Whitewashing America: Republican politicans remove images of diversity, contribute to revisionist history

Earlier this year Maine Governor Paul LePage removed a mural depicting images of American workers at the Department of Labor, declaring that the images were “too one-sided.” LePage, who took office this past January, ordered the mural removed due to it’s seemingly pro-union, pro-worker stance. Historical images of labor at the Department of Labor?! How dare they!

LePage’s press secretary Adrienne Bennett said,

“The mural has been removed and is in storage awaiting relocation to a more appropriate venue.”

What is a more appropriate location for a mural celebrating labor than the Department of Labor?? The mural’s images, which include textile workers, strikers, child laborers, Francis Perkins and Rosie the Riveter, are apparently not pro-business enough for LePage and others in Maine (who, exactly, I’m not sure). As Reuter’s notes,

“Rosie the Riveter, a worker at the Bath Iron Works who inspired the mural’s ninth panel, is one of the United States’ cultural and feminist icons, representing millions of women who worked in munitions plants during World War Two.”

So not only is the Governor removing a mural depicting historically significant moments in America’s history of labor to please big business owners, LePage is also erasing feminist history and ignoring women’s role in American labor by objecting to images of these icons. Once again, this is the Department of Labor we’re talking about. Did I get that point across?

images from the mural in Maine

An article from the New York Times also notes that LePage has called for the the Labor Department’s conference rooms to be renamed. What’s wrong with the names of the rooms right now you ask? According to the Times article,

“One is named after César Chávez, the farmworkers’ leader; one after Rose Schneiderman, a leader of the New York Women’s Trade Union League a century ago; and one after Frances Perkins, who became the nation’s first female labor secretary and is buried in Maine.”

The president of Francis Perkins’ alma matter, Mount Holyoke College, responded to the issue in a letter to LaPage. She writes,

“We’re obviously very concerned. This is a rewriting of history.”

The letter continues to note that LePage’s removal of the murals is indicative of,

 “trends in civil discourse and political discourse in this country…The act of removing images commemorating Maine’s history itself conjures thoughts of the rewriting of history prevalent in totalitarian regimes.”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who earlier this year was at the center of an effort to curb collective bargaining rights for workers, has also recently shown that he also subscribes to LePage’s vision of America. Upon taking office this year, Walker decided to remove a painting of multi-ethnic children playing with bubbles in the street. As noted by LA Times blog, Culture Monster,

“The oil painting, which stands 40 inches by 50 inches, hung above the fireplace mantel in the governor’s mansion. It has been replaced by a painting of the bald eagle named Old Abe, a Wisconsin military mascot during the Civil War.”

The painting hung above a fireplace in the Governor’s mansion.

The Journal Sentinel reports that the paining’s creator, David Lenz,

“carefully selected the three children portrayed…The African-American girl, featured in a Journal Sentinel column on homelessness, spent three months at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission with her mother. The Hispanic girl is a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. And the boy’s father and brother were killed by a drunken driver in 2009.”

He explained that,

‘The homeless, central city children and victims of drunk drivers normally do not have a voice in politics…This painting was an opportunity for future governors to look these three children in the eye, and I hope, contemplate how their public policies might affect them and other children like them.”

David Lenz's "Wishes in the Wind" which was removed by Gov. Walker

I get it; people are allowed to take down paintings and put up new ones. But replacing a depiction of real life children who represent the diversity of Walker’s constituents (and the very real poverty problem in America), with an image of the stereotypically uber-conservative American symbol of an eagle is very telling of Walker’s intentions as governor…and as an American politician in general.  People like Walker and Gov. LePage are trying to repress the fact that American citizens are immigrants made up of many colors, ethnicities and religions. I get the nagging feeling that many conservative politicians like them are trying to ignore this fact and repaint our country as something that it is not.


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