A painting of new Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason will be redone after the NAACP chapter at Vanderbilt University thought the original depiction subjugated blacks because it was reminiscent of the racist imagery found in minstrel shows.
After James Franklin left Vanderbilt for Penn State, Vanderbilt hired Mason, the former Stanford University defensive coordinator who is considered one of the game’s rising stars. Soon after, Vanderbilt fan Fant Smith paid $2,500 to local muralist Michael Cooper for the painting.
Cooper, the artist, said he has been painting on the mural for 22 years and this was the first time he was unable to meet the coach before doing his artwork. Instead, he went on a photograph that Vanderbilt athletics sent him.
Akailah Harris, the president of the Vanderbilt chapter of the NAACP, emphasized that “there was never once any thought in my mind that he did this on purpose. But the problem is not understanding American history, because it’s not just a black history issue.”
Nonetheless, she said the mural harkened back to racial stereotypes that denigrates blacks.
“We realized it was reminiscent of the minstrelsy era in which black people’s skin was darkened and their lips were made whiter in order to exaggerate their race in order to put them in a sharp contrast with the white race,” she said, according to the Tennessean. “In the mural, his skin is black, not brown, and his lips are white. It doesn’t look like him.”
The Vanderbilt NAACP started the petition after Cooper did not respond after they reached out on two occasions. According to the Tennessean, Vanderbilt does not own the Verizon building where the murals are painted.
Mason said that though he did not “believe the painting is representative of me, personally,” he he understood that “if that’s somebody’s depiction, then so be it.”
“There are still freedoms that are still allowed in this country, but when I look at it, I don’t think that’s an accurate depiction of me,” he said.
Vanderbilt quarterback Josh Grady said the painting was “unacceptable” and “urged students and fans to sign the petition”:
Photo Credit: Tennessean