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Commack HS senior sent home for Aunt Jemima costume

Every year since the third grade, Dean Jeziorkowski has gone to school dressed as a woman for Halloween - Barbie, Wilma Flintstone, Pocahontas, a nun.

This year the 17-year-old Commack High School senior dressed as a black-faced Aunt Jemima, prompting school officials to send him home after he refused to scrub the makeup off his face, Jeziorkowski said.

The student said he was told the outfit was racist. Jeziorkowski said he wasn't trying to be racist, and he did not understand how the costume could be considered offensive.

"No one had any problems with me dressed as Pocahontas," he said. This year "they decided I was being offensive. . . . The thing is, I was just wearing a costume."

Asked about the incident Friday, Commack High Principal Russell Stewart declined to comment.

Commack Superintendent of Schools James A. Feltman said a "school official gave him [the student] the opportunity to change." He declined to comment further.

The Aunt Jemima character - a smiling African-American woman - is a registered trademark of the Quaker Oats Co. and has undergone significant portrayal revisions since it was first introduced in 1893.

The term "Aunt Jemima" has often been used in a colloquial form as the female version of the derogatory "Uncle Tom" portrayal of African-Americans.

"These have been historical figures in the past to demonize and make fun of African-Americans," NAACP Long Island regional Director Tracey A. Edwards said Friday. "Black face and Aunt Jemima. . . . Those two in particular. It's offensive, it's hurtful and it's insensitive."

Jeziorkowski, a football player and wrestler at Commack, said his intention wasn't to offend. He said he thought the costume was funny.

"Because I'm a boy. That's a girl. I was a big fat lady. I had a bottle of syrup and everything . . . I was asking, 'Who wants pancakes?' "

The senior said he was told by Stewart and Assistant Principal Susan Shapiro "I had to wash off the paint or leave." Shapiro did not return calls Friday.

Jeziorkowski said he dressed as a cheerleader for school Halloween day in third grade, as Raggedy Ann in fourth, Barbie in fifth, a female "nerd" in sixth, a pregnant woman in seventh, one of the "Pink Ladies" from "Grease" in eighth, Wilma Flintstone in ninth, Pocahontas in 10th and a nun in 11th.

With Carl MacGowan

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