Viewpoint: Mural offers unintended message
I write regarding the new mural on Main Street. If you haven't seen it, it depicts a pair of men chatting, some children playing and, I'll not beat around the bush.
This mural is blatantly lacking in melanin.
There are no people of color, and it's the first thing I notice.
I'm aware of the general genealogy of the folks that settled this area; that it's set in 1954 when the percentage of people of color was probably abysmally low.
And I admire the effort that's going into beautifying our city. David Markson has been adorning buildings with his signature style for years. His murals have come to mean "home" to me. I mean no disrespect.
However this newest makes me wince.
A 20-foot depiction of our town, for everyone to see.
WELCOME TO RIVER FALLS. WE ARE WHITE.
Seeing it, I was full of questions. Why paint this period? These people? Why now, in this racial atmosphere? Turns out there's an explanation for this.
The RF Journal article "New Mural Offers a Peek into RF History" (Oct 7, 2017) explains that it's been commissioned by a local woman, Charla Moore Kusilek, who wanted to honor a scene from her childhood. The gentlemen are her grandfather and uncle, local veterinarians who operated in that building (which she now owns), and the neighborhood kids she played with. Kusilek is quoted referring to the children, "So, if this describes you as the onlooker, you are free to pick which one is you."
Clearly the feelings it invokes in me were not intended by the creators. It is meant to embody a time in our history when this office was a social hub and kids roamed safely downtown."
"The good old days" as remembered by elder members of our community. Members whose childhoods, however, were unblemished by the racial inequality that kept their playmates lacking in those controversial skin colors that are then missing from this mural.
It's not a representation of the changing community we live in today. It wasn't meant to be. I
understand. So is there a problem?
I need only look out my kitchen window to know in my heart that there is.
Like the mural a block away, our street is filled with playing children. Unlike the mural, the majority of them are not lacking in melanin, and they all play together. If you think that their childhoods are unblemished by racial inequality, you're not paying attention. If you think a mural can't have an impact on their feelings of citizenship, you're being irresponsible.
Social context makes this mural depict something other than what it was meant to. This other much uglier message about who we are and who belongs here, over-looking every activity, visitor, and minority member of our community.
At its best, the mural is an insensitive tip-of-the-hat to 1950's River Falls, the supposedly bygone days of racial segregation. A memorial for well-intentioned people with "white people blinders" on, made with the same lack of forethought that made our town a "White Pride" laughingstock.
Purposeful or not, this message is going out to all of the families in our town today. People for whom the portraits are not a representation of themselves, or of any "good ol' days" their ancestors experienced. A reminder that they would not have been welcome in this scene because of the oppressive attitudes at the time. A reminder of the oppressive attitudes of THIS time.
"So, if this describes you as the onlooker," said Kusilek, "you are free to pick which one is you." For the kids on my street, it doesn't, they can't, and it is a problem.
This is their home. Their time. Their growing citizenship is more important than memories. So what can we do about it?
—By Chels Richter
River Falls resident