A Kentucky reader sends this great op-ed by Wendell Berry denouncing the University of Kentucky’s repulsive decision to remove a Depression-era mural depicting, among other things, black slaves working in the fields. Excerpts:
Ann Rice O’Hanlon was a native of Lexington. She graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1930. She spent most of her life in Marin County, Calif. She taught art for many years at Dominican College in San Rafael, where her students were of several races. She was the sister of Dee Rice Amyx, wife of Clifford Amyx, once a professor in the art department of the University of Kentucky. My wife, Tanya Amyx Berry, is a niece of Ann Rice O’Hanlon, whom I therefore knew well and for many years. Ann was a liberal, if anybody ever was – too liberal, in fact, to approve entirely of me. I never heard her utter one racist word.
Ann painted the Memorial Hall fresco in 1934, when it took some courage to declare so boldly that slaves had worked in Kentucky fields. Nobody would have objected if she had left them out. The uniform clothing and posture of the workers denotes an oppressive regimentation. The railroad, its cars filled with white passengers, seems to be borne upon the slaves’ bent backs – exactly as the railroad near Walden Pond, according to Henry David Thoreau, was built upon the backs of Irish laborers.
I don’t believe Ann Rice O’Hanlon would willingly have painted “a painful and degrading personification of a false, romanticized rendering of our shared history.” I don’t think she did. I don’t think, to quote President Eli Capilouto again, that “the mural provides a sanitized image of that history” or that her “artistic talent actually painted over the stark reality” of slavery.
The president further objects to the fresco on the ground that it reminds “one black student . . . that his ancestors were slaves.” That statement has at least two arresting implications: (1) that black students should not ever be reminded that their ancestors were slaves, and (2) that white students should not ever be reminded that their ancestors were slave owners. Do students, then, study history at our “flagship university” in order to forget it?
Read the whole thing. Berry, who pulled his personal papers from his alma mater in 2010, is absolutely right, especially in the chilling intellectual implications of the University’s deed. We are not supposed to confront history that upsets us. We are to remove from public view art that reminds us of unpleasant historical facts.
Social Justice Warriors and the gutless liberal college administrators who prostrate themselves before them are ruining art and scholarship. This tells us the most important thing we need to know about the intellectual courage of President Eli Capilouto.
In better SJWs-on-campus news, a couple of you have sent me a story about some Yale faculty who have signed an open letter defending the pre-Halloween e-mail sent by the university’s Silliman College co-master Erika Christakis, which sparked the racial protests on campus last month. From the Yale Daily News:
The letter, authored by physics professor Douglas Stone, argues that Christakis’ email — which criticized administrators’ efforts to encourage students to be mindful of culturally appropriative costumes — was a modest and reasonable attempt to spur campus debate. It pushes back against students who consider Christakis’ email irresponsible and insensitive and claims that some protesters have “recklessly distorted” the message in order to cast it as an endorsement of racist speech. Next Yale, a newly formed coalition of students of color and their allies, has demanded that Christakis and her husband, Silliman College Master Nicholas Christakis, apologize for the email and resign from their posts.
“The email … did not express support for racist expressions, but rather focused primarily on the question of whether monitoring and criticizing such expression should be done in a top-down manner,” the letter states.
Stone told the News that the Halloween email was a useful contribution to campus discourse and that the Christakises are model faculty members who deserve admiration rather than criticism for their efforts to promote intellectual debate on campus.
Stone added that dozens of his colleagues agreed with the content of the letter but declined to sign it for fear of provoking more controversy.
“We have an obligation to say something reasonable about this,” Stone said. “The silence of so many people in terms of really defending the Christakises has solidified the narrative that they did something wrong.”
Good on you, Prof. Stone! But raspberries to this professor:
Gerald Jaynes, professor of economics and African American Studies, said that although he does not believe the Christakises are guilty of racism, he will not sign the open letter because the debate over Erika Christakis’ email is a distraction from more important issues, such as faculty diversity.
Faculty diversity is more important than standing up for a professor who has been unfairly vilified by racial activists, and who have threatened the free exchange of ideas on campus? I’d say that tells you about all you need to know about the intellectual courage of Prof. Jaynes.