Nothing a Few Cans of Spray Paint Can’t Repair

Back in June, the San Francisco School Board (SFSB) voted to spend up to $600,000 to paint over a high school mural depicting the life of George Washington. One has to ask, “Was the $600,000 price tag due to the anticipated cost of the paint, the labor or the environmental impact study?”

Unleashing a group of well-meaning, earnest students armed with a dozen or so cans of the same spray paint any urban artist would use to apply decorative graffiti or to tag the exterior of a BART car, a bridge or public-school restroom, could have driven the price down from $600,000 to less than $60.

Truthfully, it is hard to put a price tag on political correctness and protective censorship; spare no expense. In August, SFSB revised its plan and elected to cover the odious 1,600-square-foot mural with panels in much the way one would armor plate a car, home or tool shed.

The prescient SFSB might have suspected that in a few years the political pendulum will swing to a new extreme and they might look like philistines for having knee-jerked their way into destroying a piece of WPA Depression-era art, painted by a trusted, self-declared, dyed-in-the-wool communist in 1935.

Destroying art is not without precedent; decadent art was routinely fed to the flames, by the other team, during World War II. When I learned that depictions of Southern military men were out of vogue, I melted down my brass statue of Colonel Sanders and refashioned it into a statue of Hugo Chavez. 

The odious mural depicted George Washington’s ownership of slaves. Which way political correctness would stand on the mural was anyone’s call. Some people, perhaps historical purists, thought that the truth, as depicted in the mural, trumped all other considerations. Others, standing by with airbrushes, wanted to protect students from historical fact.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, SFSB concluded that the mural was “too disturbing to teenagers and that the mural was racist and degrading both in its depiction of Black and Native American people.”

Perhaps alumni of this school, who, since 1935, have been traumatized by the mural, will lodge a class-action suit against the San Francisco School District. The debate was both balanced and open: depict the truth or shelter students from disturbing yet accurate images of American History.

The right — or wrong — timing and the right — or wrong — advocates for saving the mural from ham-fisted censorship could have changed the final outcome; the dithering district could have saved upwards of $600,000, which might otherwise have been spent on  — what else — public education.

Picture, if you will, a small flotilla of pick-up mega trucks and over-sized SUVs arriving, in formation, at the school. Clambering out of the vehicles are big, burly men, looking like Raiders fans only much more menacing. These ogres have signs, “Destroy the Mural Now or We Will.” The men picket, marching around uniformly wearing MAGA hats. As the hours pass, they order out for pizza made with extra high-gluten flour, topped with an assortment of GMO veggies and high-lactose cheese.

Some of the barbaric protesters order out for fried chicken, demanding non-free-range chicken, “We want nothing but claustrophobic chickens with round shoulders, crimped wings and atrophied legs.”

Many of the demonstrators are not only drinking domestic beers (Schlitz, PBR, Budweiser, Millers) they are sucking it up with plastic straws. Everywhere, bags of pork rinds are being unapologetically consumed. Aerosol cheese is being spread on Ritz Crackers; some are drinking New York State wines and blended, low-land scotch.

Some wear sweatshirts, with the sleeves ripped off, that read, “I Support Global Warming.”
When interviewed by local TV channels, the protesters clearly articulate, with a plethora of expletives, their plan to obliterate the mural even if they have to break into the school after dark. One protester shows the camera a box of spray paints, 24 cans at the ready.  Worst of all, the paint is lime green.

Anyone with a civilized political identity immediately distances himself or herself from these atavistic throwbacks. A counter demonstration forms, “You will not destroy our mural. The truth lives.”

SFSB approves $600,000 for a round-the-clock security detail to protect the mural from these barbarians; A go-fund-me site pops up out of nowhere. After a week or so, the anti-mural protesters pack up and leave, they swear to return as soon as the district drops its guard. “That mural comes down” is their parting refrain.

SFSB has rescued the mural from revisionists out to keep the truth out of public school; its members all get re-elected; footlights and floodlights are installed at the base of the mural; students from across the state line up to take selfies in front of it.

Given the mural dates back to 1935 and has seen some wear, SFSB authorizes $600,000 for its restoration. The mural is saved, everyone is pleased, including the guys costumed in the MAGA hats.