Sunday night a video went viral and we were introduced to Tennessee middle school student Keaton Jones. The clip shows a teary-eyed Jones passionately pleading for bullies to leave him alone. He even finds time to offer advice to other bully victims. “People that are different don’t need to be criticized about it…if you are made fun of just don’t let it bother you,” Jones shares.
I sat in bed watching the ongoing support for Jones pour into my Instagram feed. Many celebrities including Justin Bieber, Chris Evans, and Mark Ruffalo showed their support. Additionally, Tennessee Titans tight end, Delanie Walker, invited Jones to a game and a GoFundMe page was created on his behalf. I went to bed with a smile knowing that good people will use their platform to rally behind a victim and make them feel loved.
As I slept the Internet, as it always does, continued to investigate. I woke up to multiple photos of Kimberly Jones, Keaton’s mother, promoting the Confederate flag. In one photo she stood with a grin on her face holding out the flag in front of her, while in another photo from her daughter’s Facebook the family, including Keaton, poses with the Confederate Flag.
In an interview with a CBS Morning Show, Kimberly Jones was asked about the photos. Jones said, “The only two photos…it was ironic, it was funny.” This is where the line gets blurred. The aforementioned GoFundMe page that accumulated over $58,000 is currently on hold. Many people are withdrawing their support for Jones, deleting tweets and Instagram posts. As with most viral sensations, there are two sides to this story, but the victim of a real problem is becoming overshadowed by a mother’s feigned ignorance.
This story blends two issues within our society that have plagued many Americans, the ongoing promotion of racist symbols and bullying, which upon further investigation have striking similarities.
Kimberly Jones and Keaton Jones are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Keaton Jones is a victim, while his mother is perpetuating racism.
Kimberly Jones’s white privilege has hindered her ability to sympathize with African Americans. America’s racist past has affected nobody in Ms. Jones’s family negatively, therefore making the Confederate flag “ironic.” The Confederate flag is a symbol of racism, period. It represents the bullies that physically and emotionally harmed an entire community for hundreds of years without ramifications. Ms. Jones’ deficiency to understand the harm of that flag makes her a bully.
Although Ms. Jones lacks the capacity to see the harm of the Confederate flag, which brings to question her ability to express empathy, she had no problem exposing the harm bullying may cause to her son. Unlike the emotional arise the Confederate flag conjures up to African Americans, bullying has no racial boundaries making it a universal epidemic.
However, bullying and racism function from the same principle. If you have white skin you might not feel the same way about the Confederate flag as someone with a darker skin tone, however, it would behoove you not to empathize with your fellow American. Our society has a terrible habit of compartmentalizing empathy.
Much like how Keaton Jones needs to feel loved by his community, African Americans need to as well. When photos of smiling faces surrounding a Confederate flag are circulated in 2017 it reassures African Americans that historical racism is still acceptable. It tells us that we are not welcomed in certain parts of the country we call home. Similar to how bully victims avoid certain hallways in school, or a table at lunch, there are parts of this country that we will not travel for fear of our safety.
Keaton is still a victim. The support for Keaton should not stop because he needs to feel loved. What happened to him is not an isolated incident, nor will it stop. However, this story should serve as a wakeup call to Ms. Jones and others alike. The symbols you find humorous are not funny. Ms. Jones, by promoting images of a Confederate flag you are a bully and you are raising your son, who in the video has shown the ability to sympathize and remain positive, to become a bully.
In the words of your son, “just out of curiosity why do they bully? Why do you enjoy taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to them?”