A Queens school is accused of being culturally insensitive after flatly rejecting a student’s request to have his name, Malcolm X, stitched on the back of his senior sweater.
Malcolm Xavier Combs, a student at Christ the King High School, said school administrator Veronica Arbitello called him to her office during class just to tell him he couldn’t have the Black activist’s namesake on his sweater, the New York Daily News reported.
“[She] told me … that’s someone I don’t want to be associated with,” Combs said. “All I wanted was the ‘X.’ My name is Malcolm Xavier Combs.”
The teen’s parents were equally outraged, saying school leaders appeared unfamiliar with Malcolm X and his contributions to the Black freedom struggle. As a revered and, at times, controversial figure, X rallied for the equality of Black Americans before his assassination in February 1965.
Not only did Arbitello deny Combs’ request, but she mocked him for it. The honor student said he became livid after the assistant principal shared a laugh about his name with her husband, Coach Joe Arbitello. Combs said Arbitello laughingly introduced him as “the new Malcolm X.”
“I felt insulted,” he told the newspaper. “They just laughed at me … that’s my name, Malcolm X, not a nickname.”
Combs ultimately canceled his order for the $40 sweater bearing the shared namesake. The teen turned to his parents for help regarding the school’s decision but said neither Arbitello nor any other administrators contacted them to discuss the name conflict.
According to the Daily News, Combs’ parents have scheduled a Thursday meeting at the school and reached out to the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network to go with them.
“This is absurd that in 2018 we have to teach school administration how to be culturally sensitive,” said the Rev. Kevin McCall, a crisis director for NAN. “In the spirit of Malcolm X, we’re calling cultural inclusion events with this school administration so that they can understand what it means to be Black in America.”
Combs’ parents said they won’t take legal action against the school. His mother, Mychelle Combs, said she instead wants to see faculty undergo cultural sensitivity training, and for the school to hire more diverse staffers.