In 1998 the San Francisco School Unified District (SFUSD) hosted a controversial exhibit titled No More Scapegoats! The exhibit was in direct response to the victory of the 1994 California anti-immigrant Proposition 187. The exhibit’s tagline was “An exhibition connecting the life and times of Anne Frank with the challenge to confront racism and intolerance today.” Over the year, thousands of students toured the exhibition as an extension of their education.
The exhibition juxtaposed the traveling Anne Frank exhibit with contemporary art depicting historic and current expressions of human cruelty. Local community groups fighting for human dignity also contributed displays and encouraged students to join in the struggle.
The goal of the exhibit was to inoculate the next generation against the deadly social diseases of jingoism and xenophobia. Unfortunately our current political climate reveals lot more work needs to be done before reaching social immunity.
Fast forward to June 2019: The SFUSD Board unanimously votes to cover up the Life of George Washington murals at George Washington High School. The 1936 WPA mural by Victor Arnautoff portray the racist cruelty of colonial America by depicting a murdered native and toiling blacks, outing the founding father(s) for being complicit with genocide and slavery.
Some Washington High students of color have reported the depictions make them uncomfortable. In response, SFUSD created a group to study the issue and make recommendations. They concluded that Arnautoff’s mural, “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.” They also stated, “The impact of this mural is greater than its intent ever was. It’s not a counter-narrative if [the mural] traumatizes students and community members.”
SFUSD is engaging in Orwellian newspeak on the Arnautoff mural issue. Removing the images of the “threat” does not remove the reality of the dangers portrayed. Students of color are correct in feeling uneasy by the mural; its message is clear; a country founded on genocide, slavery and domination is still a dangerous and sometimes deadly place for people of color.
Don Carney is a volunteer coordinator at the Marin Youth Court and producer/director of “No More Scapegoats!” We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].