Miller Valley Elementary school principal Jeff Lane has two choices. He can cave to the handful of loudmouth bigots in Prescott, Arizona who demand that he whiten the mural on the front of his school that prominently pictures an African-American student. Or, he can say: the mural stands as it is. If Lane makes the first cowardly choice, he will confirm what thousands in recent weeks have marched against and many more think about Arizona. That the state is chock full of kooks, crackpots, unreconstructed Klansmen, and paranoid America first immigrant bashing xenophobes.
That's a heck of a load for any state and its residents to carry. But Arizona has worked hard to pile up that load. It's has drawn the line in the sand with its draconian and borderline racial profiling immigration law, signed a bill banning the state's schools from teaching ethnic studies classes, and in the past has sent gun toting militia men to patrol the border. Arizona has become America's poster state for fear, bigotry and intolerance. Now layered on top of this is the mural controversy.
The trouble started the instant Prescott Downtown Mural Project artists slapped the first touches of paint on the Miller Valley Elementary School mural with the prominent picture of a smiling, cheerful African-American (or brown skinned Hispanic student) student. The artists say that drivers shouted racial slurs and epithets at them. How many and who they were, they didn't say. But obviously there were enough for them to make a public issue of the mural. This could easily have been chalked up to the rants of a few batty hotheads. But then Prescott City Councilman and KYCA talk show host Steve Blair got into the act. KYCA incidentally is a Fox News Radio affiliate and carries Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. In successive shows this writer listened to Blair spew gems such as "putting a black guy on the mural is no way to promote diversity," "and you can't shove diversity down people's throats," and mockingly "why a black person, why not a Hispanic, and an Arab too."
Apparently, that was enough for Lane to cut bait on the mural. The artists said Lane promptly requested that they literally go back to the drawing board and whiten (or more politely "lighten" ) the face of the African-American student. Lane's backpedal might have passed way under the public radar scope and could be shrugged off as one more example of a cowed official pandering to real or imagined public pressure to plug the dike against diversity.
This would be too charitable. The mural controversy is more than a local small city flap. It's a symbol of the mounting racial passions, fears and hatred that have exploded to the surface in the drum beat of barely masked racial assaults on President Obama, and that have been fanned further in the immigration fight. Diversity can't be separated from the racial battles of the day. In fact, reviling diversity has always been a favored preoccupation of bigots and racial isolationists. If school Principal Lane buckles to them and reworks the mural he'll confirm the worst of the worst about Arizona, and himself. It's his choice.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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