Luci Scott, USA Today, May 1, 2013
When members of the student council at an Arizona high school organized a schoolwide “Redneck Day” and encouraged classmates to dress — and spoof — accordingly, they hoped to build school spirit leading up to prom week.
Instead, “Redneck Day” at Queen Creek High School has angered African-Americans and civil-rights leaders and touched off a debate about free speech, social stereotypes and good taste.
Tom Lindsey, superintendent of the Queen Creek Unified School District, said the only intent of Wednesday’s event was to satirize the A&E reality TV show “Duck Dynasty,” which follows a family of duck hunters and entrepreneurs from West Monroe, La.
But some students and their family members weren’t amused. Among them: the Rev. Ozetta Kirby, pastor of Holy Trinity Community AME Church in Mesa and vice president of the East Valley chapter of the NAACP.
“I’m sitting here crying and praying,” said Kirby, whose grandson Marcus Still is a 16-year-old junior at the school.
“This thing really got to Marcus,” Kirby said. “When you’re in 11th grade, that can break you down and make you feel at the bottom rung of the whole society, where everybody is being jubilant. No kid should have to go through that. We all know the connotation of ‘redneck.’ ”
Most offensive to Kirby and others was that one student chose to wear a Confederate flag — for many a grim reminder of slavery and segregation.
“The Confederacy represents the horrible institution of slavery, and that is a direct attack on African-Americans,” said Steve Montoya, a prominent civil-rights attorney in Phoenix.
The student, who is from a state where the flag is more prevalent, did not see a negative connotation, the superintendent said.
“It was explained to him that in Arizona, we look at it differently,” Lindsey said, adding that Redneck Day was mostly uneventful.
“We apologize to any people who, because of the word (redneck), were offended,” Lindsey said.
For his part, attorney Montoya said students have a First Amendment right to wear a Confederate flag and engage in free speech.
But he warned that the line between free speech and harassment is easily breached and said a district could be held liable for allowing a racially hostile education environment.