A new story has broken about Arizona that sounds like it just can’t be real. It MUST be a Saturday Live Sketch, or a politically-anchored fictional line on an MSNBC show. But it isn’t: it’s yet another example of how passions — and in this instance biases — can become politically dominant, particularly when the message is put out by a (what else?) talk radio show host since that popular genre thrives on fanning controversies and sparking rage.
(UPDATE: Radio talk show host Steve Blair has now been fired by his radio station. News story is HERE. Read a new TMV blog post on this development HERE. )
Read this and (unless you agree with it) weep (for us all):
A group of artists has been asked to lighten the faces of children depicted in a giant public mural at a Prescott school.
The project’s leader says he was ordered to lighten the skin tone after complaints about the children’s ethnicity. But the school’s principal says the request was only to fix shading and had nothing to do with political pressure.
That’s a warning flag right there. Except in the present political climate, there would be no demand for artists to lighten skin color. For any reason. Here in San Diego you see many murals — in parks, at schools. I’ve visited many schools all over the country and see murals all the time. Some depict children of various ethnicities.
This has not been an issue with most murals in the country. Until now — because it has become fashionable to turn ethnicity into an issue and those who are pressing issues related to minorities now sense they have some victories. So they press foward and officials at various levels cave in — invariably armed with a lawyerly like explanation or some kind of cover story. But their cover stories usually sound as much like spin as when you listen to the smug talking GOP or Democratic political heads on cable shows spout lines that you and they know are really THIS.
But the people who are clamoring for these changes know what it is — a victory.
And the people on the “losing end” know what it is — they are being targeted. MORE:
The “Go on Green” mural, which covers two walls outside Miller Valley Elementary School, was designed to advertise a campaign for environmentally friendly transportation. It features portraits of four children, with a Hispanic boy as the dominant figure.
R.E. Wall, director of Prescott’s Downtown Mural Project, said he and other artists were subjected to slurs from motorists as they worked on the painting at one of the town’s most prominent intersections.
“We consistently, for two months, had people shouting racial slander from their cars,” Wall said. “We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics).”
But that could not have influenced the request for them to change the skin tone, of course:
Wall said school Principal Jeff Lane pressed him to make the children’s faces appear happier and brighter.
“It is being lightened because of the controversy,” Wall said, adding that “they want it to look like the children are coming into light.”
Lane said that he received only three complaints about the mural and that his request for a touch-up had nothing to do with political pressure. “We asked them to fix the shading on the children’s faces,” he said. “We were looking at it from an artistic view. Nothing at all to do with race.”
To be fair, that there is a chance that could be true — if you ignore the rest of the context of this story and how most murals simply are put up without a “request” for an artistic edit by an educator.
And if you do believe that explanation explains it totally, completely, entirely, thoroughly, well, then, let me tell you about how this Easter a nice, furry bunny will hop into your home when you’re asleep and hide some eggs. And these eggs will actually be chocolate!
Wait! Chocolate eggs? Shouldn’t there be white chocolate, too? What’s going on with that bunny? Does he have an agenda?
Who are the other MANY victims in this due to the news that has been coming from Arizona about the new immigration law, the targeting of a school district’s ethnic studies courses, a crackdown on teachers who teach English who have accents?
The millions of citizens of Arizona who don’t reflect these policies or the polarizing comments of some politicians — people of all ages, political parties and ethnicities who don’t scream hate words at mural painters and who might not approve the rantings of politicians and talk show hosts seemingly trying to capture political lightening in a bottle to they can uncap it and get big ratings or win elections.
Plus the thousands of excellent public servants and the countless principals and teachers in public and private schools who love their kids, respect their families, cherish their schools’ ethnic diversity, see themselves as having great jobs to be able to interact with the kids and their kids’ families — and who have the backbone to defend them.
And of course — as in most controversies these days that involve anger and rants — talk radio played a key role in this controversy:
City Councilman Steve Blair spearheaded a public campaign on his talk show at Prescott radio station KYCA-AM (1490) to remove the mural.
In a broadcast last month, according to the Daily Courier in Prescott, Blair mistakenly complained that the most prominent child in the painting is African-American, saying: “To depict the biggest picture on the building as a Black person, I would have to ask the question: Why?”
So to Mr. Blair, whether that was a mistaken characterization of the mural or not, here is a question for you:
It seemed to be a really big deal in your life that you perceived the biggest picture on that building was of a black person.
I would have to ask the question: Why?
HERE IS SOME MORE REACTION TO THIS STORY:
—Ken Lane at Wonkette is the one who propelled this story further into the blogosphere. Read his post in full. Here’s a small part of it:
Hard to find even the Gallows Humor in this story, so maybe we won’t even try. Maybe it’s time to admit that large chunks of America are in the hands of unreconstructed racists and vulgar idiots, and that the popular election of a black man as president just might’ve pushed these furious, economically doomed old white people into a final rage that is going to end very, very badly. Ready? Here you go:
He recounts the story and ends with this:
If the unemployment keeps up — one in five adult white males has no job and will never have a job again — and people keep walking away from their stucco heaps they can’t afford and the states and cities and counties and towns keep passing their aggressive racist laws to rile up the trash even more, [it’s] going to very soon become very bad, and whether it’s the National Guard having wars in the Sunbelt Exurbs against armies of crazy old white people who are finally using their hundreds of millions of guns, or whole Latino neighborhoods burned to the ground the way the Klan used to burn down black neighborhoods a century ago, we are in for a long dark night and no light-colored paint is going to fix that.
Yes, sure, I’m supposed to believe that a school principal was giving artistic direction….You know, Arizona stuff like this isn’t going to help convince people that there isn’t some weird racial thing going on in your state.
Blair isn’t just a radio personality who leads off the talkfest there at KYCA-AM. He’s a city councilman. He actually has a say in what can and cannot be done in the city of Prescott. His show leads straight into Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.
And so the mural artists will probably lighten the skin of the actual children who are depicted in that mural. Children who actually attend the actual school with the wall where that mural is painted. Children who are making a positive statement about ecology, the environment, and living ‘green’. Children who are being taught a lifestyle that might actually free us from the bondage of oil.
It makes that “family values” part of the right-wing mantra seem so trite, doesn’t it?
Blair also said he is not a “a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it’s a word I can’t stand.”
Under pressure, Wall is altering the mural. But the racial dispute in Arizona, no doubt, is in full swing,
Apparently an artistic view that thinks happier and brighter means lighter.
And for the record, the faces in the mural were drawn from pictures of children who attend the school.
—Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post:
What can I say about this? We are talking about a bunch of mentally deranged adults, who have terrorized an elementary school, for daring to paint a mural featuring the faces of black and Latino children — actual black and Latino children who live in Arizona. And we’re also talking about a group of adults who have decided to send a stirring message to their students and the world: when a bunch of mentally deranged adults — and we are not talking about people who are particularly threatening, this is a bunch of utterly gutless mopes, yelling racial slurs from their cars, egged on by some pinhead city councilman cowering behind a radio microphone — threaten a bunch of children, the best thing to do is to accede to their psychotic, racist “demands.”
Seriously, educators of Prescott, Arizona, when some creep demands you whiten the faces of your own students on a mural, the correct response is to say, “No, we will not be doing anything of the sort.”
This story really should be blasted, far and wide. You cable news producers need to get this story in the mix with a quickness. And let me be clear to you all: there are no “two sides to this story.”
Yep, nothing at all to do with race. As if the people driving by, yelling at the children painting were screaming out, stupid chiaroscuro shading! Your mural has no depth!
This story is really a matter of what’s worse. The racist people screaming slurs at children, or the school for listening to their racist demands.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.