In response to Swaneagle Fitzgerald’s letter (“Local mural needs to be addressed,” Feb. 14), I sympathize with Ms. Fitzgerald’s reaction to the admittedly groan-worthy murals at our local movie theater. I had similar strong feelings about the artwork until I experienced first hand a very different, and very useful, perspective. Several years ago I brought an off-island friend to a movie at the theater. Upon sitting down and taking in the interior, my friend, who happens to be African-American, said, “Wow, great murals.” I’ll confess that I was quietly stunned, assuming she would share my indignation. But my friend explained that she was thrilled to see people of color featured so powerfully and so publicly. Any other considerations, such as the dubious artistry or presumed ignorance of the artist, appeared to be secondary. My friend represents no person of color other than herself, of course, but her perspective cut straight through my righteous certainty about what the murals represent.
Our emotional responses to the injustice we see around us can manifest in all kinds of contradictory ways, in this case well-meaning but perhaps misplaced outrage, being among them. Do I care for the theater murals? No. Do I now see that their meaning extends beyond my own white guilt? Absolutely yes.
— Sam Van Fleet