An Elgin school board member defended comments she made on her personal Facebook page supporting NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem and equating the American flag with toilet paper.
School District U46 board member Traci O’Neal Ellis wrote “that flag means nothing more than toilet paper to me” in a post that was shared online.
She also wrote she supported the players on the field Sunday, referencing President Donald Trump’s “SOB” comment from a few days earlier. “And I promise you, I would take #TakeAKnee at school board meetings if my doing so would not be disruptive to kids and a distraction to the work we need to do for them,” she wrote.
In a phone interview Wednesday, O’Neal Ellis said the “hateful, mean-spirited, scary” reactions she heard from some in the community proved her point that peaceful, if controversial, protests have many becoming “unhinged.” She wasn’t surprised someone leaked her original Facebook post given “it is Facebook, it’s not like I can post anything and it will have ultimate secrecy.”
When asked if she regretted using the toilet paper analogy, she said no.
“My point was to convey the message that the flag doesn’t mean anything to me. I could’ve said just that and not use the analogy,” she said.
A screenshot of her post went up on some Elgin-area Facebook pages, prompting both support and criticism.
School board member Jeanette Ward, of West Chicago, shared the screenshot on social media. She said she found the message “despicable,” according to a statement on her school board page.
“I was taken aback that she would say that, even though it is consistent with things she’s said in the past. To say it’s nothing more than toilet paper, I’m appalled,” Ward in a phone interview Wednesday.
O’Neal Ellis, in her second Facebook post, said she believed Ward wanted to humiliate her by sharing the image.
O’Neal Ellis wrote a lengthy explanation Tuesday evening on her school board Facebook page, standing by her weekend comments.
“I cannot be embarrassed by righteous truth,” she wrote. “Whether anyone wants to accept it or not, my experience in America is vastly different than that of white people. This is true for most people of color. Unfortunately, many people are arrogant enough to deny the lived experiences of black people.”
O’Neal Ellis wrote that, while many view the flag and anthem as symbols of freedom and justice, it has not been for many in the black community for the majority of the country’s history. She listed slavery, segregation, the civil rights movement, the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests and others as examples that have made her question what the two American symbols meant to her.
“I could then speak about the racism my family has personally experienced, along with the painful sting of racism I personally have experienced, as well as my friends and people I love,” she wrote. “These are the lived experiences that I refuse to give anyone the audacity to deny.”
She goes on to say she has the “deepest respect” for those who have served or serve in the military, but that doesn’t mean she has to love “a false symbol of hope.”
“To conflate the protest happening in the NFL with disrespect for the flag is disingenuous at its best and downright ignorant at its worst,” she wrote. “Our protests have nothing to do with the flag and everything to do with the right to live and live peacefully without fear.”
O’Neal Ellis knew her comment would trigger a response, noting some friends disagree with her. She won’t hide from critics or supporters who may show up at a school board meeting, O’Neal Ellis said.
Ward said it wouldn’t surprise her if residents came out to the next school board meeting asking for O’Neal Ellis to step down.
“The remedy for that is elections,” she added. “If people are not happy about this, the remedy is the elections in 2019, if she chooses to run again.”