If you are sensitive to discussions about race, do me and you a favor and just skip this post…I am talking race today and it might start feeling a smidge uncomfortable. What you are about to read is a column I wrote for a local publication that was rejected by my editor on the basis that maybe when I am talking race, I am the one with the chip on my shoulder. It was suggested that I need to look at why I get so bothered by racial things…I don’t know maybe its because as a Black woman living in these divided States of America that despite having a Black president racism is still a fact of life and as much as I wish race wasn’t an issue that I didn’t haveto think about, that just is not the world I live in….
Uncomfortable in my own skin
I’m proud to be Black. I sometimes joke with my husband that I’d like a “White suit” for those days I don’t want to deal with preconceptions from other people that derive from the color of my skin but the fact is: I wouldn’t want to be White.
Then again, lately I feel conspicuous in my dark skin. So, what’s the trigger for that?
Hell, what aren’t the triggers?
In the nearly three months since David Okot was killed by the Portland Police after reportedly waving a gun around in a threatening fashion, I’ve watched the continued deterioration of relations between Somali and Sudanese immigrants and the police. Seems like whenever police have to chase a Somali or Sudanese kid for stealing something, now they’re accused of harassing these two groups. And lately, there have been rumblings that when the police are called by some Somali and Sudanese residents of Portland, the calls might be ruses to lure police into confrontations.
Closer to my home, Rory Holland of Biddeford in late June reportedly shot dead, at 1 a.m., brothers Gage and Derek Greene–aged 19 and 21–outside his home. Holland has a criminal record going way back, for a variety of unsavory crimes, and is the kind of guy who seems to like to file lawsuits against people for fun and profit.
Also, there is Shalom Odokara, who runs Women in Need and was vice chairwoman of Portland’s Planning Board until city officials learned that she recently pled guilty to criminal charges in federal court. She was already on probation after pleading guilty in 2006 for embezzling $108,000 from the World Bank, and in 1989 she was convicted for trafficking heroin from Nigeria to Maryland.
As if that’s not enough, it turns out that Portland city council member and current mayor Jill Duson apparently knew about at least portions of Odokara’s criminal past already, and didn’t tell her colleagues, nor ask Odokara to resign.
Can you guess what Okot, Holland, Odokara and Duson all have in common?
Yeah, they’re Black.
And I feel sometimes like the rest of us Black people are being judged in light of that. Any time even one Black person makes the news prominently for a crime in this state, I get tense because people almost invariably start look at me harder and more suspiciously. And in a short span of time, three major stories in which four black people and a couple of entire immigrant African populations figure prominently.
Partly, I sense the judgmentalism in the comments I see online in response to news articles about these events. But while I realize that those aren’t allMainers, why is it that so often, when I sit down in a restaurant or coffee shop and settle into my “eavesdropping for entertainment” mode as usual, someone starts talking about Rory Holland or Odokara or the “Somali problem” within seconds? And why am I getting more grumpy looks from people after living in my community for six years now?
And no, I don’t mean the Canadian tourists; I’m used to getting weird looks from them every damn summer. I’m talking people who see me in passing on a regular basis.
In African-American culture, many of us are raised to understand that, for right or wrong, our actions will be seen as representative of the entire Black community. My 17-year-old at times tells me this thinking is outdated. But even he has come to realize that wearing the baggy pants and gym shoes that is so popular with youth is a surefire way to invite trouble from racists and attention from police even though he doesn’t do anything nefarious or suspicious.
So I would urge all of you to please remember that it’s White people who commit the vast majority of crimes around here–and no, aside from having run into Rory Holland in downtown Biddeford from time to time and steering clear of him because I thought he was creepy, too, I don’t know these people. And I certainly shouldn’t be judged based on them.
End of column……
Obviously this piece has a local slant so feel free to google additional information if you really want to know what goes on in Maine. Now it was funny because as the Spousal Unit (aka resident white guy in my house) and I were discussing how I should proceed with my column, we got news of this story. Seems Skip Gates, a well known Black scholar and Harvard faculty member was arrested for breaking into his own house. Now having read the police report it appears Gates forgot the rules of Blackness in America…when dealing with the police, they don’t give a damn who the fuck you are, and you can best believe Barack Obama in a few years when he is out of office if his ass ever gets caught without Secret Service detail and the local police think he is suspicious, he too could get locked up.
If you think I am tripping as the young folks used to say, well you are asleep at the switch. There may be a few times when Black folks cry race when its something else but too many times race is the issue, it never stops being an issue. Sadly too many well meaning white folks these days point to the fact that we have a Black president as hard evidence that racism is mostly dead. Look, truth is Obama won because the economy sucked and folks realized that with McCain and Palin we would really big screwed…when it comes to folks and their money, they will do what advances their best interest and McCain was not in most folks best interest. You think the economy is screwed now? Imagine life under the maverick duo? I know…nasty thought!
Instead we have to look at ways to get around issues of race and not let it be an issue but that still does not stop us from having days when we shake our heads and go damn! As for me, well I am gonna do some soul searching and figure why oh why I get so bothered by race..maybe its because every time my son leaves the house there is a part of me that prays and wants to tell him no don’t go. Maybe its because I hear the stories of abuse that Black and biracial kids put up from their peers here in Maine for the crime of not being white…maybe its because despite the fancy letters that go after my name, I still encounter folks daily who question who I am and whether or not I am qualified to do my job. Just little stuff that keeps me wondering….