School District Apologizes After Student Wears Confederate Flag T-Shirt While Holding Gun


A school and one of its students are coming under fire in North Carolina after the yearbook published a photo that some say is deeply offensive.

According to The Charlotte Observer, the controversy started at Cape Fear High School, which is in the central part of the state. A senior at that school posed for a picture that appeared fairly innocuous at first glance … but a closer look has some pundits accusing the school of racism.

“A school district outside of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has issued an apology after one of its yearbooks featured an image of a white teen wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt, holding a shotgun and standing in a cotton field,” the newspaper explained.

If you weren’t paying attention, you might think that the image is fairly common for that part of the country. An outdoorsman holding a hunting shotgun isn’t that out of place in the south, but the added elements of the Confederate flag and the cotton field backdrop might suggest something more.

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“In light of all the publicity we’ve had lately over shootings in schools, I thought it was kind of tacky that we’re featuring photos publicizing guns,” a parent named Jay Butler told The Observer about the yearbook picture.

“It was a minute or two later that I noticed he was standing in a cotton field, wearing the Confederate flag. That’s when I thought: ‘This is appalling,’” the parent continued. “But I don’t blame the parents or the student, I blame the school.”

People seem split on how to interpret the image: Is it an innocent snapshot of blue-collar life in the rural south, a joke that went to far, or something overtly meant to be racist?

WTVD reported that it may not have been the senior who submitted the photo, but his mother. She told that news outlet that she “saw nothing wrong with it” when the picture was sent for inclusion in the yearbook.

Do you think this photo was purposely meant to offend?

Other parents like Butler, however, disagree.

“It disrespects other students and nationalities,” the area father insisted. Presumably most students at the school are the same nationality — American — but he likely meant other races.

“Whoever did the yearbook really screwed up on this one,” the concerned parent continued. “People were beaten, whipped, raped just to pick that cotton. It is offensive because we’re trying to get past that.”

The school district, meanwhile, has issued a formal apology.

“We sincerely regret that a photo of this nature was overlooked. It does not reflect the values of Cape Fear High School,” Cumberland County Schools said.

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“Our climate is one of inclusiveness. Moving forward, measures will be taken to ensure there is a more thorough review process of the yearbook in place before it is published,” school administrators continued.

On one hand, there is such as thing as over-sensitivity, and people may be projecting their own views onto a photo that was genuinely meant to be innocent.

On the other hand, however, it’s hard to say that the combination of elements — the Confederate flag, the cotton field, the shotgun — don’t evoke imagery from slavery.

Regardless of whether the image was meant to be offensive, the school is right on one thing: Somebody should have noticed that this was likely to create a controversy, and simply chosen another image instead.

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Benjamin Arie is an independent journalist and writer. He has personally covered everything ranging from local crime to the U.S. president as a reporter in Michigan before focusing on national politics. Ben frequently travels to Latin America and has spent years living in Mexico.