Wednesday, July 17, 2019

More on the San Francisco Mural Destruction

A couple of letters on the subject, each a little curious in its own way.

First, an open letter signed by 400 academics, writers, and artists "oppos[ing] the school board’s decision and the wrong-headed approach to art and to history that lie behind that decision" and "urg[ing] the school board to reverse its decision and take all reasonable steps to preserve the mural …."  It claims the work's "meaning and commitments are not in dispute," namely that "it exposes and denounces in pictorial form the U.S. history of racism and colonialism."  It says the school board "voted to destroy a significant monument of anti-racism. This is a gross violation of logic and sense."  What's unclear to me from the letter, however, is what would happen if the meaning of the work was in dispute?  What if it did not denounce (or did not clearly enough denounce) the U.S. history of racism and colonialism?  Would the signatories still believe it was wrong to destroy it?

Next, a letter to the editor of the New York Times by the president and vice president of the San Francisco Board of Education, which voted to destroy the mural.  Their argument is straightforward: they say the work "traumatizes" students and therefore should not be "allowed to remain."  Here the curious part comes at the end:  in response to Times columnist Bari Weiss's question "What happens when a student suggests that looking at photographs of the My Lai massacre in history class is too traumatic?," they say this "false-equivalency argument is malarkey."  But then the letter just … ends.  It doesn't explain why it's malarkey, how the two cases differ.  It's as if the letter was cut short for space.