Phoenix Restaurant Says This Is a Photo of Coal Miners. But I See Offensive Blackface

Rashaad Thomas, Arizona Central, Janaury 28, 2019

A few weeks ago, I attended a holiday party at a downtown Phoenix restaurant. I walked around to view the photographs on the wall.

Then a photograph caught my attention.

Friends said, “It’s coal miners at a pub after work.” It was a photograph of coal miners with blackened faces. I asked a Latinx and white woman for their opinion. They said it looked like coal miners at a pub after work. Then they stepped back, frowned and said it’s men in blackface.

I asked the waitress to speak with a manager. Instead, I spoke with a white restaurant owner. I explained to him why the photograph was offensive. {snip}

Yet, the photograph remained on the wall. He said he would talk to the other owners and get back to me. {snip}

In art, everyone sees something different

{snip}

For me, the coal miners disappeared and a film honored for its artistic merit, despite being the most racist propaganda films ever, D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” (1915) surfaces, in which white actors appeared in blackface. The white owner saw coal miners in the photograph. {snip}

Fact: The photograph shows coal miners’ faces covered in soot. The context of the photograph is not the issue.

{snip}

That photo tells me I’m not welcome

{snip} Art also exposes society’s blind spots. Blackface is only a glimpse of a larger issue. The larger issue is the lack of representation of marginalized people and their voices in Phoenix.

Scary stuff.

Frequently, I enter art galleries and I am not represented in the art, which leads to uneducated curation for exhibitions. While shopping I am ignored because it is assumed I unable to purchase anything, or I am followed by a security guard because it is assumed that I am a threat to the store.

{snip}

At the downtown Phoenix restaurant, my concern that the photograph of men in blackface was a threat to me and my face and voice were ignored.

A business’ photograph of men with blackened faces culturally says to me, “Whites Only.” It says people like me are not welcome.

{snip} I think the photograph should be taken down — sacrificing one image for the greater good.

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