Over the weekend, my children and I were out doing our weekly grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. My daughter is 14, and my son is 18. As we walk in, they are both whining (yes…even the 18 year old) about how hungry they were. Conveniently and very strategically located right inside of Wal-Mart is a McDonald’s so I figured, “”hey, you guys can go get some McDonald’s and I will have a chance to shop in peace.”” We walked over to McDonalds and I became enthralled with a huge mural painted on the wall in the eating area. I had to stop and do a bit of content analysis on this mural…I was so intrigued!
The mural depicted a drive up and park restaurant complete with the famous golden arches with a sort of a sock hop feel to it, reminiscent of those in the 1950’s. The women were wearing poodle skirts and baby doll shoes, the cars were 50’s Chryslers, so on and so forth. It illustrated men, women, and children, of all different races and ethnicities sharing the same space, enjoying their meals together and seemingly interacting politely with one another. Though the ethnicities were a bit racially ambiguous to determine, I gathered that the darker skinned people were intended to reflect depictions of people of color. There were so many things wrong with this mural that I decided that I was going to turn this experience into a teaching moment for my children (and quite frankly anyone else that was within ear shot when I posed my questions and comments to my children).
While we were waiting for the food, I asked my kids to look at the mural and tell me what they saw. My son commented sharply, “there’s only like three or four black people and maybe some Mexican people.” Which was a true observation, but not exactly the main point I wanted them to see that was so troubling about this mural. I was not quite ready to respond. I wanted him to ponder his own observations.
The next question I posed to my children (whom at this point really could not be bothered further and were ready to eat their burgers and chicken nuggets) was “what time period does this mural take place?” My daughter eagerly replied, “in the 50’s,” as she is always up to an intellectual challenge, no matter how small. I then asked, “what was going on in the 50’s?” and she answered very enthusiastically “segregation!”
I then took a moment waiting for them to make the connection and I literally saw the light bulbs turn on in both of my children’s faces. Suddenly, without any further prompting from me, my children and I were engaged in a conversation about how this depiction of a McDonald’s restaurant in the 1950’s have people of color and white people smiling. How could people of color and whites be engaging in pleasant conversation while enjoying a happy meal, (or what have you) together during a time of legalized segregation and extreme social unrest during the civil rights movement?
The conversation between my children and I did not last long, but I am confident that they understood how this mural was a false representation of history. Images in society are not always truthful; which is the lesson that I wanted them to recognize for themselves. I want them to critically think about the barrage of images they are exposed to when it comes to depictions of earlier times in America, times of very nasty, ugly, and inhumane history of slavery, legalized racial segregation, and oppression. And I implore you all to do the same. Anytime you see a teaching moment, please take advantage, because it can present itself just as simply as walking into a McDonald’s.
Now, my goal is not to demean McDonald’s, their corporation is only a small aspect of this broader movement to erase or to minimize this piece of history the United States would like to forget. We have seen these actions perpetrated in many different ways in recent years, by school administrations attempting to rewrite history books and ban certain other books that reflect a time when slavery and segregation was the norm. The atrocities and injustices that were legally sanctioned by the government to keep Blacks and other people of color from access to the “American Dream” was and is still is a reality. This active attempt to erase this unfortunate but relevant important piece of American history is detrimental to us all.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote used by the great philosophers and leaders of the civil rights movement “those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let’s ask ourselves “how can we evolve as a society if we attempt to erase our history?”
What do you think?