June 6, 2010

Tough Love: An Open Letter to the State of Arizona.

Dearest Arizona,

You know I love ya: your incredible profusion of desert flowers following a rainy winter in the Superstitions, sitting with legs hanging off Devil’s Bridge near Sedona, Monument Valley at dusk, Hotevilla, Walnut Creek, the eerie silence of the ruins at Wupatki on a late afternoon with no one else around, gazing out from the north rim of the Grand Canyon listening to Coltrane’s Love Supreme, unexpected rock art, a bunch of bars in Flagstaff I can’t remember the names of, the strangely pleasing piss-like scent of the desert after just a few drops of rain, the saddle below Mount Humphrey’s where a friend and I camped (illegally) and saw the sun rise, and the incredible sadness felt my last time there, seeing the plume of smoke from the fire that, in the days that followed, nearly consumed Oak Creek Canyon…as well as the amazing mosaic of people and cultures…Anglo, Navajo, Hopi, Mexican, cowboy, hippie…even yogi…*

And, y’know, Arizona, it really hurts when one you love keeps acting like such a total douchebag.

Okay, my authority on yogic communication might say that last bit wasn’t really helpful in promoting a productive and healing dialogue. I’ll try again..

Listen, I know nobody’s perfect. And, certainly, Arizona, I’ve long known you’re not perfect. Hell, flying out at the end of my last beautiful visit, was getting a cup of coffee at the Tucson airport and an older guy in line just about blew a gasket about whatever was playing on the café sound system….why don’t they have English music? How come everything’s in Spanish?!…(though what was playing was likely a Starbucks world music CD…probably not the choice of any Mexicans who might’ve been working there…and very possibly the lyrics weren’t even in Spanish) (now, no doubt, he’s looking forward to suing the local police force for not demanding papers from Starbucks employees listening to their “illegal immigrant music”) (and that’s not even mentioning Joe Arpaio, John McCain or the new law banning ethnic studies courses…all of which have led Jon Stewart to call you the meth lab of democracy).

But this latest thing…Arizona, what the fuck???!!!

To sum up:

🙂 An elementary school in Prescott, Arizona, has a lovely mural painted, featuring kids from the school.

🙁 Because black and Latino children are featured prominently on the mural, painters are repeatedly harassed by drivers yelling racial slurs, who as it turns out, are spurred on by a city councilman and talk radio “personality” named Steve Blair who says: I am not a racist individual, but

Seriously folks: Have ya ever heard a sentence beginning I am not a racist, but… that ended well?

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?’

Hmmm…somehow, seeing a “black guy” on a mural doesn’t prompt me to ask that question. Hearing somebody complain about a “black guy” on a mural, though, is a different matter. Particularly when that person uses the classic lameass some of my best friends are black argument to deny his obvious bigotry.  Anyway:

🙁  Setting a fine example for its student body, the school decided to stand up to the forces of ignorance and hatred by…promptly ordering the artists to lighten the faces of the children on the mural.

Allow me to repeat that:

🙁 The school ordered the artists to lighten the faces of the children on the mural 🙁

🙁 And these are the faces of actual kids at the school, no less, being told that their skin color isn’t acceptable for public consumption because it might cause trouble.

🙂 But, since then, following a national outcry, school officials have apologized and are restoring the mural to its “original theme.”

Which, if nothing else,  shows that these “educators” cave even more quickly when pressured by nationwide outrage than by a handful of ignorant racists. Somehow, despite the smiley face up there, I’m not all that impressed.

The thing is: this is Prescott one of the more progressive small towns in Arizona—home of ultra-mellow Prescott College. For god’s sake, Billy Jack was filmed there….

And the worst thing, Arizona, is I know that you’re really not that different from the rest of us. Sure, I knew the people declaring the “end of racism” after Obama were full of it (and, by and large, so did they). Still, for a person who’s spent a lot of time studying American history, it was hard not to bask in how far the country seemed to have come…until the birthers, and the tea partiers, and…well, Arizona, let’s just say you and Rand Paul are kinda driving my disappointment home…

In the end, Arizona, you are us and we are you.

But can’t we all try to do a little better than this?

*not even an attempt at a complete list…

It occurs to the author that this post was influenced by Allen Ginsberg’s America

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