Maine

Showing up for us in meaningful ways

Today we have a new post from contributor Marena Blanchard. It’s a very personal piece in the sense that it focuses heavily on her home city of Portland, Maine. But while some of the names and circumstances may be specific to that city, I think many of the issues she touches on will resonate with people of color and those who support them as far away as the “other Portland” in Oregon and oh so many communities in between in the United States. By the way, Marena is a community organizer, working to resist and dismantle the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy in Maine. She focuses on racial justice and immigration rights.
–BGIM
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Here we go.

I love you, Portland. I love you so much that I choose to live here and have committed to raising my precious daughter here. Liberal and progressive white people of Portland, I love you so much that I am willing to expend significant emotional labor to remain in dialogue with you, over and over. I love you so much that I put my Black, queer, femme body in white-only spaces to provide a perspective you can’t imagine. I love you so much that I’m willing to make you uncomfortable and navigate through the consequences that has for me. My love is actively working toward King’s Beloved Community.

Here we go.

I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to learn how white supremacy permeates all things. (Shout out to the Black folks who invested in teaching me outside of the institution of public education). Truth is, America is and always has been a country rooted in white supremacy. Since its genocidal founding, the institutions that make up this country have been built and maintained to keep a Black person down and keep the white man on their neck. There is not a single American system, law, code, etc. that exists outside of Racism. There is not a single region, state, county, or city that exists outside Racism. See where I’m going with this?

There’s this pervasive myth that Portland is a progressive bubble devoid of the racial strife present in other cities. It’s not. Portland stays hella problematic and perpetuates white supremacy in ways you may not recognize. Yet. More on this below.

Chances are your analysis of race has deepened due to your exposure to PoC [people of color] writers and thinkers, like Shay. There is a local lineage of leaders who have taught and mentored us, directly and indirectly. Gerald E. Talbot, Rachel Talbot Ross, Pious Ali, Leonard Cummings, Bob Greene, Keita Whitten, Regina Phillips, Daniel Minter, Rev. Kenneth Lewis, Samuel James, Rene Johnson, Samaa Abdurraqib, and the organizers of Portland Racial Justice Congress are just a few who have influenced me. You also have relied on their labor, perspective, insight, and persistence to gain understanding, whether you are conscious of this or not. It’s in this tradition, and that of my own familial ancestors, that I attempt to pop this myth about the Portland bubble.

Here we go.

Let’s talk about white saviors taking up space, the value of civil disobedience, and grounding anti-racist work in a human rights framework which centers the voices and perspectives of marginalized and frontline communities.

Are you ready?

Local white folks are so concerned with the anger expressed by some Black folks, specifically Black women. I have been prompted to address this so many times that I need to declare publicly, at the onset of this discussion: civility is not the greatest good. Black people are humans. With the full range of human emotions. Black women are humans. With full human rights to life. Black women should be angry. I, personally, am angry as fuck. And I will remain so, as long as my people remain oppressed. White folks, understand that you are also bound by white supremacy and will not be free until I am. Our liberations are interwoven.

The ways white supremacy manifests internationally, nationally, and locally should make us all mad. I am here for normalizing anger and normalizing its expression. I am here for the motivation it can provide to us. I am here for what it can tell us about ourselves and the world around us. And ultimately, I am here for transmuting it into the deepest kind of love. Feel your feelings, Black fam; they are valid and I will never shame you for it or tone-check you.

In the aftermath of Mike Brown’s murder and the mobilization of Ferguson, Brittney Cooper wrote this in defense of Black rage: “Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won’t show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid. Of late, though, these killings have been far more than occasional. We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us. They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness. We feel it. We hear it. Our nostrils flare with the smell of it.”

The trail of Black bodies has led us to this election. Donald Trump is our very own fascist president. Yeah, I’m fucking angry about that. And also terrified for my physical safety and that of my daughter. And also realize that even I, as a Black queer femme, am still less of a target than disabled PoC, trans PoC, Muslim PoC, and LGBTQ+ Muslim PoC.

After checking multiple news sources to confirm his victory, I was immediately triggered by the sense of not being able to protect those I love. I became instantly obsessed with figuring out how best to address the safety concerns of my community and change the system that made the concern a reality to begin with. In dialogue with another organizer, Samaa Abdurraqib, we formed For Us, By Us.

Liberal and progressive white folks in Maine also sprang into action. Suddenly, there was an excess of energy and ideas. Which is great and inspiring and part of the reason why I love Portland. There were meetings, events, and action plans made to protect marginalized communities. But y’all, the spaces were almost exclusively cis hetero white, as was the leadership of these initiatives. As a principle, I need you to understand that nothing about us or for us, should be without us. Liberal and progressive white folk do not have the perspective or lived experience to fully understand the challenges facing communities y’all don’t belong to. So how can y’all set priorities or frameworks? The assumption that you can save us is Peak White Savior mentality. We need to dead that shit; no more white saviors.

Recognize where your learning around race comes from, give credit where it’s due, don’t set up initiatives that compete with PoC initiatives and yet claim to benefit PoC. Don’t take up space and collect coins for initiatives that claim to benefit marginalized communities. Again, nothing about us or for us should be without us.

In these weeks and months directly following the election, I have been SO BUSY. I made it my mission to interrupt predominantly white spaces. I’ve had mixed results. My goal was and is to center the experiences and priorities of marginalized communities in their struggle for full human rights. Another goal was and is what is referred to in the organizing community as “the slow build.” The slow build acknowledges that white folks have more access to the financial and social capital required to begin a project as quickly as possible and that members of marginalized communities largely don’t have that access.

The idea of a slow build says slow down. It says don’t just do outreach to token and visible Black folks, LGBTQ+ folks, etc., in order that they may join and support your project. Rather, show up for us, in the spaces we curate, and figure out how to support us. Build mutually beneficial relationships, not exploitative ones. Figure out how to leverage your resources and connections, so that you may further initiatives led by members of marginalized communities. That is the work of an accomplice.

So here we are.

We’re about a month into the fascist presidency. Locally, we’ve seen our “moderate” Republican Sen. Susan Collins kiss the ring in a multitude of ways, KKK flyers manifesting in your suburban neighborhoods, hate crimes against PoC youth, a bomb threat against a Jewish preschool, the Portland Police Department chief holding a press conference in which he elevates rallies and condemns civil disobedience, and recruitment at the University of Southern Maine (USM) by a group listed on Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate map. Insert spinning Mr. Crab meme. Do you still think Portland is a bubble? I need to know where y’all white saviors at right now on this.

Last I checked some of y’all were still asking whether racism is a problem in Maine…where exactly the line is between cultural appropriation and appreciation…and characterizing the occupation of a commercial center as violence. When I think about where the needle is on these conversations, when I observe how basic civic engagement in participatory democracy is labeled as resistance, when I see the commodification of movement moments…my anxiety sets in. I wonder if you are prepared to address what’s happening. I wondered if you are prepared to stand with those of us who are most affected by this regime’s policies. My fear is that you are not.

Showing up in Meaningful Ways:

I see Rep. Larry Lockman’s speaking engagement at USM as a test. Read about his background here. I’ve heard your arguments about freedom of speech and the slippery slope toward absolute censorship for us all. I’ve heard your warnings that he’s down here solely to get a rise out of leftists and repeat what happened at UC Berkeley. And honestly, y’all got me fucked up with all that and I call bullshit. Lockman’s down here to spread his anti-immigrant message. Successful recruitment will have real impacts for our neighbors. Worry about THAT slippery slope. Y’all keep talking about the need to make inroads into rural Maine while the hateful and violent are out here making their own inroads into our community. Hate speech incites violence and USM shouldn’t be used for recruitment in this way. It’s already a dangerous environment for PoC and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Go ahead ask me about that, I got stories and receipts for days.

Let me connect a couple dots for you. Remember the Islamophobic graffiti that appeared in USM’s student senate office late last year? One of the senators forced to resign due to his efforts to cover up the incident is listed as the primary contact for this newly formed student group, Young Americans for Freedom. And one of their first acts is to invite down this motherfucker Lockman. In a public Facebook post, a student senator revealed that the event is privately funded. Further, this group is paying for their own security for the event. Where’s this money coming from? Y’all wanna talk about freedom of speech, tho.

In a recent Maine Beacon piece, Teddy Burrage asks, “To what extent should we allow freedom of speech to become an incubator for violence, particularly with the genocidal undertones within the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ movement? At what point are we responsible for snuffing out the embers of hate despite our commitment to freedom? Our answers to these questions may determine whether or not we repeat history.”

Let’s talk about history for a quick minute. White supremacists have been using the “freedom of speech” argument to spread hate and recruit for their cause for over 100 years. When “Birth of a Nation,” a horrid film which glorified the KKK and set a new bar for racist imagery, first debuted it was widely protested. The brand new NAACP worked tirelessly to prevent showings. This prompted the director of the film, D.W. Griffith, to pen “The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America.” Let me emphasize this: the very argument that hate speech is free speech was popularized by the white supremacist filmmaker credited with the spread of the KKK in America 100 years ago and y’all out here repeating it.

Further, did you catch that Portland Press Herald article about how the resurgence of the KKK spread throughout Southern Maine and resulted in significant influence over Portland’s City Hall? It started with speaking engagements. We cannot afford to sleep on this. We cannot afford to normalize this. We cannot afford to appease this. As a queer, Black femme, daughter of an immigrant, the stakes feel very high for me.

This needs to be, first and foremost, about standing with those most affected by the threat Lockman’s views represent to our lives and our human rights. We need to stand with women, PoC, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ folks. Portland Racial Justice Congress, #USMfutures, and other student groups are calling for a nonviolent protest of the event. We should follow their leadership. They are centering the most affected voices and we should stand with them. You should stand with us.

Portland, I love you and I’mma need you to get your shit all the way together and fast. I need all of you to fiercely defend the rights of affected communities to protest if and when they so choose. If you can fix your mouth to defend the free speech of someone like Lockman, I better see you at the protest too. If you are able, don’t leave the marginalized to stand alone, surrounded by police. I’m going to need you to understand the value in civil disobedience and show up for it in a way that makes the most sense for your body. That’s what this moment requires. That’s how you leverage your privilege. That’s how you resist.

You are not powerless.

We are powerful. All power to the people.

#BlackLivesMatter

Six resources for going deeper:

Reframing Faculty Criticisms of Student Activism

White Progressives: It’s time to be transformers, not just have opinions

PBS Independent Lens Documentary: The Birth of a Movement

A Public Menace: How the Fight to Ban the Birth of a Nation Shaped the Nascent Civil Rights Movement

Some Garbage I Used to Believe About Equality

The Trump Era will Test us. What are you willing to risk?
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Who’s really playing politics? or the Maine GOP should stand down and listen

“The personal is political.”

Our lives don’t exist on just one course; they don’t just go in one direction. We have multiple selves and experiences that criss-cross, tangle and run parallel. Yet for far too many years as a society, we have asked people to deny the existence of the multiple intersections that make up the totality of their experiences and individual personhood. Thankfully, that notion is slowly being dismantled as technology like social media and newer learning makes clear that we are not all simply humans but that instead we carry with us our multiple realities, whether they be queer, people of color, able-bodied, spiritual, cis-gendered and more, in whatever combinations make us ourselves. Yes, that change is coming, though slower than I would like.

Which is why in the aftermath of a recent hate crime outside of Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, it was remarkable to see the student body rallying around four Black students who were accosted by a white man as they waited for the bus.  Portland School superintendent Xavier Botana not only condemned the acts but given that the attack occurred after President Trump issued a temporary travel ban barring people from seven Muslim majority countries along with the ongoing discussion of erecting a wall between the United States and Mexico, the superintendent didn’t shy away from touching upon these facts in his remarks.

Since Trump was elected, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a spike in hate crimes across the country. Closer to home in Maine, we are seeing KKK activity in a handful of communities and white nationalists across the country have openly spoken of feeling empowered and of wanting to establish white culture and the concept of Western Civilization’s superiority as the one single way of being in America. Lastly, we have Steve Bannon, who serves as Trump’s chief strategist and who has openly espoused white nationalist views. In other words, we are currently living in a climate where racial bigotry has been given a wink and a nod to come out of the shadows and where it has even been given keys to the doors in the highest corridors of political power. Hate no longer needs to hide in the closet, despite what many may believe. In electing a man whose rhetoric is inflammatory and racist, we have made the personal political.

In today’s edition of the Portland Press Herald, Jason Savage, executive director of Maine’s Republican Party, accuses  Botana of politicizing the hateful incident and states that he is creating a hostile environment for those who don’t share his views.

In the day and age of fake news and false equivalency, let me repeat again: the personal is political. And schools, if they truly want to be inclusive spaces of true learning and the development of critical thinking skills, cannot deny the realities of the larger world especially when students of color and their families are feeling the very real impact of the larger world and its implications.

The hostile environment has existed for a long time for people who aren’t part of white culture; the people Savage is so concerned about being “marginalized” are simply having to deal with a bit of uncomfortable awareness as their assumptions about their racial and moral superiority are questioned. That’s not hostility.

I would hope that anyone working in a school system could understand why we must speak truth to power and name the current realities, regardless of party affiliation.

The other charge lobbed at Botana is the use possible use of school time for the students to prep for a rally in support of the Black students. In a so-called democracy, teaching kids to use their voices is one of the most powerful things that we can do. It connects the book learning to real life application. If we can teach our kids about the Boston Tea Party and the power of protest that gave this nation its independence, why not have a practical application that is relevant and timely now? Frankly for far too long, we have lived with a passive approach to education in a white-washed context. The time has come to make a shift away from that.

One of the barriers to true racial and cultural progress is the inability of far too many white folks to actually understand anyone else’s perspective. To understand that we don’t lead single-issue lives. To see that race affects everything from the mundane such as stores that only carry shades of lipsticks and pantyhose geared towards white skin tones to our children being accosted on their way home from school, and sometimes our lives being cut down due to the color of our skin. Racialized incidents are a regular occurrence for many people of color, yet white people often are blind to that reality and in many cases cast suspicion upon people of color. The mindset of white supremacy is to deny the lived experiences of anyone but white people.

However, our hope lies with the younger generations who increasingly are trying to see beyond themselves. In the case of the students who rallied on behalf of their peers, they apparently wanted to make a difference and we would be wise to set aside our own biases and listen to them. They have much to teach us if we are willing to actually hear them. As for the Maine GOP, the needs of the many (and diverse) outweigh the needs of the few (and obstructionist/isolationist). Right now, the GOP is the one playing politics and attempting to inflame an already unfortunate incident. Trying to make mockery of the victims of the abuse and the culture that allowed that abuse to happen, and trying to make victims of those who are too comfortable in an age-old status quo and who need to open their minds and heart toward all humanity.
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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Enemies in the same uniform

Today’s post comes from my co-parent, Jeff Bouley (also known as Deacon Blue online) who has gone through a couple decades of racial education (via dating and marriage and child-rearing with me) and continues the journey not just alone but still by my side a lot of days even though we aren’t a couple anymore. I asked him to share some personal thoughts (revealed in late-night drinking/yapping sessions with me in recent weeks) about how his perspective on people has changed since the election.
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The night of the 2016 presidential election was bad as I watched a rich, pampered, ego-driven, shallow, nonsense-talking reality show personality and real estate mogul gain impressive numbers of votes and wins even in states that should have known better.

The wee hours of the “morning after” as late vote counts came in and Hillary Clinton conceded the election were worse, knowing that some half of American voters had chosen a blustering, shamelessly lying, bullying, ill-informed, ignorant, thin-skinned, uncouth, bigoted, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, etc. etc. man to be president of the United States over a woman who, whatever her flaws, was a proven and competent public servant clearly more qualified to lead a nation.

The actual “day after” when the sun was officially up and I awoke after a few hours of sleep and realized Donald Trump’s victory wasn’t a nightmare was utterly devastating.

I had never felt so hollowed out, feeling betrayed by so many of my fellow citizens who decided “real change” or “fixing the system” required throwing away our national reputation and turning back the clock on social justice gains for marginalized groups to give power to an obvious con-man.

And there was something simmering inside me—a burning aggressive energy throughout my whole body that had me on edge and prepared to literally fight.

I thought it was anger at first, but in fact I quickly realized it was something perhaps worse—because it was something that could not be as easily vented as anger. It was a grim determination and wary, anxious readiness that I can only assume is a “second cousin” to what is felt by people in the midst of major armed conflict. People who are on the battlefield; citizens trapped in cities and villages that are ravaged by civil war.

It was the activation of the “fight or flight” parts of my brain, with the full and immediate realization that there was nowhere to run—flight wasn’t an option and that meant I had to be ready to fight at any moment.

I awoke to a world in which I was surrounded by more enemies than I realized had been around me all along. Except now they were energized. They felt validated. They were empowered by the fact that their poster boy had become president-elect.

But even though I knew they were all around me in numbers so much more than I had ever imagined before, I couldn’t identify them, because they all wore the same uniform that I do.

Whiteness.

I don’t hate my whiteness. I am not wracked by so-called white guilt. However, as a person who is white I am well aware of the privilege I have from my skin color, not to mention the social advantages that come with being male, hetero and cisgendered. I am aware of the armor I wear (so light and ever-present and almost magically effective that I don’t even notice it or have to think about donning it) that almost invariably protects me from kinds of harm and mistreatment that are almost only meted to marginalized racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identity groups—and also to white women to a significant though lesser degree (though women—white or otherwise—face a greater and unique threat from rape culture and domestic abuse in this country, but I digress).

Point is, I am Caucasian and I spent more than 20 years of my life with a Black woman; we’re separated now, but Shay is still my best friend and co-parent. I have two Black children, one a grown man and the other a tween girl. I have Black in-laws. My direct and indirect involvement with Shay’s social justice and anti-racism work has added all kinds of non-white people (and non-straight and non-Christian as well) to my online circles and offline interactions. I have personally gotten to see—over and over again—how differently I can be treated by police, restaurant servers, passers-by, etc. when I am alone compared to when I am in the presence of a Black person in my family.

And now, after the election, I woke to a world full of people who clearly don’t care about Black people—whom I do care about—and these enemies to what I hold dear are all around me. It’s not like I haven’t been aware for years upon years about systemic racism, institutional racial bias and even personal racism still being nurtured in white hearts. But I hadn’t realize just how much racist animosity and bigotry was still simmering in white minds and hearts and souls just waiting to explode outward and be expressed once a man was elected president who used racially charged jargon and fanned the fires of racism to stir up support and did little if anything to speak out against white nationalists and racist hate groups who were openly supporting and endorsing him.

Trump has picked for key posts like chief strategist and attorney general men who have clearly racist histories or white nationalist/white supremacy ties that show they will not be amenable to racial equity or enforcing/advancing civil rights. Racially and religiously oriented hate crimes went up markedly right after the election, many of them committed in Trump’s name specifically. Shay herself experienced a disturbingly aggressive racially bigoted exchange just a few days after the election in the most liberal city in our all-too-white state of Maine—my beloved ex-wife in the crosshairs. Many in her professional and social circles of people of color have talked about similar experiences they have gone through or that have affected their friends or relatives.

And so I am in a kind of war zone. Overnight, a civil war was silently and implicitly declared in which a huge portion of America—specifically, white people, who turned out in a majority for Trump across all gender, age, income and educational demographics—decided they “want their country back.” Who want people who aren’t white and/or Christian “back in their place.” Who are proud, whether they know it or admit it, that they are part of a group of people that conquer and oppress and push down people who aren’t white to keep a stranglehold on power, money and opportunities. Who see nothing wrong with the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Black people because that’s in the past (ignoring the fact both still have substantial effects in the modern day) and because white people won “fair and square.”

Somehow, bringing our society closer to equality (though we’re still far from that goal) made them feel they were “losing” and that being more fair to other groups was giving those people “special rights.”

And they reacted by naming a man to be president who has made it clear he sees Black people, Latinx people and Muslim people in particular as damaged, dangerous, problematic and lesser. They have reacted with either indifference to increased violence and risks faced by marginalized groups of people or have reacted with verbal and/or physical violence toward them.

I am surrounded by enemies who want to hurt or disenfranchise (or both) people I care about and people whom the people I love care about, too. And I cannot identify most of them because their uniform is the same as mine and many of the people like-minded to me. White.

I go out of the house now with the clear knowledge that easily a quarter of the people around me (maybe even half or more sometimes) are enemies to me and to the people I love. Knowing that while I may be protected by my own whiteness that my Black loved ones are not. That people in my circles of friends, associates and acquaintances who are Black (or Latinx, or LGBTQ, or Muslim) are at higher risk.

That, in fact, I myself am at increased risk in a sense because I may have to physically protect those people from harm by people who wear my same uniform—that white skin.

I won’t know the enemies until they reveal themselves. Perhaps by telling a racist joke to me that only a few weeks or months ago people would have been ashamed or afraid to tell to a stranger. Perhaps by expressing to me how much better America will be under Trump. Perhaps by actually threatening or attacking my ex-wife or one of my children.

To some degree, I suppose I’m getting a small and slightly analogous taste of what Black people go through every day: Walking out the door and never knowing how many racialized things they will endure. Will it “just” be the microaggressions or will it be something more overt and perhaps dangerous? Knowing that they cannot shed the very brown skin that marks them as racial targets every moment of every day.

In that respect, though, I’m still protected. I may go out hyper-aware that my fellow whitefolk may do bigoted things in my presence and I may have to react to that, but the people who hail a new American social order under Trump and hope for gains in white supremacy look at me and probably mostly see a potential ally. I wear the same white-skinned uniform as them and they likely assume that I am an ally until proved otherwise.

But I cannot afford to see the people around me who share my uniform of whiteness as allies. For the sake and the safety of those I love, I now have to view every white person at every moment as a potential enemy, particularly when my Black loved ones are with me.

And thus a part of myself is murdered. One of the first acts of violence in the wake of the Trump victory was to kill most of the hope I had that America was progressing—far too little over the decades and far too slowly, but still moving forward. No more do I have that feeling. I can only see risks and dangers for my family from potentially half the people around us, and wonder when the forward progress will begin again.

And how many decades it will take us to get back to a place where I feel I can let down my guard and not be looking for the next enemy at all times.
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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