Derek Mason has been the new head football coach at Vanderbilt University for just a few months. For over a generation one off-campus tradition has been to paint a mural of the head coach on the side of a local business. Generally this occurs without controversy. Until, that is, the local chapter of the Vanderbilt NAACP took issue with the painting and started a petition to have it changed. The issue?
“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,” said Akailah Harris, president of the Vanderbilt chapter of the NAACP told the Tennessean newspaper. “In the mural, his skin is black, not brown, and his lips are white. It doesn’t look like him.”
Now comes the redo.
Of course, the murals have never been entirely accurate reflections, Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings bears an unflattering resemblance to Sloth from “Goonies,” but up to this point there’s been no suggestion that there was any connection to minstrelsy.
For his part, the artist who has painted the past 22 years worth of coaching portraits, Michael Cooper, blames the photograph that he had to work from. In the past, he said, he’s had the opportunity to meet his subjects in person. Not this time.
Now he’s undertaken revisions.
Those reviisions will undoubtedly please new head coach Derek Mason.
“I don’t believe the painting is representative of me, personally,” Mason told the Tennessean. “But 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.”
Having solved the difficult issue of what his mural looks like, now comes the harder work for Mason, following up back-to-back nine win seasons at Vanderbilt.
At least his best face will be forward now.