How are you showing up for Black women in Maine and beyond?

“De ni**er woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.”– Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston published these words in 1937 and yet in 2018 those words still ring true for far too many Black women. Black women were the backbone of the Civil Rights movement and yet how many Black  women from that era aside from Rosa Parks can anyone name? Black women have been at the forefront of the current movement for Black Lives and yet too often we see men being lifted up for their work. The critical behind-the-scenes labor that Black women provide is often dismissed or taken for granted.

Last year, in Alabama, Black women came through and were instrumental in the election of Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate, thus kicking off the rallying cry of Black women as being our collective saviors in  Trump’s America. And this year, with the midterms elections looming large, Black women are playing a prominent role especially with Stacey Abrams winning the Georgia Democratic Primary for Governor. A historic win.

Suddenly, Black women seem to almost be in vogue. But, while that sounds good, how many Black women are truly getting the support and nurturing that they need? How many of us instead are fighting twice as hard or more as our white peers to be agents of change and getting far less of the credit? How many of us are getting no credit at all? How many of us are encouraged to change the world while getting precious little assistance and backup from anyone but other Black women? While it is popular to say that people are supporting Black women, the truth is too often we are still seen as the mules and whatever support we receive is marginal at best.

Here in Maine, we have a Black woman running for re-election for the Maine House of Representatives. I should mention now that Rachel Talbot Ross, the woman in question, is a personal friend. But my words have nothing to do with our friendship; rather, they are the observation and reality of what it means to be a Black woman who is working for change.

Rachel, in her two years in the state legislature, has sponsored bills related to housing security, mental health training for corrections personnel and tax incentives for businesses that hire people from traditionally marginalized communities. Four of the bills she sponsored passed and are waiting for funding from the legislature. One of her priorities was to involve people who are typically underrepresented directly in her work.  

As a Black woman in a very white state, Rachel knows that representation matters and as a ninth-generation Mainer she is only one of two Black people in the state legislature. Which is why it is all the more surprising that as an incumbent this year, she is being challenged for her seat by a member of her own party: Herb Adams, Adams held the seat from 2004-2010 until term limits forced him out. He’s had two other unsuccessful runs. Given that there are no Republican challengers, it is almost a sure thing that whoever wins the primary will secure the seat.

Look, it’s a free country and he is free to do whatever the hell he wants but it is this type of behavior that frankly makes me side-eye so-called progressives.

You have a Black woman who is busting her ass in this very white state to create representation and a truly inclusive space and after just two years in office a white man feels entitled to challenge her just because he can? Was there no one in the state to tell this guy to sit down? I am pretty certain that if Herb and I sat down, he would say it’s just politics, as would many other nice white people. But the fact is, as a white guy he sits at the top of the hierarchy and his decision means that Rachel must yet again work harder just trying to keep her seat, and be distracted from the work she’s trying to do legislatively. The white man’s ambition becomes more important than allowing the Black woman’s momentum to continue and her star to shine. And those kinds of challenges to hard work (and success) is the way of things often for Black women, especially in predominantly white spaces.

In this moment, many white people are waking up to the reality that racism never went anywhere and that it’s insidious and deeply entrenched into all of our systems. People feel bad and want to do something and yet the work that can truly move the needle seems to elude them. Understand this: Nothing will change until white people realize that the only way we solve our racism problem starts with them asking themselves “What am I  willing to give up?” You cannot right the scales of injustice without taking something from one side and moving it to the other in order to get the scales to balance out. You simply cannot. And while it’s bad enough when no white people are willing to step aside for Black people, it is especially galling when they actively try to displace them or diminish them when there is no need to do so.

Change will also require more people of color in the rooms where decisions are made. That means both seats at the tables as well as ownership of some of those tables. Racism is about power and privilege and despite the surface shifts since the 1960s, the levers of power across the board are still operated primarily by white men. We need Black and brown people to operate far more of those levers than is the case right now if change is going to happen. We need white people to recognize that fact and to step back and step down more often to make that happen. It also means calling out other well-meaning (or not so well-meaning, too) white people when they make missteps that are harmful to Black folks and other people of color.

Until a critical mass of white people move beyond awareness of racism to concrete action that requires some actual sacrifice on their part, not much changes. Until then Black women, who live at the intersection of both gender and racial discrimination, will have to work far more hard than will most white men to obtain, no matter if the Black woman is more qualified or deserving. Even the exceptional Black woman struggles to get what comes easily to the most average of white men. Despite being known for our strength, this type of struggle takes its toll on us; it’s what you don’t see when we are laid out in bed, unable to get up and filled with panic and dread but because you only see our strong faces and never see our human faces. Instead, you take our strength for granted and become dependent on us to go the extra mile and make things right.

No, that’s not  good enough and if you fancy yourself a white, progressive, liberal who isn’t racist, it’s time for you to get your hands dirty and share the burdens.

As for Rachel, if you live in Portland’s House District 40, I encourage you to vote on June 12 and let her return to the legislature to continue what she’s started.


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Looking for Black love in a sea of white apps

As they sometimes say: The struggle is real.

In this case, the struggle of being a Black woman trying to find love or at least the seeds of it in the dating pool.

I have been on BLK, Bumble, Coffee & Bagel, Hinge, Tinder, and Zoosk. Fifteen to 30 minutes for a daytime date, for tea/coffee, errands, or a walk around Portland. My profile descriptions are honest and brief and my photos are full of smiles and fun adventures. No group photos and mostly full-body pictures. I give depth and substance, always hoping for the best. Turns out men—white and people of color—are more interested in drinking and going back to mine or their place for sex than they are in my name, let alone my career or hobbies. Even as a self-proclaimed commitment-phobic non-platonic dating partner it’s been a bit much. If their misogyny isn’t suffocating me, their fragility or insecurities aren’t drowning me, then their lack of emotional stability generally seals the deal and ends the date abruptly.

I had been in a relationship not that long ago, so how did I get here? Maybe that’s the place to start.

On June 1, 2017, I became single after 17 months of dating a mixed-race, light-skinned fuckboy who was born in Maine and “raised” by his white mother. According to urban dictionary a fuckboy is the type of guy who does shit that generally pisses the population of the earth off all the time. The woman, also mixed race, who was sleeping with him contacted me that morning at 9:51 a.m. to apologize for being caught. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Turns out the cheating hussy’s friend sent me a message the day before, on Facebook messenger, telling me that the hussy and my then scum boyfriend had been sleeping together for more than three months. She said neither of them would tell me the truth and she could see I was a good person and didn’t deserve this treatment, so she needed to tell me. She even sent me a photo of the two of them from earlier that week, half dressed in his bed, as proof. I felt immediate respect for this stranger I would never meet in person.

Once the truth was out, the other woman couldn’t help herself. Her guilt and shame came pouring out with no immediate end in sight. She spent the next 24 hours spilling everything she could as I asked all the strategic questions I could think of. I wanted desperately to put some pieces together for myself about the last few months and our fuckboy’s odd behaviors. She was so eager to be seen by someone, her fingers did all the talking.

Other Woman: I’m sorry for what my friend sent. Never meant to hurt you. She said she sent you a message on Facebook? I’m sorry René. (I was in shock at first. I called him immediately to find out what on earth was happening. He was at work, no answer. Several moments later he called back and of course had all the answers ready for my interrogation.)

Cheating Ex Slimeball: You drove me into her arms, you became emotionally unavailable to me. When you decided you didn’t want to have children with me, marry me, or move in to my apartment I realized we wanted different things.

Other Woman: He told me to be patient but then I saw he wasn’t doing anything about it or talking to you. I didn’t want to be the other woman and I didn’t think it was fair to you. I struggled to tell you. I vented to my friend and she took it upon herself.

I had felt something was wrong for weeks before that day. In fact, 10 days before this incident I had even asked my then douchebag partner if there was something he wanted to tell me—anything would be fine so long as he was honest with me. I made it clear I could feel a change in “us,” and that I wanted to fix it. He denied my concerns and told me it was my fault I was feeling this shift. That I was dragging past relationships into this relationship and not giving him a fair shot.

I believed him, internalized it and thought nothing about him mentioning T.K. (aka “other woman”) more often. So much for slowly building a friendship with her over the last year. Needless to say, after I found out, I was beside myself. I informed all the people in my life that needed to know, got super drunk and high and I went to sleep that night wishing so much harm on him as I played all the possible moments of dishonesty in my head and heart over and over again. After about 48 hours I was a new woman. I was ready to get back on that dating wagon.

However, I was at my summer job in the Western foothills of Maine, so dating was on hold until I got back to Portland, the most culturally diverse place in Maine before Lewiston. Starting in early October I began dating again, an average of two dates a week. I know well that dating is a numbers game and it is rigged against me and women who look like me, so I let go of all my neurotic planning methods and tendencies and said “yes” to almost every date offered.

And as I said at the beginning of this piece, the dating hasn’t gone well and trying to find a Black man or any man of color has gone even more poorly.

I started talking to other women of color about their dating experiences and found the more I talk to my Black female friends—not just in Maine or New England but all over the country—the more I hear them saying they are having difficulties finding a partner, especially if they’re Black, and especially if they want marriage—in a way that our white friends aren’t struggling so much. I am constantly questioning my worth in the dating world in a way I don’t question my worth anywhere else.

In a country where Black men are roughly seven times more likely to be killed than Black women and Black men are twice as likely as Black women to seek marriage outside of their race, the reality of my choices feels so slim. OkCupid statistics reveal that Black women are the least desirable demographic in the dating pool, next to Asian men.

I have been on over 50 first dates since October; only two have been men of color and all of them have been in Maine. I am realizing I want to find a Black man who wants to love me and is worthy of my love. I am not completely convinced I have to leave Maine to find this, but with each new app or new unsuccessful date I am losing hope.


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No to this “Oh”

Too often, White America has selective memory when it comes to the past. It reminds me of my tween daughter’s forgetfulness around things like chores, and yet she never forgets when her allowance is due.

As a Black American, it is fascinating to me how often White America looks back on the distant past with fond memories. It’s rare to find any Black American over 50 who yearns for those eras to the degree that our white counterparts yearn for them—and how often they are seen as “the good old days.”

Of course, why would anyone of color with any sense of history or self-respect yearn or look back fondly at a time when you were denied access to numerous spaces simply due to the color of your skin? A time when the even the family vacation was a racial experience because you couldn’t count on finding a roadside diner that might serve you and you had to do your best to avoid the sundown towns even in northern states like Illinois lest you end up dead. As my father told me, the day he graduated from high school in Blytheville, Arkansas, he was on a bus out of town that evening. Heading to someplace where a Black person might stand a chance of breathing. No, Black folks as a whole don’t revisit the past here in America because to revisit the past is to realize that the progress we envisioned isn’t nearly as far in the past as we like to think, along with the fact progress hasn’t gone as far as it should have yet (or as far as we’ve have been led to believe).

However, in a changing nation, revisiting the past for white folks takes on an entirely different tone. A time when whiteness paid maximum dividends and extending humanity and decency to non-white people wasn’t a thing. Or, as a local community group in Maine advertised with an upcoming stage production of “Oh, Susannah,” they described a version of the Old South as a “dream remembered” of “knights and their ladies, masters and slaves,” and a “pretty world where gallantry took its last bow.” Oh, and the production was to be composed largely of minstrel songs. And promoted using a Confederate stars and bars flag.

In case knowledge of minstrel-style shows isn’t your jam, let me give you the Wikipedia description:

“The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American form of entertainment developed in the early 19th century. Each show consisted of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performances that mocked people specifically of African descent. The shows were performed by Caucasians in make-up or blackface for the purpose of playing the role of black people. There were also some African-American performers and all-black minstrel groups that formed and toured under the direction of white people.”

So. yeah…in Sanford, Maine, the local theater group Sanford Maine Stage thought that staging a taste of the old days in the form of “Oh, Susannah” would be a marvelous idea. While the composer of the actual song “Oh, Susannah” was known as one of the fathers of American music, much of what he wrote was fodder for minstrel shows. Foster himself performed in blackface at one point.

A production like “Oh, Susannah” is steeped in racism. It’s one thing to revisit the Confederacy in a historical sense, but even then, it is to revisit some of this country’s darkest history. But as a form of nostalgia and longing? No.

That is a period in history when the degradation of Black people was openly sanctioned and encouraged—when we were viewed as less than human—and this country’s lack of remorse over that in general is bad enough. Its unwillingness to admit what a crime it was and how much it still impacts today. But as bad as that ignorance is, in the era of proclaiming that Black Lives Matter, why would anyone with an iota of decency want to take part in a show  steeped in the misery and subjugation of an entire people and look at as merely wistful entertainment?

Well, after community pushback the theater company decided to cancel the production. But in choosing to cancel the show, there are those voices who refuse to acknowledge how hurtful this very idea was, including a number of the actual performers in the show. Not to mention others in and beyond the community telling people not to be so sensitive and lamenting political correctness.

In this moment, I am reminded of how harmful the silo of whiteness is because too often it prevents its inhabitants from seeing larger truths. Online, there were those upset by the cancellation who were asking “where is the tolerance?” Well, I guess that’s an inadvertent good choice of words for those that actually made that word choice, because “tolerating” is something we tend to do for unpleasant things. So, in a way, those people are making my point. They are asking us to endure such ignorance.

The fact is the marketing of this show used hateful imagery and words—no one needs to tolerate that. The larger question is, “Why didn’t anyone question or flag this production before it became public?” It is not comforting to know that people spent weeks on rehearsal and preparation and no one thought that maybe this was a bad idea? I love theater and there are far too many shows that could have been produced that would not have been steeped in white supremacy. That could have explored the Old South in a more honest or nuanced way.

While the Sanford area is, like many Maine communities, predominantly white, there are non-white community members and white allies who now are concerned that they may be branded as troublemakers for standing up for what is right. The fact is that speaking truth to power often comes at a cost. Still, it’s always the right thing to do. For those who are disappointed that the show is canceled, I would invite you to ask yourself “Why?” To ask yourself why you think that your right to participate in or view a production that is hurtful matters so much. I am sure many of those pushing back would be offended to be called racist and yet their behavior is very much what American racism is all about. It’s the belief in rugged individualism and the American dream while denying or ignoring that it is almost always at the expense of someone else, and most dramatically at the expense of people of color. It’s the same racist spirit that justified “discovering” someone else’s land and then enslaving others to work that land to build a new country.


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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