school in her graduation speech.
What she said: Rachel Cheng, this year’s salutatorian of Western High School, used her time on stage on June 8 to address the struggles faced by Asian Americans and other minorities to get to graduation.
Cheng began her five-minute speech sharing the racism she has faced as an East Asian woman amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 graduate pointed out that “21” was also the number of times she was called a “ch*nk” in the week before classes went online due to the coronavirus.
Cheng said she was also chased out of a Walgreens by someone who did not want “China virus people” in the store. She recalled it as “the first of countless racially profiled interactions” that she has experienced in the past year-and-a-half.
Aside from Asian Americans, the salutatorian dedicated the rest of her speech to applaud other minority graduates. These include her African American, Native American and Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Hispanic and Latino peers, and anyone else who is part of a marginalized community or “has faced discrimination of any kind.”
Boos erupted from the audience when the graduate addressed her Middle Eastern peers, whom she described to be “in constant fear of their families and friends being struck down by a militant government who’ve had their land stolen and abused.” Cheng said the booing came from a few students and parents.
Despite the boos, Cheng ended her speech to a longer and louder applause. A social media user has since reposted it on TikTok, where it went viral with at least 50,000 likes.
The backlash: After Cheng’s speech went viral, social media users flocked on her Instagram page, where she had to clarify aspects of it in response to critics.
Cheng told NextShark she wanted people to understand that she was not referring to any specific country when she addressed her “Middle Eastern peers” — and that she never once said Israel. Still, a group of students from her school, whom she described to be Jewish, felt it was “a personal attack” to them and “began to send racially charged comments, hate and spread lies about me.”
Cheng’s attackers — who also called her “ch*nk” — allegedly accused her of being anti-Semitic, despite the fact that she addressed anti-Semitism toward the end of her speech. They also allegedly spread rumors that she was homophobic when she herself identifies as “a queer woman.”
One student allegedly contacted a man named Joe Zevuloni, a Miami-based businessman who has appeared in Israeli media in support of former President Donald Trump. Zevuloni then “sent his 70,000 adult followers after me,” Cheng said.
In his posts, Zevuloni accused Cheng of giving a “hypocritical hate speech” and called her an “anti-Semitic Chinese student.” He also claimed that she said, “I stand with the Palestinians who stole their lands [sic] Israel is an apartheid state.”
The outrage led to Instagram permanently closing her account, Cheng said. Since then, she has also received countless racist comments from “zionists and white supremacists” — both students and adults — who are now allegedly threatening to get her college decision revoked.
An online petition has been created, calling on Instagram to restore her account, with over 1,600 signatures as of this writing.
Cheng sent the following screenshots to NextShark:
Cheng said she has received thousands of good messages praising and thanking her for her speech, but the attacks persist.
"A lot of my classmates are defending me, but as POCs, we have little to no power compared to the group of white supremacist and zionists that are attacking me,” Cheng told NextShark.
Featured Image via Rachel Cheng
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