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It’s Possible Arizona Has an Even Bigger Race Problem Than I Thought

June 7th, 2010

As part of a larger mural project, painters created a mural on one side of an elementary school facing a roadway. The mural’s theme was “Go Green,” and featured four boys using green transportation–walking and riding bikes among images of nature. So, how could this possibly generate racist hatred? Well, this:


No, not the woman in front of the mural. It’s the kid prominently featured in the mural. Specifically, the fact that he’s not white. The image is based upon a student at the school who is of Hispanic origin.

For a few months, while painters were putting the mural up, they endured a steady stream of racist shouts from passing cars. Among the most common comments: “You’re desecrating our school!” “Get the nigger off the wall!” “Get the spic off the wall!” Comments on a newspaper web site said the mural was “ugly,” “tacky,” and “ghetto.” Callers complained of “graffiti” and “forcing diversity down our throats.”

Wow. That’s almost like 1960’s Mississippi or something. Now, seriously, how screwed up do people in a community have to be to spout such racist crap because of a mural like that?

Apparently, screwed up enough that the school district gave the artists a directive: lighten up the face.

More was vocalized by Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair, who had a local radio talk show. On May 21, he got onto the topic by starting with the phrase, “I am not a racist individual, but….” Right there we have a red flag. You know that any statement starting with “I am not a racist individual” will have a pretty strong dose of racism. And the fact that he followed it with the word “but” is telling; that conjunction is contrasting, meaning that the following phrase contains meaning opposite from the preceding one, as in “I don’t like romance novels, but I loved that one.”

Blair’s full 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?’”

Welcome to post-racial racism.

Several interesting cues in there. First of all, what the hell does Obama have to do with this? The fact that Blair hit on that shows that he’s got Obama hatred on the brain. If the mural was made two years ago and featured a white kid, would it have been “based upon” Bush? Clearly this guy has issues with the president which are linked in with his reaction here.

Second, “we had four black families – who I have been very good friends with for years” is the classic “some of my best friends are black” statement, almost universally used in racist statements, as a way of legitimizing the speaker as somehow non-racist, as if liking specific people in a racial group means that you can’t possibly hate the group in general.

And finally, his question: Why depict the biggest picture on the wall as a person of color? The answer, of course, is why not? Now, I am not suggesting that there is not a tendency to emphasize diversity in public murals or other works depicting people, it is quite common. But the real question here is, what’s wrong with that? Does Blair not want his kids exposed to other children of color? Is he offended that a minority face got “more screen time” or “better representation”? More likely, he is simply offended by the idea that someone thought it would be a good idea to express a level of diversity in the community–a thought Blair made clear by saying, “I’m not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it’s a word I can’t stand.” Again with the “I’m not racist, but” bit. And his use of the contrasting conjunction is logically sound: “I’m not racist” certainly contrasts with “I hate diversity.”

Fortunately, there is a a streak of sanity and reason in the community. Blair was let go from the radio station and no longer hosts the show (he is still ticked off about the mural, calling it a “defacing” of the school building). The school principle and superintendent stood up in public and said, “When we asked them to lighten the mural, we made a mistake,” and “Shame on us if we can’t say, ‘We made a mistake and we’re sorry.’” Now, that’s an attitude I can respect–though I am sure that conservatives gagged on that, seeing it as equal to “apologizing for America” or some such. A rally was held at the school where the school officials made this statement with a healthy number of people protesting the racism. Presumably, the less tolerant citizens stayed away in disgust.

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  1. Troy
    June 7th, 2010 at 12:02 | #1

    Deep, deep fear of loss of privilege and the status quo to mere immigrants. Whites made this country what it is, and these no-class people are going to run it down.

    Thing is, in my Mom’s neighborhood, the immigrant Mexicans are “taking over” and I occasionally joke with her that they have been raised by wolves.

    There *is* something of a culture clash; property lines aren’t apparently sacred south of the border (a neighbor liked to sit in their chairs in our driveway during the evening since we had better trees than they did). While staying overnight on more than one occasion I was awakened by humongous all-night parties with their infernal Norte tuba “music”


    But anyhoo, that’s one of the bigger benefits living in Japan for 8 years gave me, appreciation of what’s it’s like to be an immigrant.

    And one of the nicer things about Japan I guess is we EuroAmericans aren’t expected, nor particularly wanted to, assimilate into total Japaneseness, though, in truth, the longer we’re here the closer to the ideal Gaijin we are expected to approach I guess.

    June 7th, 2010 at 15:32 | #2

    I am an emigrant since, at 19, my uncle invited me to live with him in New York: since then, I have lived in several countries. I always considered it my duty to learn to appreciate the culture of the host country. When, years later, I moved to Quebec from Peru, there was no question that my sons would have to learn English and French. True: emigrants can have and do have an enriching cultural impact in the host country, particularly when they are in large numbers, be it Hispanics, Italians or Chinese. Another matter, though, is when, in the name of “diversity”, we expect that our own culture should prime over the culture of the host country. My uncle in New York had a saying in this respect: “you cannot have your heart in one place and your ass in another”.

  3. Stuart
    June 9th, 2010 at 09:58 | #3

    I used to live in Prescott. There is a little bit of a southern culture there more than other parts of Arizona, racist ideals included, but there’s some mix of liberal values slowly seeping in too, as the city area continues to grow and attract more people and more diverse people. It’s the first place that I have met republicans not afraid to express liberal viewpoints (as opposed to faux libertarians who disguise their conservative agenda in liberal clothing). Quite an interesting political mix there.

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