Tempest Over a Student’s T-Shirt

John Annese, Staten Island Advance, May 18, 2008

Last fall, 12-year-old Shaun Hines started wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt to classes at the diverse Markham Intermediate School in Graniteville.

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In fact, as Hines and his mother tell it, school administrators didn’t even seem to notice the shirt.

But Hines’s classmates did.

Some of them started calling out “KKK” whenever he passed, and at the end of March, he found the letters written in three separate sets of handwriting on one of his folders when he wasn’t looking.

Hines says he wears the shirt because he’s a Civil War history buff, not because he’s trying to send a message of racism or rebellion to his classmates.

“I just wear it because it’s my favorite era in the war, and I always go to Gettysburg, and I love it,” the Grant City seventh-grader says. “I just think it’s a flag. I know what it stands for, but it’s just a flag that the Southerners use . . . The South and what they did is wrong, but you can’t take it out on a kid because they wear it.”

The “KKK” nickname stuck, much to Hines and his parents’ chagrin—students now yell out the letters behind his back as he passes by, sometimes as often as three times a day.

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The constant remarks from classmates have taken their toll and severely affected his grades, Hines and his mother say.

Mrs. Hines says she’s asked school officials to find out who’s making the remarks, but so far, nothing has been done.

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Hines says the people who call him KKK know nothing about him—he’s Jewish, he explains, and the hate group is anti-Semitic as well.

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About a quarter of Markham’s population is African-American, according to the school’s 2006 demographic data. White children make up a little less than a third of the student body, while Hispanic or Latino students make up slightly more than a third.

Although he can’t identify the individual students who call him “KKK,” Hines says the comment most often comes from groups of his black classmates.

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Ed Josey, who heads the local chapter of the NAACP, says that even if Hines has no bad motives when he dons the T-shirt, he should pay serious heed to what the flag symbolizes for so many people.

“The Confederate flag represents a very sad part of American history,” Josey said. “Consider the effects on other people. It might not be against the law, but consider the effect. . . . If the boy is being harassed because of the symbol of the T-shirt, maybe the wise thing may be, don’t wear the thing to school.”

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Despite his Jewish background, Hines says he wouldn’t be offended if a student came in wearing a swastika on a T-shirt.

“It wouldn’t bother me. It’s a T-shirt. It doesn’t matter,” Hines says. “It depends on who the child is. If he is like that, you stay away from him.”

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