Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

Racism in AZ

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I’ve written a few times now about Arizona’s new immigration law.  What I haven’t focused on so much is the very acceptable racism in Arizona.  I’ve noticed it most at coffee shops when I overhear conversations.  From the Bible study group to the AA accountability partners to the crunchy granola hippies, I’ve heard Hispanic people blamed for just about every problem we have or talked about in a disparaging way, always with an added “but they do work hard!”

Those conversations aren’t pretty, but it can get a lot uglier.

An Arizona elementary school mural featuring the faces of kids who attend the school has been the subject of constant daytime drive-by racist screaming, from adults, as well as a radio talk-show campaign (by an actual city councilman, who has an AM talk-radio show) to remove the black student’s face from the mural, and now the school principal has ordered the faces of the Latino and Black students pictured on the school wall to be repainted as light-skinned children.

I bet you didn’t think Dr. Isis could be literal when she asked “How white?”

The decision to whiten the children’s faces has since been reversed, but as Roger Ebert puts it:

How would I feel if I were a brown student at Miller Valley Elementary School in Prescott, Arizona? A mural was created to depict some of the actual students in the school.

Let’s say I was one of the lucky ones. The mural took shape, and as my face became recognizable, I took some kidding from my classmates and a smile from a pretty girl I liked.

My parents even came over one day to have a look and take some photos to e-mail to the family. The mural was shown on TV, and everybody could see that it was me.

Then a City Councilman named Steve Blair went on his local radio talk show and made some comments about the mural. I didn’t hear him, but I can guess what he said. My dad says it’s open season on brown people in this state. Anyway, for two months white people drove past in their cars and screamed angry words out the window before hurrying away. And the artists got back up on their scaffold and started making my face whiter.

We went over to my grandparent’s house, and my grandmother cried and told me, “I prayed that was ending in my lifetime.” Then there was more news: The City Councilman was fired from his radio show, the Superintendent of Schools climbed up on the scaffold with a bullhorn and apologized for the bad decision, and I guess the artists went back up and started making my skin darker again, but I didn’t go to see, because I never wanted to go near that bullshit mural again.

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