His Name Is “Malcolm X” — Whether You Like It Or Not.

His name is Malcolm Xavier Combs. Yet he was allegedly pulled out of class, berated, and told by a school administrator at his school— Christ the King High School in Queens, NY — that he can’t have “Malcolm X” on his senior hoodie sweatshirt.

According to the Daily News,

Malcolm Xavier Combs wanted the name “Malcolm X” on his senior sweater, but the school denied his request…School official Veronica Arbitello “told me … that’s someone I don’t want to be associated with,” the National Honor Society member said in reference to the slain ’60s black activist….Arbitello joked about his name with her white husband, school basketball coach Joe Arbitello, introducing the senior as “the new Malcolm X.” “I felt insulted. They just laughed at me … that’s my name, Malcolm X., not a nickname,” said the offended [Honors] student.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another case in education of White privilege dangerously coupled with a gross lack of cultural competency — on steroids.

Malcolm earned the credits required to uphold the status of being a senior in high school as per not only the school, but the State of New York. As a matter of fact he is an exceptional student and a member of the National Honor Society. His name is Malcolm X!! How can he be told that he can’t adorn HIS senior hoodie for which HE has paid with HIS name?

Historically speaking, throughout slavery White people stripped us of our original names and renamed us with the slave master’s name. This incident rings reminiscent of such practices.

Would there have been such a backlash if the student wanted to put Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s name on the back of his senior hoodie sweatshirt? Or has Dr. King wrongfully been watered down and whitewashed enough to meet the approval of this seemingly culturally-inept White school administration? Is Malcolm X, even in his death, still too Black and too strong for White educators?

News flash: Who Black people choose to revere from our community doesn’t need to meet the approval of White people! Wanting to put the name “Malcolm X” on his senior hoodie sweatshirt is this student’s personal decision. Whether or not this school administration likes Malcolm X — what little it seems they know about the slain Civil Rights leader — is irrelevant.

Furthermore, to my knowledge and based on what’s been reported thus far about this incident in the Daily News, no stipulations about who or what could be on a senior’s hoodie were in place at the time when Malcolm Xavier Combs made his request to put his name — “Malcolm X” — on the back of his sweatshirt. I can’t say it enough: Malcolm X is his name. He can’t have his name on his hoodie because White administrators don’t like the fact that he shares his name with a prominent and historical Black figure.

In a follow-up article, it was revealed that the reason Malcolm Xavier’s request was denied was because it could “offend”. Specifically, in an interview Thursday, school spokesman Bill Cunningham said names on the shirts were vetted so no students were offended.

From the article:

“The effort here is to give the students their identity but make sure everybody is treated fairly,” [school spokesman] Cunningham said. “It’s a multicultural institution and that’s why you have to be careful that everybody gets a fair deal.” “Given (the) diverse nature of this community, we are especially concerned about language and deportment so that no member of our Christ the King family feels marginalized in any way,” the statement from Serphin Maltese, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said.

Offend who? What about the student being offended? What about his rights? What about the way he was taken out of class and blatantly laughed at by the school’s assistant principal and coach? What about his feelings? What about highlighting his culture? Or do Black children not get to have feelings, wants, desires, or validation?

I was able to locate this image of the sweatshirt order form as well as the full statement put out by the school’s chairman of the board of trustees:


To the Christ the King Family, Campus and Community,

Christ the King High School strives to create a welcoming environment for our entire community. It should also be noted that Christ the King, an independent Catholic High School, proudly serves a multi-cultural student body. All races and religions are welcome, and that has made our campus a model for others to emulate.

Like all schools, rules are established for the enhancement of learning and the good and welfare of all on campus.  Given diverse nature of this community, we are especially concerned about language and deportment so that no member of our Christ the King family feels marginalized in any way.

One of the established rules regarding what name may be stitched on Senior sweatshirts has been misconstrued in the press. Any senior purchasing a sweatshirt can have their first or last name added to the sweatshirt’s sleeve. (See ABOVE order form)  That rule, first or last name, is spelled out clearly on the order form that is sent to parents and students. The goal is to have a uniform rule that allows the student his or her identity. The form does not call for middle names or initials, and also states No nicknames. Occasionally, a nickname is approved if that is the most common identity of that student, the name by which the student body and faculty know that student. 

The recent articles about one of our students and Malcolm X has, unfortunately, been taken out of context and has been misconstrued.  When this students family raised the issue about the name he wished on the sweatshirt, the school readily agreed to meet and discuss the matter.  Unfortunately before that meeting took place, this became a media issue. 

The historical figure, Malcolm X, is a subject covered in our history classes, and has been a part of the curriculum for many years, especially in the study of the civil rights movement in our country.  Additionally, the school library has multiple books on Malcolm X as well as other figures from the African American experience.  

It is our hope, that in the spirit that guides us, we will be able to resolve this on mutually acceptable terms, reinforcing all that is good about Christ the King High School.

Serphin R. Maltese 

Chairman of the Board

Do you see how it says “No nicknames,” then in the same breath it says that occasionally nicknames are allowed? First of all, it doesn’t say nicknames allowed per review; if that was indeed the case, how did any student know to write a nickname in the first place? Probably because it’s been done and allowed in the past with no problem or backlash. The issue is not nicknames. The issue is THIS nickname. The issue is with Malcolm X — both of them. White mainstream society has a problem with strong Black men who take a stand against the racist practices of oppressors.

I even spoke with a student of the school who prefers to remain anonymous who confirms that the school has openly admitted to allowing “nicknames” although the form says no nicknames. “They allowed certain students to put their nickname on their hoodie” says the anonymous student. If there were no nicknames allowed on paper, yet there were some students allowed to have a nickname on their hoodie, then Malcolm X should be as well — especially since that is his name! The “X” is not a nickname. It is the first initial of his middle name!

Let’s just keep it all the way real — as far as I’ve ever known and anyone who has had a senior hoodie would agree that it is usually nicknames that go on them! As a matter of fact, the one I’m about to order will say “Ma Dukes.”

The spirit of what is happening at Christ the King High School occurs in more schools than we know about or address across New York. This incident further substantiates my claim that within the schools of New York City  — public, charter, parochial — the pervasive underlying belief is that Black lives, living or deceased, don’t matter. We are reduced in the curriculum (a mere mention of a person doesn’t constitute teaching about them) and we are reduced in the teaching staff workforce (over 80% of teachers in NY are White women).

How much more evidence do we need to prove that we need more Black educators, more culturally competent educators of all backgrounds and ethnicities, working in our schools?

By not acting on this obvious need, those with the power to do so are, in effect, placing Black and Brown students directly in harm’s way every time they enter the classroom with an educator – an adult in a position of power over them — who doesn’t know about them, doesn’t want to know about them, and worse, who punishes them for knowing more and wanting to know more about themselves and their history.


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