Arizona Councilman Attacks Mural for Highlighting Dark-Skinned Youth

A city councilman with a history of racial insensitivity in Prescott, Ariz., has been fired from his talk radio show after his complaints about a school mural featuring children of several races helped propel the artwork into an embarrassing national news story.

Last month, Steve Blair commented on KYCA about a mural at the Miller Valley Elementary School that depicted children of several races using “green” transportation. On the May 21 radio show, Blair took exception to the art prominently featuring a dark-skinned boy.

“I am not a racist individual, 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?’” the Associated Press reported Blair saying.

Last week, Blair was reported as saying, “I’m not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it’s a word I can’t stand.” He added that he had received complaints about the mural and that, “What these people don’t like is somebody forcing diversity down their throats.”

Never mind that several Miller Valley Elementary School students posed for a photo that was used as the basis of the mural.

After the comments, school officials asked the artists to lighten the faces of the children in the mural, reportedly to make them appear more radiant and happy. The school superintendent and principal have since apologized, and the mural is being restored to its original form.

Apparently, this is hardly the first racial flap involving Blair. The local newspaper noted that earlier this year, Blair was one of two city council members questioning the need for a Spanish-language banner in the downtown area that encouraged Census participation. The sign was eventually removed. Blair and the other council member said they fielded calls from residents unhappy about the sign.

In 2007, The Progressive magazine took note of comments from Blair’s radio show where he searched for the appropriate term to describe Latinos and suggested the term “taco flippers.” “[F]rankly we are seeing a pattern and are regretting endorsing him for City Council,” The (Prescott) Daily Courier noted in an editorial Thursday.

The controversy has put the state of Arizona and its uncomfortable history of racism back into the national spotlight after the state passed a controversial immigration law earlier this year that has been widely criticized as basically legalizing racial profiling — not to mention another recent statute that essentially outlaws ethnic studies programs in the schools. (In the late 1980s, Arizona went through a similar period under Gov. Evan Mecham, who canceled the state's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and called black children "pickaninnies" before being impeached for obstruction of justice. Following the 1990 failure of Arizona voters to bring back the King holiday, the National Football League moved Super Bowl XXVII from that state to California in protest.) The mural controversy in this town of almost 43,000 people has been reported as far away as Europe and Australia.

And the publicity hasn’t been good. R.E. Wall, director of the Prescott Downtown Mural Project, told reporters that racial slurs were regularly hurled from passing cars at the artists working on the mural. “The pressure stayed up consistently,” Wall said. “We had two months of cars shouting at us.”

Wall said he heard comments that included, “Get the ni----- off the wall,” and “Get the sp-- off the wall.”

Former Prescott Mayor Jack Wilson has called for Blair’s resignation in a letter to the editor. “Yesterday was a firestorm of bad publicity for Prescott and it was worldwide,” Wilson wrote. He added: “If you truly love Prescott, you need to resign from the Prescott City Council.”

So far, Blair isn’t budging. “When my constituents in the city tell me it's time for me to go, and that I'm affecting how the city does its business, I will go,” he has told reporters. “I ran because I wanted to help. If I can no longer do that, I’ll step down.”