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The Benton mural, revisited

By Scott Tibbs, August 11, 2009

Stan Shapiro responded to my letter to the editor from last month and, as is often the case with critics of the Thomas Hart Benton mural in Woodburn Hall, Shapiro intentionally misrepresented the argument I made in favor of keeping the mural.

The writer is offended because someone else prefers the KKK in handcuffs, toppled from prominence in Indiana society.

That statement is a lie, plain and simple. The statement in my letter was an objection to the "handcuffs" statement in the December 23 LTTE that intentionally misrepresented (lied about) the mural painted by an anti-KKK artist. It is about an accurate portrayal of Indiana history, not what position the real-life KKK should be in. Critics of the mural have openly lied about it for years. Those lies need to be exposed and refuted.

Furthermore, unless KKK members have committed actual crimes they shouldn't be in handcuffs. Being racist is immoral, but it isn't a crime. The KKK ruled Indiana politics in the early part of the 20th century, before the KKK's corruption was exposed by Hoosier journalists. The efforts of those journalists led to the downfall of the Klan, and let's not forget that a Hoosier journalist is also prominently featured on the mural.

If "most American students of color at IU know Bentonís intent was anti-KKK" why is there so much misinformation being spread about the mural by people of all races? One "student" stood up at the speech by Al Sharpton a few years ago and spoke of the mural as if it was pro-KKK, and many others have claimed the mural is supportive of the Klan. Of course, it boggles the mind why a KKK supporter would, in the same mural, prominently feature a larger image of a white nurse caring for a black baby.

In a country where education in general is pitiful, 24% were unable to name Great Britain as the nation from which the colonies seceded in 1776. The number of people who know this basic fact plummets with the age of people answering the poll, with a shocking 34% of those aged 18-29 unable to name Great Britain as the correct answer. 18% of people responding to the Gallup poll thought the sun rotates around the earth. While the poll is a decade old, it does indicate how ignorant far too many Americans are. Do we seriously expect that most people will know basic facts about an obscure mural on the Indiana University campus when so many do not even know the earth revolves around the sun?

Of course, ignorance is no excuse. People taking classes in Woodburn Hall are university students, legal adults who should be able to educate themselves about the mural so they know why it was painted and who painted it. With all of the information available, there is simply no excuse to be ignorant, especially for people who claim to be students. A columnist for the Indiana Daily Student breathlessly claimed in 2002 that "the University's mission is to educate, and perhaps this controversial artwork is educational. But education shouldn't come at the expense of someone's feelings."

My response is obvious: I don't care if your feelings are hurt. If you're not mature enough to sit in a classroom with a mural that has an image that makes you uncomfortable, you are probably not mature enough to continue your college education at this time. One thing a university should never do is practice censorship in education because the fragile widdle feeeeeeeeeeeeeeelings of a few hypersensitive crybabies are wounded. That would obliterate the university's credibility as an institution of higher learning, and make it into little more than an indoctrination center for Politically Correct ideology.

I have no problem with listing the names of individual people who were prominent KKK members, especially the corrupt legislators and government officials who supported the KKK early last century. There's no reason to single out the families of KKK members. We also need to remember that the sins of the KKK were corporate sins of Hoosiers generally. Had the KKK not had a power base with Hoosiers, the organization would not have controlled Indiana politics. If we're truly opposed to the Klan, then we cannot censor the historical facts about the Klan. Whether the shameless race-baiting demagogues and the hypersensitive crybabies that support them realize it or not, censoring the Woodburn mural would be an endorsement of the organization they claim to despise.

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