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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 24, 2003

Attack the act, but not boy at school

The highly contested admission of 12-year-old Brayden Mohica-Cummings to Kamehameha Schools has touched off racially charged sentiments on both sides.

Supporters say the private school's Hawaiian-preference policy is racist, while opponents contend that ordering the admission of a non-Hawaiian to Kamehamaha Schools is as anti-Hawaiian as it gets.

If they really want to know how racism feels, they should ask Elizabeth Eckford of Arkansas. On a fall morning in 1957, the diminutive, black 15-year-old — wearing a cap-sleeved dress, bobby socks and penny loafers — grabbed a pair of sunglasses and a three-ring notebook and made her way to Little Rock Central High School.

Blocking her entrance was a wall of Arkansas National Guardsmen.

An angry segregationist mob spat and clawed at Eckford and eight other black students attending the previously all-white school as part of a desegregation order following the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling.

Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus had ordered the state's National Guard to prevent any black students from entering to protect citizens and property from possible violence by protesters.

The troops withdrew a couple of weeks later after a federal judge granted an injunction to stop the governor from blocking the integration.

Classes resumed, but the "Little Rock nine" couldn't enter the building because of the protesters. Finally, they got inside under the protection of 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. And so began their high school years, which were marked with taunting, physical and verbal assaults and even death threats.

In no way are we positing that Mohica-Cummings' admission to Kamehameha Schools is an act of desegregation. Regardless of ethnicity, it's understandable to feel frustrated if you've failed repeatedly to get your kid into an affordable private school, and someone who shouldn't qualify under the rules gets in.

But directing hostility toward a 12-year-old boy because of his race is an act of bigotry. And goading people to act out their resentment, even in the most subtle ways, is hate speech that is not protected.

And so we are troubled by remarks made at protests, such as "I don't know how the kids will treat him but they will have every right to resent him."

U.S. District Judge Alan Kay will determine the fate of Kamehameha School's Hawaiian-preference admission policy later this year in response to a separate challenge. Whatever he decides, it will probably be appealed, so it's entirely possible Mohica-Cummings will graduate before the issue is resolved.

In the meantime, it's OK to get angry at the loopholes in the system that allowed Mohica-Cummings to gain a slot that could have gone to a Hawaiian. Or to be upset at his parents for perhaps not following the application procedure as closely as they should.

But if you attack the boy — or even if you intimate that others may be justified for doing so — you're just as bad as the segregationist mob in Little Rock back in 1957.