Controversy is roiling Democratic circles in San Francisco over a controversial decision by the city’s school board to paint over an early-20th-century mural that depicts George Washington as a slave owner as well as a military commander who oversaw the decimation of Native Americans.
Supporters of the move say the 1936 mural by Victor Arnautoff, an artist, Stanford professor and avowed Communist, has “traumatized” students who have to pass by the mural at the city’s George Washington High School, Politico reports.
But critics, particularly those among the Democratic Party establishment, say the move is a costly ($600,000) whitewashing of history that will be fodder for Donald Trump and conservative commentators going into the election 2020 cycle.
As Politico reports, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown even went so far as to compare the methods of the mural’s opponents to those employed by Trump supporters:
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, in a recent San Francisco Chronicle column, likened the school board supporters’ and tactics to the worst of Trump‘s backers. He noted the vocal group seeking to destroy the painting did so by bullying the recent school board meeting with a claim to be “traumatized by the mural.”
“They’re clearly traumatized by something,’’ he wrote. “They’d be horrified by the comparison, but they’re really no different from the most boorish of President Trump’s supporters.”
Brown said that his own daughter, Sydney, a Washington High graduate “was never traumatized by Arnautoff’s painting — as a matter of fact, it generated conversations at home that otherwise would not have occurred. It was a learning experience for her, and for me.”
To Brown’s point, GOP operative Harmeet Dhillon tells Politico the issue will represent “a political disaster for Democrats, who appear eager to squash history—and ‘a disaster on multiple levels; it’s un-American.’”
Under pressure by vocal opponents, the school board last month voted unanimously to paint over the mural “Life of Washington,” which includes 13 panels reflecting different aspects of the life of the first U.S. president, including that of slave owner and as a contributor to the mass slaughter of indigenous people.
It’s estimated that it will cost about $600,000 to paint over the mural, about which opponents said, “their children were ‘traumatized’ by depictions of the nation’s first president standing over the images of dead Native Americans,” Politico reports.
Supporters of the move said no matter the cost of removal or the mural’s historical intent, its presence lends itself to a “hostile environment” for school children.
Paloma Flores, program coordinator for the school district’s Indian Education Program, joined with local high school students, recent George Washington graduates and Native American parents to oppose the mural during public comment [...]. “It’s not a matter of offense, it’s a matter of the right to learn without a hostile environment,” Flores said. “Intent does not negate lived experience.”
School board commissioner Mark Sanchez in dismissing the costs involved in removal, told KQED simply: “This is reparations.”