Nation Marvels at Arizona Mural's Near-Whitewashing

Townspeople almost get a painting of minority schoolkids re-colored

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A mural painted on the side of Miller Valley Elementary School in Prescott, Arizona depicts a group of children of different races. This spring, as the mural was being painted, it attracted the ire of a certain percentage of locals, including city councilman Steve Blair, who wondered on his radio show why the mural featured children of color so prominently. Things seemed about to come to a head when the principal of Miller Valley Elementary asked the mural artists to lighten the faces of the minority children--but last week, the school backed off, saying that the mural would remain as it is. Observers have followed the story with mounting wonder.

  • Here's What Blair Said  Councilman Blair has gotten a lion's share of the attention for his May 21 remarks. Prescott eNews has made available a transcript of the show, where Blair says, "I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you that depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who's President of the United States today, and based upon the history of this community when I grew up, we had four black families, who I have been very good friends with for years, to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, 'Why?'" (Blair was mistakenly identifying the Hispanic boy on the mural as black.)
  • About That Kid...  Mother Jones's Adam Weinstein fact-checks Blair's grievance. "Actually, the painted child in question is Latino, according to the local paper—and like all the kids depicted, he's real. Some of them even helped paint it," writes Weinstein. "In fact, the school is so diverse, its parent newsletters are bilingual ... Blair's comments say less about the mural, or the actual Prescott, than they do about him and his racially sanitized vision for the city."
  • It Just Never Stops With Arizona!  At The Huffington Post, Randall Amster runs down a list of other recent stories that have all contributed, he argues, to a toxic, localized culture of minority intimidation: "Legalizing racial profiling, banning ethnic studies, dismissing teachers with accents, lauding 'ethnic cleansing' policies, militarizing the border, seeking to abolish the 14th Amendment (the one that makes the bill of rights applicable to the states and makes anyone born here a citizen), and more."
  • Can Anyone Doubt This Is About Race?  At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte hopes people keep the Miller Valley mural story in mind "when they feel that urge to run forward and suggest that something like the 'papers please' law or Rand Paul's rejection of the Civil Rights Act must be based in something besides plain old racism. The attempts to keep under wraps the straight-up racism that drives a lot of conservative resentment have apparently been abandoned, and they nuts are just letting their most vicious sides see the light of day. We’d be insulting their intelligence along with our own to pretend that it's anything but what it appears to be going on."
  • Where Does Racism Come From?  On his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert offers a sensitive essay that's part personal history, part thought experiment, and part impassioned call for universal dignity. Some Prescott residents have driven past the mural and shouted racial epithets; without condoning their actions, Ebert tries to guess what might be going on inside them. "Do the drive-by haters feel insecure? How are they threatened? What have they talked themselves into?" he wonders. "Do they fear their own adequacy? Do they grasp for assurance that they're 'better'--which means, not worse? Those poor people. It must be agony to live with such hate, and to seek the company of others so damaged."
  • Keep It Proportional!  Jim Emerson at the Chicago Sun-Times has some fun needling Blair, mock-inquiring whether the mural "should be required to reflect the city's (if not the state's, or the neighborhood's, or the individual public school's) racial demographics, designed so that the size of each face accurately represents that proportion of the population." Emerson breaks down the math: "Miller Valley Elementary had 471 students, including 139 Hispanics -- so, even by Blair's reasoning, that's a pretty good-sized minority. Would he really be happier if the actual size of the Hispanic kid was 139/471ths the size of all human figures on the mural? ... How much more ridiculous can this get?"
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