A complex question of color and diversity in Kent | Melvin Tate

A mural that was hung on a fence on one of the busiest corners of Kent’s East Hill for months has recently been removed.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Saturday, June 25, 2011 8:46pm
  • NewsOpinion

A mural that was hung on a fence on one of the busiest corners of Kent’s East Hill for months has recently been removed.

The pictures of the mural were pieced together months ago in order to capture the entirety of the mural as it wrapped around the fence. The larger portion of the mural was facing James Street (South 240th) and the two smaller pieces were facing Benson (104th Avenue). The third segment has the words Kent, WA with a picture of the western hemisphere and colored balloons.

At the time these pictures were taken there was no conspicuous plaque or indicators clearly posted suggesting what the mural was supposed to represent, nor who placed the mural in that location. However, some people are likely to infer from the third portion of the mural that it represented the population of Kent.

Regardless of who placed the mural, it caused a certain amount of angst for some in the white community. One can be assured there was a variety of interpretations of the mural and its presence in that location. However, let’s consider the interpretation some white citizens reportedly expressed.

If this is the population of Kent, some asked then where am I represented? There were other remarks and attitudes as well that reached City Hall. However, not being represented is clearly a cultural competence issue that many ethnicities are concerned about. Let’s deal with that.

Perhaps a few of those lighter-colored people are the artist’s version of a white person; clearly some whites didn’t view it that way. Even if the lighter complexions do represent whites, some may not have European physical features.

Clearly, however, there is an overwhelming majority of people of color on the mural whereas in the city people of color represent slightly more than 50 percent (as an aside, even the use of the words “people of color” leaves white people out according to some whites. They say whites have color as well). Do white people who say the mural does not represent the white community well in the city of Kent have a viable complaint? Do whites who say the institutions like City Hall, the school district and businesses are being unduly influenced by the diversity agenda and social justice agenda have a valid concern? In the pursuit of cultural competence should whites and/or the dominant culture be appreciated more?

Reverse the scenario. Picture a similar mural with 90 percent people with European physical features. As a person of any color waited for the light to turn green, they might think, “my that’s a racist picture,” especially when they look at who is driving the cars in adjacent lanes; the city of Kent is slightly less than 50 percent white they might say. Would there be complaints from people concerned about diversity and equity in this latter scenario?

Therefore, when whites view the mural, where some obviously didn’t see themselves represented, are they right to say that whoever put the mural on the fence is insensitive and culturally incompetent? Were the shoe on the other foot, in the case of a 90 percent white representation of Kent, would black leaders and other ethnic groups call for the mural to come down?

Most institutions like cities and school districts want to be culturally competent in the 21st century. Ordinarily they do not deliberately do things that draw negative attention to themselves, especially things that might identify them as racist or culturally incompetent. Even other individuals who may have posted this mural may have thought they were doing a good thing.

It is very important to keep the good will in mind when discussing issues such as those the mural presents. However, it is very important that we discuss them if we as a society and local communities are ever going to get past issues of race and cultural competence. And, in those discussions people have a right to feel safe.

Sometimes people want to be colorblind as a means of treating everyone equal and avoiding the issues of race, gender, religion, ethnicity and the myriad of other differences among human kind. On the other hand there are those who say, even though we have more in common than we do differences, and the things we have in common are more important than the differences, we must still accept/embrace the differences; it’s the right thing to do they say.

Please consider the mural and the colorblind concept; do you have any thoughts on how we can all get along?

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