Mural Violence

Every time I walk to Little Italy for lunch, I pass a silent act of violence.

It’s a mural painted in 1996 by the CWRU Art Education department. Typical of your community project murals, it is an amalgam of images from the neighborhood, representing different businesses and organizations in the area. One section is dedicated to a day care facility. The art students volunteered there, bringing art education to toddlers. They decided to paint portraits of actual children in the facility. Isn’t that adorable? They painted a white baby, an Asian baby and a black baby.

I lived a block from the mural at the time and had watched its slow progress. I saw the babies in their twee glory.  Not even a full day after painting, the black baby was defaced with a spray-painted X on her face. The next day the art students, who were still working on the mural, had painted over the X.  The day after that, the baby was defaced again.  Someone in my neighborhood was so full of hate they were attacking the image of a tiny, innocent baby. Someone I could have walked by a hundred times.

Every time the mural was fixed, it was defaced. No one defaced any other part of it but this one sweet little baby. For a week, she was just a block of white paint covering the racial epithets.

The art students gave up and painted the baby out of the mural. Her absence haunts the scene, the baby who had shared her blanket looking at the empty space where her friend once sat.

One of my best friends has never eaten in Little Italy. She casually mentioned to me that it was on her “bucket list”.

I said, “What? Bucket list! That’s more like a Friday To Do list! Let’s go now! My treat. There’s a new place I’ve been meaning to try.”

“No!” She looked terrified. “I can’t. Not yet. I need to work up to it.”

“What? Why? It’s right there! Let’s go!”

“Because racism, Marie! People were attacked in Little Italy just for being black, and not that long ago, either.”

It was easy for me to brush it off as “in the past” and point out how many black people I’d seen at Mama Santa’s.

I walk past the missing black baby and feel sad, not threatened. No one has forcefully erased me from the image of the neighborhood.

It’s time to bring that baby back. She’s old enough to vote, by now! Old enough to drink, maybe. A new mural adjacent to the old one was added just a few years ago, depicting the popular Parade the Circle event. There are multiple black and brown faces in it, and no one has defaced it.

Can we heal the Arts Education mural?  Isn’t it time?

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