My school recently put up a new mural on the side of the cafeteria. In a very kumbayah sort of way, it depicts a white hand shaking a brown hand in, I imagine, an image of friendship. Warm fuzzies all around, right? Plus, the big mural with its vivid colors is lovely to look at, and brightens up the campus.
Then I began to hear grumblings. (Mind you, I hadn’t actually seen the mural at this point.) Another colleague came up to me and asked if I had seen “the racist mural.” I was told that the Mexican kids were mad and complaining, so I went to take a look.
Notice anything? Look closer.
The white hand has lots of cool stuff behind it, like music, art, sports, a hot air balloon, a train. (A train?) Now look at the brown hand and what’s behind it: grapes, a river, and a Trojan head. (Ok, the Trojan head is a stretch, since our mascot is the Spartan; but the jokes began making the rounds about Mexicans needing birth control.)
I can hear some of you right now, “Oh, sheesh. How sensitive can you people possibly be?” “Get over yourselves.” “You people see racism everywhere.”
I don’t think it’s racist, per se, but it is insensitive. How? Stop and think for a minute. If we lived in an area with a large black population, and we were the watermelon capital of California, wouldn’t it be insensitive, if not downright racist, to paint the two together? Would anyone make such a mistake?
I don’t care if you think Latinos, or other people of color, are too sensitive. We make up too large a percentage of this county, this state, this country, to ignore how we feel about things. Period. You need to be sensitive to us, or expect to be called out on it. Period.
Back to the mural.
Some students complained to me, so I met with a group of them and encouraged them to take their concerns to the principal. I coached them on how to approach her, and also suggested they have an answer to the problem, like maybe switch the colors on the hands. I asked if they knew the ethnic makeup of the group of students and adults who made the mural, and they told me the group was all white. Surprise, surprise.
The students came back and told me the meeting went well, and that the principal agreed to changes. True to her word, changes were made, and fairly quickly. Here’s the updated mural.
I’m super proud the students stood up for what they knew to be right, they did it in a mature and proactive way, and they asked me for guidance.