Student ejected from ceremony for graduating while black

Let’s be clear on the issue, here. Let’s imagine you are a school administrator tasked with enforcing the dress code. The code, and your enforcement thereof must, according to the constitution, be content-neutral. There are some limitations on this. For example, the court’s have held that schools can remove students whose speech content is disruptive to the learning process of other students. (You can say “fuck you” to the cops all day long but you can’t say that to a teacher during class.)

So, you are the school admin. You have a clear policy about what may and may not be worn to graduation. This is obviously put in place to avoid the extreme cases like people wearing pornographic images or swastikas on the gowns or taping the words “boing boing headline writers are becoming click baity cunts” on their hats.

Then imagine that this student, having been given a clearly-written set of rules about graduation attire, shows up in this clearly non-conforming attire. Note that the student never approached you before the ceremony and tried to work with you to figure out a way to accomplish his goals while not putting you between a rock an a hard place. Instead, he ambushes you with non-conforming attire and you may or may not know if it has any special meaning to anyone, nefarious or positive. (Another reason for dress codes: we can’t all know what every symbol means so instead of being subject to any given teacher’s ignorance, let’s just not let anything through.)

What do you do? If you let him participate, you open yourself to a discrimination lawsuit if you later tell the kid with the swastika (or the cross or Star of David or any other symbol) on his stole that he can not participate. If you don’t let him through, you are called “thug” and “racist” by websites like this.

From a legal advice standpoint, any attorney will tell you that you must try to enforce the code consistently, regardless of the content of the non-conforming attire, to protect yourself from discrimination lawsuits when you try to enforce the rule on future rule-breakers. (Note that this assumes that you agree with the law up to and including the Constitution. If you don’t then you have a different argument.)

This first step was exactly the right thing to do: they pulled the student aside and informed him that he was violating the rule and that he needed to remove the non-conforming attire. The student, once informed…yet again…of the rules, refused.

So how do you go about trying to deal with this awful choice that this student has put you in? You need to enforce the rule or open yourself to future lawsuits, but the rule says you can’t let him participate. What the story does not clarify is if the rule specifies HOW you are to Prevent him from participating. I am willing to bet it doesn’t as organizations that have to deal with this types
of thing want to keep their options open and react based on the circumstances. THAT is likely the problem.

From a “don’t open yourself to future suits” standpoint, the best thing to do would be to halt the proceedings and call the cops right away and have the student removed for trespassing before he walked the stage.

That is obviously very heavy handed.

A more reasonable way would have been to pause the proceedings, tell the person calling names to skip this student’s name unless the student removed the garment. That way, the student would have to take it upon himself to go across the stage without being called and looking like the jackass. But it avoids the cops.

Here, however, the administration chose the worst of both worlds. They let him walk a and THEN had the cops remove him.

The school district needs to publish instructions for how to deal with students like this in the future. It is not enough to tell some poor person earning way less than she should be earning for being a teacher that she must not let a student participate. They need to give very explicit instructions on how this is to be achieved. Basically, the school district has a reasonable rule given the law but wants to have their cake and eat it, too. Thus, they throw middle-management under the (school) bus.

Was this an over-reaction? Yes. Did it have ANYTHING to do with race? Nothing in the record indicates this. Does it have everything to do with school districts not being willing to give their employees explicit rules on how to handle students that put them in these situations? Yes.

Stop with the bullshit headlines and faux offense. There is more than enough injustice in the world than to worry about one smart kid who decided the rules didn’t apply to him and didn’t reach out to the school beforehand.

PS: if you, instead, think that there should be no such things as school dress codes or limits on speech in schools, that’s a different discussion. One that still has nothing to do with this bullshit headline.


I assume that if the administration did take race into account when deciding to call the police to haul the kid off for not removing a kente cloth, they weren’t about to say a peep to anyone about it, and it’s more likely an unconscious bias that they chose that route than some other. Regardless, the student handled it reasonably well, and I’m happy he chose to tweet about it and show what petty tyrants the administrators were for having the police haul him away for a trivial violation of a dress code.


I suppose that depends upon who would have attended the ceremony to see you, specifically, graduate.

Fuckin’ A, its HIS graduation my god. He wears the traditional cap and gown AND a colorful scarf. So all this fuss is necessary REALLY??? Lesson learned: fuck authority and fuck your worthless dress code “rules”. Hope he is a successful creative not giving a fuck genius. Man this is sickening but i’m sure he’ll shine it on.



I can’t recall saying that anything makes anything else “right.”

No one is forcing anyone to be here if they have an issue with the content.


At my daughter’s high school graduation I noticed quite a few things. Lots of kente cloths. Didn’t disrupt my ability to enjoy the ceremony. I also saw a person, who was clearly born male, dressed in the white robes the females were wearing. Didn’t disrupt my ability to enjoy the ceremony (actually it stood out, and I saw it as extremely positive. My daughter seemed completely unimpressed, which is pretty cool, because she accepts it on a level much deeper than I do). I saw plenty of messages on mortarboards, buttons on collars. Didn’t disrupt my ability to enjoy the ceremony. In fact, I expect it, as should every fucking adult who did the exact same shit when they were kids. Kids disrupt. Kids act out. We have much to learn from how they do so, and what they say when they do.

Those of you who think people should set things aside, and follow the rules, remember that once upon a time black people had to sit at the back of the bus. One of them didn’t. Someone has to stand up to stupid, fucked up rules, and be punished for it. Eventually, in part because someone stood up, those rules will change.

Go back and read the article and the tweets, and put yourself in his place. He asks, ‘Is your agenda worth more than my cultural pride?’ He is told he cannot, and he says, ‘I will’.

He told Atlanta Black Star it was important for him to wear the
traditional African print because as a “descendant of slaves, I have no
firm connection to my roots in Africa.” – Think about what that means.

He absolutely should have worn it, and walked across that stage proudly, and nobody should have stopped him.


White dude tells Black folks how to acceptably express themselves, story at 11.


that there is a software bug, perhaps? I definitely quoted someone else.

ETA: fixed it, for you.


Surely the right-wing blogosphere is losing their minds over this like they did over the Marine Private who wanted to wear her dress blues to her graduation ceremony, right?

Right, guys? They’re outraged over this, right?!

*crickets* Or, maybe not crickets. I made the mistake of looking at comments on Yahoo! News. Lots of bullcrap about “leftists” on this kid. For the Marine recruit, lots of reasoned dissent on why she shouldn’t, but also lots of support (and one mildly racist “at least it’s not gangbangers” comment). In both cases, it’s a kid not following the school’s arbitrary graduation dress code rules and getting booted out of graduation. Hmmmmmm.

I have a feeling that a kid showing up in a dress uniform wouldn’t be escorted out by the police. Just a hunch there.

I get that there’s a dress code and all, but police over a custom stole?


Yes, those were my words.

Kid didn’t err. He said fuck you when asked to compromise on some not-especially-onerous rules he didn’t like. That wasn’t an error.

Exactly right. That’s what he was doing when he refused to compromise, he’s a kid so he shouldn’t get in too much trouble for the disruption, but disruption isn’t always good. I just got back from a wedding reception where a disruptive kid was plunging his face into a punch bowl.

No, it is not “his” school graduation, it is a ceremony shared by his parents, his classmates, their parents, and his teachers. If that community agrees that this kind of decoration is OK, then that’s cool. If they don’t, its not.

Look, this is a fairly new high school in a diverse community. They will evidently have to have an internal community discussion about things like strict interpretation of commencement rules. The speed with which people are ready to assume that the teachers are being racist for enforcing the current rules, and the kid a heroic rebel for refusing to do what they ask of him, is why “public school teacher” has become such a sucky job.


Do you think LEOs should have been called to drag him out of there? And do you agree that it’s more likely that happened because he’s black?


There are certain bits of regalia (for lack of a better generic word at this hour) that begin to get an easement on the civic or governmental uniform – yarmulkes (and other religious clothing) have been allowed in the US military formally since 1988. And I think, as long as they stem out of a well-channeled tradition, should be embraced. I think Kinte cloth and graduation certainly falls well within that path now.

If a school district wanted to say, “no, you can’t wear a 5’ tall ballon animal on your head, even if you come from a long-line of itinerate animal-balloon twisting street buskers”, they’d be within their rights. But a Kinte cloth seems like a fine, (little-c) conservative, modest, and now traditional thing in public ceremony.

Also: Specialist Lamba looks like a bad-ass motherfucker here


No. Yes. I don’t know.

I have a lot of respect for high school teachers, I work with them on occasion, it is a hard and often thankless job and one of the hardest parts of their job is maintaining order. During the regular term there are a few tools that teachers have for disruptive behavior, such as sending students down to the principal’s office, detention or threats of detention, and so on. Such tools were not available in this situation. This student did not offer much alternative, it was his way or nothing. I know that many people like to think of teachers as petty autocrats, and this is a common stereotype in high school movies, but I think it is mainly not true, and people who think that teachers are often or even frequently on a power trip are mistakenly using the worldview of some past version of themselves. In this situation I am inclined to think that the teachers were trying to do what they thought was best for the day, and the student was being difficult, and the reason I am inclined to think this is that in my experience most teachers try to do what they think is best, and many 18-year-olds like to test the limits of their power.

The teachers in this case had to make a decision in real time, and I don’t know if calling in the cops was the best decision but I’m not sure I could have come up with a better alternative on the spot.

It is not a question that makes sense, he was ejected for refusing to remove his kente, I do not think a white student would wear one. I suspect that had another student worn something they viewed as violating the dress code, and they asked him to remove it, and the student did not comply, the reaction would have been the same, though in the absence of an example we will not know.

I think it is a big leap to accuse these teachers of being racist. Perhaps they are, as most Americans (and everyone else) are racist to some degree, but I think as a group teachers tend to be less racist than the average person, even less so in districts like this where people of several ethnicities live side-by-side in relative harmony. A much simpler explanation is simply one of a student testing his power against some teachers during a school function, and the teachers responding to that test of power the only way they could think of on the spot.

While the yarmulke is not a good example (it fits under the regalia, moreover just wearing the mortarboard alone is headwear and therefore a religiously acceptable substitute), Sikh headwear as you pictured is an excellent example of something that schools will certainly have to learn to accommodate. Perhaps that is true of the kente as well, if a student’s culture requires it to be worn daily.


Let me see if I get this right:
1: Person is a student at a high school
2: Graduation take’s place at said school.
3: School has a dress code spelled out in student handbook.
4: Never mind as this is BB…


Do you think LEOs should have been called to drag him out of there? And do you agree that it’s more likely that happened because he’s black?



You can go back to your post and manually edit the wrong poster’s name out and the right poster’s name in.


It also wasn’t an arrestable offense, was it? Always glad to see someone lining up to defend the powerful, though

I suppose we should clam up and take the beat down without response when we speak truth to power and power gets mad… according to power, thems the rules.

but them ain’t the rules, and power don’t need your help.


There is a difference between a private affair, like a wedding, and a public school graduation, yeah? I didn’t find the guys kente cloth to be anywhere near the same thing as wearing shorts and flip-flops to a formal wedding. Maybe he didn’t think it would be a problem, since he was indeed wearing his cap and gown, as required for the ceremony.


I suspect that had another student worn something they viewed as violating the dress code, and they asked him to remove it, and the student did not comply, the reaction would have been the same, though in the absence of an example we will not know.

Why do you suspect that this situation would be handled no differently if a white kid had done the same thing? Have you not seen any of the numerous studies that show how very different the disciplinary treatment of black students and others is?

I suspect you have, but just explained them away as you have here, with your belief that (white) teachers surely wouldn’t do such things because they’re, what was it, better people than others?

You know, (and I think it’s quite possible that you do know), MANY studies prove that teachers and other authority figures tend to treat black students worse, including the enforcement of much harsher forms of discipline, often involving the summoning of LEOs in situations where that doesn’t happen when white kids are involved. Why are you so anxious to explain away the likelihood that that happened again in this case? Why are you expressing sympathy for the general teaching population instead for those they tend to abuse?