KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee woman who posted a video of her tearful son recounting being bullied at school has appeared on national media outlets to deflect accusations of racism.
Kimberly Jones told Good Morning America and CBS This Morning on Tuesday that a photo of her family with a Confederate flag posted on social media was real, but that it didn't make her a racist.
The photo surfaced Monday, three days after Jones posted video of her son, Keaton, crying as he described being bullied at an East Tennessee middle school. In the video, Keaton said other students call him ugly, make fun of his nose and tell him he has no friends. He said milk was poured on him and ham was put down his clothes.
"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully?" Keaton said. "What's the point of it? Why do they find joy in taking innocent people and find a way to be mean to them? It's not OK.
"People that are different don't need to be criticized about it. It's not their fault. If you are made fun of, just don't let it bother you."
The video had more than 18 million views by Sunday and prompted an outpouring of support from celebrities including actor Chris Evans, Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker, University of Tennessee wide receiver Tyler Byrd, retired race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and singers Snoop Dog and Katy Perry.
The video also led to scrutiny of Kimberly Jones' social media accounts, including a post showing a photograph of her and relatives with a Confederate flag and an American flag that prompted a backlash online.
"I feel like anybody who wants to take the time to ask anybody who I am or even troll through some other pictures, I mean I feel like we're not racist," Jones told ABC News. "(The photo) was meant to be ironic and funny and extreme."
She added, "I am genuinely, truly sorry. If I could take it back I would."
"I've said I spent most of my life being bullied and judged because I wasn't racist," Jones told CBS News.
In a statement to media, the Tennessee school district where Keaton is a student said bullying isn't allowed.
"We must provide an academic environment that is safe, civil and supportive," Union County Public Schools director James Carter said in the statement. "We do not and will not tolerate bullying and have a policy in place" that addresses it.
Principal Greg Clay, at Horace Maynard Middle School where the boy is enrolled, said he wasn't aware of Jones being repeatedly bullied. He added that the incident described in the video had been resolved weeks ago.
"It's not as rampant as the video would have you believe," Clay said. "I can't tell you what was done, but I can tell you action was taken with the children."
On Tuesday, Keaton was visiting the University of Tennessee campus. Tennessee football player Tyler Byrd tweeted a photo showing the boy shaking hands with Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer.