When Queen Creek High School decided to hold a "Redneck Day" to boost school spirit during the week leading up to prom, it led to unprecedented backlash from parents and students alike who felt the negative connotation of the word "redneck" — along with some students' interpretations of it — was too vast to ignore.
The Phoenix school claimed the day was meant to spoof the popular A&E show Duck Dynasty, a show about a family that manufactures custom duck calls for hunting and conveniently labels themselves "rednecks." Unfortunately, the term was popularized long before that and is generally used to take jabs at lower-class people.
UrbanDictionary.com defines "redneck" as an "offensive term for a lower class white person from the southeastern states of the USA [that] derives from someone who spent a lot of time on manual labour outside and so received a 'red neck' from the sun." The website also features the Jeff Foxworthy quote defining the word, "The glorious absence of sophistication."
While the school's version of "Redneck Day" does not seem to be based on these definitions, and instead invited students to dress as characters from Duck Dynasty, some students took the definition to harmful extremes. Some in particular brought or wore Confederate flag paraphernalia as part of their costumes, angering local civil rights groups in the area.
"They've chosen an event that stereotypes an entire group of people ... and under those circumstances, they should hardly be surprised that they also offend people," said Maureen Costello, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's teaching tolerance program.
Rev. Ozetta Kirby, pastor of Holy Trinity Community AME Church in Mesa and vice president of the East Valley chapter of the NAACP, added that his 16-year-old son — a student at the school — was extremely offended by the students wearing Confederacy garb.
And while civil rights attorney Steve Montoya agreed that students have a First Amendment right to wear a Confederate flag and engage in free speech, he also addressed that doing so could put the district under fire for facilitating a racially hostile environment.
"Those schools are paid for by everyone, including African-Americans and other minorities, and they have the right to attend school free of harassment," he said.
The school claims it rounded up the students wearing Confederate flags and asked them to change, but the message was still interpreted loud and clear by the offended students and their parents. Queen Creek Unified School District Tom Lindsey apologized for any ill intent expressed by students, though he did not address why the school's student council might have chosen a "redneck" theme to boost collective school spirit, especially when it can fuel harmful stereotypes.
"Our community knows what that flag represent," said Rev. Oscar Tillman, president of the Maricopa County NAACP. "A school is supposed to be for education and showing people where we come from, our history, and to try not to go back to some things."
While this high school's "Redneck Day" went on as planned, a Seattle elementary school's "White Trash Wednesday" also planned for this week did not. For whatever reason, Sunnycrest Elementary School planned the day as part of the Teacher Appreciation Week celebrations. After several parents complained about the day's potential racial and stereotypical effects, the school canceled it.
"I wish the administrators good luck," Montoya said of Queen Creek school officials. "They have tough jobs."
What do you think of "Redneck Day" and similar celebrations meant to boost school spirit? Is the embodiment of such stereotypes just part of the fun, or should schools refrain from participating in or highly regulate such days?