'Redneck' student standing up for what's right

In the past few weeks our family has been put in a situation shadowing racism. Two weeks ago, our son Thomas was suspended from Warren Hills Regional High School because he wore and refused to take off a “Jeff Foxworthy” T-shirt. On March 29, our family addressed the school board about this. Thomas said he had worn the T-shirt throughout the year and nobody complained. He couldn’t understand what the big fuss was all about.

Assistant Principal Ronald Griffith stated he was offended by the word “redneck.” According to his dictionary this is slang for a “violent, bigoted person.” I stated to Griffith that the definition of a black man in America was an African-American (Negro). The slang term for the same word is “nigger.” Then I asked him, “What is your point?”

Superintendent Pete Merluzzi stated, “When I look at the T-shirt it says to me, ‘look at me, I’m white.'”

On the subject of Thomas’ refusal to take the shirt off, my wife Nancy turned to Rev. Schantzenbach, a board member, and asked him “if a Satanist came up to you and said ‘your collar offends me,’ would you take it off?” He responded that he would. Silence fell in the room. If I had asked him to take his collar off because it offended me, you would hear the ripples from Washington to California. Out of respect I would never ask any person to remove his collar, shirt, cross, Yamaichi, etc., because that is a God-given right as a free American to wear that.

Our thoughts about this were, what do you see when you see a boy of color walk down the hallway with a Malcolm X shirt on? Do you see him as an African-American or do you look at him in the slang term? When a Jewish boy walks down the hall with a Jewish star, is he a Jewish boy or do you see him as the slang term? Who is the one with the problem? If you look at people constantly in the slang term, you need to search your heart.

The work “redneck” originated many years ago because farmers worked long hours In a field with little or no pay, and could be recognized by the burnt back of the neck. Their hearts, however, are as big as the ocean. When harvest times comes and the market falls apart, these “redneck” farmers will send their crops to market to feed America-even at a loss.

As years have gone on, the meaning of “redneck” has expanded to include big tracks, country music, good fun and hard work. My son is a redneck. I guess you could say the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. If you see our son in the summer he is helping a farmer pick rocks, mend fences, bail hay. He is an avid hunter and fisherman. He enjoys big, loud vehicles and country music.

But let me tell you how I know he is a redneck. One day I took a steak out of my freezer to defrost it. Later I looked for it and could not find it. I was sure someone threw it out. A few hours later my son came in and I asked him if he knew what had happened to my steak.

Without hesitation he had answered to me that he had used it. I asked if he had eaten it. He replied, “no I used it.” A friend had a fox that was eating his chickens so he used it for bait to catch the fox. Most people would say that this is crazy, but I understood somewhat. That night I did not have a steak for dinner, but the following morning the fox wasn’t in the hen house any more either. Rednecks just think differently and there’s no crime in that. Rednecks have a God-given ability to laugh at themselves.

We’d like to thank everyone who supported us through this tough situation, even strangers. We are proud of our son and stand by him 100 percent. He does not want to be suspended; he did what he had to do to stand up for what was right. If our backs were against the wall and we were in trouble we’d definitely want this young man on our side.

Remember, all that is necessary for evil to prevail is for a good man to do nothing.


The above letter appeared inĀ The Star-Ledger.