I am writing to express my disappointment over the decision to paint over a mural depicting a student actor who performed in blackface almost a century ago.
There are several reasons why I think it was wrong to paint over the mural: It altered a commissioned work of art, it falsely implied that LMU has a shamefully racist past and it suggested that uncomfortable aspects of our history can simply be tossed down an Orwellian memory hole. But most of all, it was a breach of faith.
That mural was created to remind students that they are a part of LMU’s 100-year-old legacy. The young man in the photograph is a part of that legacy, as well. We can and should assume that he was a thoroughly decent person who would never intentionally seek to offend or belittle anyone of another race. For all we know, he may have been the most exemplary alumnus in the history of the University, whose only sin was failing to anticipate the cultural mores of the 21st century. And yet, without even making an effort to learn his name or the story behind the photograph, he was convicted of racism and literally obliterated from LMU’s history.
To my mind, the proper response to a situation like this is not censorship, but humility. Do you think it impossible that one day someone will want to paint you out of the LMU family? Historical revisionism respects no boundaries. For our own sakes, we should be as willing to excuse the unwitting offenses of past generations as we would hope future generations will excuse our own.
Very truly yours,
James M. Belna
LMU Alumnus ('79)