What’s the matter with Arizona?

Via Arizona Central:

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.

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).”

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?”

Blair could not be reached for comment Thursday. In audio archives of his radio show, Blair discusses the mural. He insists the controversy isn’t about racism but says the mural is intended to create racial controversy where none existed before.

“Personally, I think it’s pathetic,” he says. “You have changed the ambience of that building to excite some kind of diversity power struggle that doesn’t exist in Prescott, Arizona. And I’m ashamed of that.”

Faces in the mural were drawn from photographs of children enrolled at Miller Valley, a K-5 school with 380 students and the highest ethnic mix of any school in Prescott.

Why is there a black kid displayed prominently? Why not? Honestly, why would anyone care?

But lets get into concrete reasons. If the mural depicts the most integrated school in the city, having a minority student would actually render the painting more accurately representative of its makeup than an all-white selection of students.

There’s a “green” component to the piece, but there’s no discussion of a politicized race statement in the painting. No discussion not started by Blair, that is. Besides broaching the issue, Blair read stereotypes into the painting where they didn’t exist–he claimed the black child carries a stick, a possible weapon. But, as readers can see above, the kid’s hands aren’t even visible, and there is no stick anywhere in his vicinity.

But, to be fair, Blair isn’t the only one to read politicized race into the mural. There were people shouting “nigger” and “spic” at artists for months on end. (Aside: Am I wrong to be bothered that a newspaper for grown-ups refuses to print full quotes with tabboo language, even in contexts in which they are cited with clear and unambiguous disapproval?) Those predjudices obviously existed before the mural, so no “racial controversy” is starting “where there was none before.” That “racial controversy” is one the people of color of Arizona live through daily, apparently. 

If this culture is not atypical in Arizona, it becomes even harder to believe Arizona Senate Bill 1070 is anything but exactly what it looks like.

Blair was fired for his race-baiting by the private local radio company that employed him, and he might lose his council seat. But Arizona will remain a scary place.

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