‘If we cover it up and we whitewash it, not only are we doing a disservice to history, but we’re also doing a disservice to those who suffered…’
(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) A San Francisco school board voted to remove a historic mural dedicated to George Washington, labeling it “racist” and degrading, but hundreds of California educators and students are fighting back.
In June, the San Francisco Board of Education decided to paint over a 13-panel mural depicting the life of George Washington because the painting, dating back to 1936, included images of Native Americans and slaves.
But more than 500 academics have signed an open letter asking the school district to reconsider, arguing that destroying controversial things of the past won’t erase them.
“If we cover it up and we whitewash it, not only are we doing a disservice to history, but we’re also doing a disservice to those who suffered at the hands of European-descended Americans: slaves and Native Americans who were traumatized and killed,” Rachael Z. DeLue, a Princeton University professor of art history and American studies, told USA Today.
“It’s also the case that this isn’t simply of the past,” DeLue said. “The legacies of slavery and federal policy about Native Americans live on in the present.”
Still, the majority of students and teachers in the district want the mural to come down. In a district meeting two weeks ago, several community members started chanting “Bring it down!,” according to USA Today.
“It’s not a matter of censorship, it’s a matter of human right: the right to learn without hostile environments,” said Paloma Flores, program coordinator for the district’s Indian Education Program.
Painting over the mural would cost the district at least $600,000, according to district officials. But the board decided that footing the bill for this would be its own form of reparations for minorities offended by the mural.
If kids are offended by the mural, they should confront its painful realities, said Paul Von Blum, a senior lecturer in African–American studies and communications studies at University of California–Los Angeles.
“I know it causes students to cringe,” Von Blum said of the mural, “but that’s the function of art. And art should never be censored.”