I feel bad. I attended a lovely wedding this morning. And at the reception, I harangued an old friend of mine who is a native Arizonian about the craziness going on in his home state.He shrugged, shook his head in embarrassment and mutual disbelief. I attacked my friend because I had had enough bad news from the state of Arizona, even before the mural story hit the news. In this story, due to negative reactions from the community, an elementary school mural was to be changed so that the subjects had white faces instead of brown one. But when I came home from the wedding, I found this story on the Huffington Post, stating that the school district announced that they “made a mistake.”
(Photo: Wiki Commons, Daniel Case)
They have decided to return the mural to it’s original theme which depicts the students of color that attend the school. Kevin Kapp, school superintendent, and Jeff Lane, school principal, speaking to a group of protestors in front of the mural, both admitted that the school district acted hastily. Kapp said, “…Shame on us if we can’t say we made a mistake and we are sorry!”
(Video Removed by Request)
I am an optimist. My mind has been reeling over the recent happenings in the Arizona legislature. First, the new measure allowing law enforcement to request identification of people and arrest folks who they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that they are undocumented. Then under the directive of the Department of Education, Arizona school districts are now required to remove from the classroom teachers who speak English with heavy accents. And now the “whitening” of the Miller Valley Elementary school mural. The overall climate in Arizona is very scary right now. But in this little scuffle over the mural, reason and sensibility has reigned…And that gives me hope…
But before I get too hopeful, I do want to point out what appears to me to be the crux of the problem. One of the main (or at least most high profile) detractors of the mural was city councilman, Steve Blair, who used his radio program to complain that the mural was an inappropriate representation of the community. He said, according to Gawker.com:
Personally, I think it’s pathetic,” he says. “You have changed the ambiance of that building to excite some kind of diversity power struggle that doesn’t exist in Prescott, Arizona. And I’m ashamed of that.
I think this is the very essence of white unrest in Arizona–this perceived “diversity power struggle.” The councilman tells on himself. He and his fellow protesters are perceiving a power struggle wherein their control over their communities and the nation is slipping away. They feel, especially since Obama took office, that the scale is tipped past (way past) their comfort level. This is happening not just in Arizona, but nationwide. There is a collective discomfort among the privileged that their advantage and control is waning. And they are desperate to “return things to the way they were.” In this case, returning things to the way they were is, as Blair purportedly said, to return to the time when there were only four black families in his neighborhood. He makes the classic racial paranoid statement:
I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you 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?’
Why do racists always start their rants by exclaiming that they are not racist? What is he saying here, that since we have a Black President, also having a mural of a big black face looming down upon the community is just too much? And why does it feel like people always say “one of my best friends is black…but” right before they launch into something offensive about blacks? Blair doesn’t say “my best friend…” He says he had four black families who he was “very good friends with for years.” That’s good enough for the purpose of asking the question, “why?”, as in, why do they have to take over my community and be…so…apparent. Do they think my community is theirs or something?
So my question is, where is the power paranoia coming from? We people of color are still the poorest, the sickest and the most underpresented in this nation. While unemployment stabilized for whites, it still continues to dip for black folks, especially black men. We get a democratic president in office who is the most moderate we’ve seen in years, and still folks start calling him a socialist right out of the gate. But we are not supposed to suggest that their objections to him are because he is black. If we did that, then WE would be “pulling the race card.” And yet here is this silly city councilman pulling the race card himself. What he is asking is, why do I have to drive by a picture of the big black guy every day which will only remind me that my country is being run by a black man and my schools are being taken over by brown people, who expect me to give up some of my advantages so that they can live here, too? Why am I losing control over EVERYTHING?!?
So even though I am optimistic, I know that some serious paranoia is brewing. Arizona’s has just bubbled over the brim, but I suspect more states law makers and educators will follow. Thank you, Miller Valley Elementary school for letting me see that the forces of good out there are still willing to stand up and do the right thing! Sometimes it takes some real silliness to make us rise up and object. It worked at this elementary school…this time. But don’t sit back down just yet. I think the paranoid brigade is just warming up!
P.S. Steve Blair was fired from his radio program gig. So his apparent goal of being the Rush Limbaugh of Arizona has failed. More cause for optimism!