Is This Vanderbilt Mural Racist?

Derek Mason as portrayed on the mural
Derek Mason as portrayed on the mural

After increased backlash, the mural of new Vanderbilt University football coach Derek Mason is going to be changed, The Tennessean reports.


It has been more than two decades since the tradition of painting coaches' portraits  on the wall was started, but now students have petitioned for this particular image to be changed. Mason himself has said that he doesn't believe  the painting is "representative."

"If that's somebody's depiction, then so be it," he told the paper. "There are still freedoms that are still allowed in this country, but when I look at it I don't think that's an accurate depiction of me."

"We realized it was reminiscent of the minstrelsy era in which black people's skin was darkened and their lips were made whiter in order to exaggerate their race in order to put them in a sharp contrast with the white race," Akailah Williams, president of the Vanderbilt NAACP chapter, told the newspaper. The group gathered the signatures on campus and in an online petition to have the mural updated. "In the mural his skin is black, not brown, and his lips are white. It doesn't look like him."

Illustration for article titled Is This Vanderbilt Mural Racist?

The original commissioner of the mural, Vanderbilt fan Fant Smith, said that she wasn't aware of the racial overtones of the image but agreed to have it changed. "The last thing we want is a mural that the Vanderbilt community is not happy with, so we're going to get it updated, and hopefully everybody will be happy," Smith told the news site.

The mural was originally commissioned for $2,500 from artist Michael Cooper.

Read more at The Tennessean.