Racism in Prescott, AZ Targets Schoolchildren

This one image is apparently enough to cause some Arizonans to scream racial slurs at elementary school children.

SB1070: Arizona’s anti-immigration law that, in essence, legalizes racial profiling of non-White Arizonans. HB 2281: a law that bans ethnic studies programs in Arizona’s public schools, and that was designed to specifically target a Tucson Unified School District Mexican-American Studies Program. Orders from Arizona’s Department of Education removing teachers with heavy accents from classrooms. You’d think that Arizona might have a problem with people of colour.

In Prescott, Arizona, an elementary school hired a local artist to paint a mural on two of its outside walls, celebrating green transportation. Children from the school were asked to submit photos of themselves; four were chosen to be featured in the mural. One of the children was a Latino boy, whose face (above) is the most prominent in the artwork.

These are the kinds of art projects that promote a sense of inclusion and community in schools. They are the kinds of projects that encourage students to volunteer, to enjoy the arts, and to learn more about green technology.

Yet, in Prescott, Arizona, residents driving by the art project were reportedly infuriated by the image of a brown face on the side of their local elementary school. The artist reports repeatedly being harassed by drivers yelling “n*gger” and “sp*c” out their car windows at him and the children who were helping him complete the project:

R.E. Wall, the artist who heads the Prescott Downtown Mural Project, told a local newspaper passersby regularly shouted racially charged comments at his group while they were creating the mural at the Miller Valley Elementary School.

“You’re desecrating our school,” “Get the ni—- off the wall,” “Get the sp– off the wall,” were common, Wall said. “The pressure stayed up consistently,” Wall said. “We had two months of cars shouting at us.”

Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair. Does he hate all Brown people, or just their elementary school-aged children?

Prescott city councilman, Steve Blair, has led the charge against the mural, speaking at great length on his radio talk show, the Daily Courier. In archives from his radio show, Blair claims he is “not a racist individual” while he simultaneously laments the insidious effects of diversity:

Blair said Wednesday diversity is a word “I can’t stand.”

“The focus doesn’t need to be on what’s different; the focus doesn’t need to be on the minority all the time,” he said.

Mistaking the central figure in the mural as African-American (it was painted from a picture of a Mexican-American student of the school), Blair complains that having to put up with a Black president (and four Black families in his neighbourhood) is enough multiculturalism for one lifetime:

“I am not a racist individual,” Blair said on a radio show last month, “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?'”

In fact, Blair likens the mural to “L.A. graffiti” (because there are Black people in both the mural and L.A.?), and he argues that it is the mural, not him, that is causing the racial controversy:

“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.”

At least Blair is willing to admit that he wouldn’t be up in arms if the mural had depicted four White schoolchildren. And certainly, the school seems to be hoping this is true — the artist was recently asked by the elementary school principal to “lighten” the skin of the four schoolchildren (claiming that he wants them to look more “radiant and happy”).

What truly shocks me about this story is the fact that passersby in Prescott were so offended by an image of a Brown face on their local elementary school, that they rolled down their windows and shouted racial epithets against five- to ten-year-old children. The targets of their racial hatred weren’t imaginary: they were actual children at the elementary school, either depicted in the mural or helping the artist to paint it. That little boy whom Blair mistook for an African-American in his long-winded on-air ranting is a real boy.

Now, we can chalk all of Blair’s commentary up to the whimsy of conservative hate radio, but we must remember that Blair is the elected city councilman of Prescott. Blair represents all of the residents of Prescott in city matters, yet he has outright admitted that he has complete disregard for the 10% of his constituents who are Latino and Black. His abject, Jim Crow racism and hatred of children of colour (several years ago, Blair reportedly called Mexicans “taco flippers”) should not be tolerated in an elected official in 2010.

Act Now! Blair’s talk show — Daily Courierhas been pulled from its station KYCA over his on-air racism. But you can still let Blair know how much you don’t appreciate his racism. His phone number is 928-777-1100 and he can receive emails at this contact page. Contact Blair and let him know that he owes the Black and Latino residents of Prescott — and particularly the schoolchildren associated with this mural — a formal and sincere public apology.

Update: The owner of Blog for Arizona has made the questionable decision to invite me to contribute this, and other local Arizona posts, to his blog. Perhas he’s trying to sweeten me up, so I don’t whup his butt too badly at Catan tonight? In any event, this post is cross-posted over at Blog for Arizona.

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