Current Events

Governor LePage and White Reality

It’s been almost five months since I last wrote about Maine’s bombastic governor, Paul LePage, who suffers from several chronic health conditions, ignorance and verbal diarrhea being chief among them. Just when I had started to forget that he was our dishonorable governor, he opened his pie hole and boy, was it a doozy!

To recap, in the event that you have been unplugged or hiding under a rock, civil rights legend and congressman John Lewis recently made a statement that he had no intention of attending the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump because he didn’t see Trump as a legitimate president. It’s safe to say that Lewis is not alone in his thoughts. Since at this point, we may never know which end is up as far as how Trump won.

The  president-elect does not appear to be a man with a great deal of impulse control and rather than taking option A, which would be to say nothing or option B, which is to agree to disagree and let the matter die…well, he didn’t do either. Trump decided to go for option C, which is get on Twitter and assassinate Lewis’s character and say that Lewis represents a broken-down district and that he was all talk.

I don’t know, but given that Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders who actually worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and had his head bashed in for racial justice as well as being arrested numerous times during the Civil Rights Movement, I’d say that the last words that one could use for Lewis are that he is all talk. Lewis has literally put his ass on the line.

So while the rest of the country was paying homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this past weekend for the MLK holiday, the president-elect  was showing the world why his nickname is Cheeto Jesus and reminding us that he is a petty little man.

Anyway, the situation ramped up when one of Maine’s U.S. representatives, Chellie Pingree, said that she too was taking a pass on attending the inauguration and, well, that’s when Maine’s chief buffoon, the dishonorable Paul LePage, had to throw in his two cents.

On a local Maine radio show LePage said the following: “John Lewis ought to look at history.” LePage told WVOM, a Maine radio station. “It was Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant that fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple thank you would suffice.”

Then if that wasn’t bad enough, a few hours later, LePage speaking to a reporter with the Portland Press Herald said that Black people and the NAACP should apologize to white folks. To be exact, here is what LePage said, “The blacks, the NAACP (paint) all white people with one brush,” LePage said. “To say that every white American is a racist is an insult. The NAACP should apologize to the white people, to the people from the North for fighting their battle.”

Mind you, LePage is the governor who said that President Obama could kiss his ass, and he had long refused any meaningful connection with the local NAACP. He is the same man who said that Black men are coming to Maine to sell drugs and impregnate its white women. He is also the guy with the “binder of drug dealers” that supposedly showed how most people involved in drug trafficking in Maine were non-white (something that was clearly disproved with actual crime statistics).

Now, it’s easy to chalk it up to LePage being racially ignorant and shake our heads, but frankly in the era of Trump, taking that tack is no longer acceptable. In fact, it is dangerous. The sad reality is that far too many white people are racially ignorant, meaning they have no idea Black American history is a part of American history and that it is far more complex than slavery, freed slaves and the Civil Rights Era. Most have no clue that the American government was complicit in creating the White American middle class while making sure than Black folks would always be relegated to a de-facto second class.  That when we talk about the plight of Black folks in places like Chicago, we have to look at how the system created the conditions and that no amount of hard work and boot straps is gonna work, especially when the system has been rigged except for a few tokens that white people love to show off. Ben Carson, anyone? (Or any number of others who are the very rare exceptions to the rule, from notable generals to musical artists to actors to beloved athletes)

LePage’s words express a common misunderstanding of history. Lincoln didn’t exactly free the slaves because he was a wonderful man (in fact, he considered a plan to send them all back to Africa, even though the ones actually from Africa at that point were probably a very small percentage of the whole). And given that Ulysses S. Grant died in 1885 and that Jim Crow was alive and well into the 1960s, it’s safe to say that Grant was not leading the charge to end Jim Crow.

To LePage’s other point, I think that LePage said something that is unspoken but often thought in many white spaces. Look at the comment section of any race-based article and you will see white people telling Black people that we can go back to Africa if we don’t like it. Given that my ancestors were forcibly brought here and made to build this country, why exactly would I be going anywhere? Or if I am leaving, it seems that white people should leave too; after all, this country really belonged to Native Americans. But I digress.

There is an air of superiority that exists in many white spaces and frankly, despite the number of white people who are striving to break free from toxic whiteness, far too many are happy in their racial silos where whiteness is exalted and learning about other people rarely happens as anything other than a footnote.

If nothing else has come out of the 2016 elections, it’s that America is not nearly evolved as many thought when it comes to matters of race, gender and other difference from the cisgender straight white male “norm.” Given the gravity of what we are facing as a nation, we can no longer afford to look the other way or remain suspended in progressive disbelief when the LePage’s of the world speak. Men like Trump and LePage are not the outliers that many believe them to be; instead, they are the men in power who can make millions of people’s lives miserable. And the first part of resisting is to look honestly at what we are facing.

In looking at our shared reality, looking at white reality is an important first step and that requires acknowledging that millions of white people do not see non-white people as equal to them or perhaps even equal to the pets in their homes. And the next step? Being prepared to take an actual stand against everyone who feels that way, from strangers to your closest relatives, and to change that reality to something much more just and equitable.
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The ACA and the house that hate built

I got to suffer the lack of employer-sponsored health insurance beginning all the way back in 2002. 2002 was the year that I moved from Chicago to Maine to make joint custody work better for my family. In choosing to make life better for our family, I gave up employer-sponsored health insurance, naively assuming that good health insurance wouldn’t be that hard to obtain. I was wrong.

Maine is a strange state (in that there are few health insurance companies and thus little competition to rein in costs of that insurance). When I landed in Maine my then life partner was a full-time freelance editor and I was doing piecemeal work which meant that our only option for health insurance was to buy our own. We ended up in a high-deductible, catastrophic plan that covered very little. It covered so little that when I went into labor in 2005 with our daughter and had to be transferred to the hospital from the freestanding birth center where I had intended to give birth, virtually nothing was covered despite 36 hours in the hospital.

I would carry the debt from her birth for many years.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a blessing, albeit a complicated blessing for me. After years of being marginally insured and at times even uninsured, it has meant that I have consistent access to care. I don’t qualify for the subsidies and I still have unpaid medical debt, but paying off a few thousand dollars over time is vastly better than having tens of thousands of dollars that you can’t even afford the minimum payments on. There is peace of mind in knowing that I can have checkups, allergy meds which I used to regularly skip and stability in my care. The ACA is far from perfect but for millions of Americans, it was better than what we used to have.

Now it seems that care may come to an end thanks to the GOP and their desire to gut all things related to Obama. Overnight on January 12, the United States Senate voted to take the first step in repealing Obamacare despite having no replacement in sight. Donald Trump ran on a platform that included repealing Obamacare, though it seems many Trump supporters who championed that decision are waking up to the cold  reality that Obamacare is actually the nickname for the Affordable Care Act that many of them also use. Many of them think Obamacare is the evil plan and that the ACA is some other “mostly good” plan existing separately. They think they are protected by the ACA when Obamacare goes away. Surprise! They are one and the same. That nickname “Obamacare” is something that the GOP has been happy to exploit to make people hate and support removal of something they actually use and rely on.

Yes, there are some who support Trump and GOP efforts and know Obamacare and the ACA are the same thing and want that plan gone regardless. Most of them because they were among the relatively few who didn’t get subsidies or saw their premiums rise (partly because of concessions that had to be made to the GOP to get the ACA passed to begin with) or who are still mad because some of them couldn’t keep their doctors after President Obama made the naively overconfident statement that everyone would be able to keep their doctors.

The loss of the ACA will be catastrophic for millions of Americans. Many of them voters or  who are largely responsible for the GOP getting control of both houses of Congress and giving Trump the presidential victory.

Pre-existing conditions and financial concerns for healthcare cut across racial, gender and class lines; however, when you are so focused on hating a man because of the color of his skin and one’s unchecked bias, well…in that case, you vote for an unstable, unqualified, ego-driven man whose first act even before he has taken the oath of office is to put in place the framework that will effectively deny health coverage to millions of people. The process to remove the ACA has already gone into turbo mode, and neither Trump nor the Congress have any plan to replace it.

My lane in this space is generally race and middle-aged musings, but today I am mad as hell and you ought to be mad as hell too! Over the past eight years, we as a nation have had to grapple with the reality that race matters in ways that many white people have really struggled to grasp as we labored under the post-racism myth. Make no mistake, post-racism is and was a pipe dream and the ascension of Donald Trump to the highest office in America is proof. You don’t elect your first Black president ever and follow it up with a man who openly stokes the fires of racism, misogyny, Islamophobia and a host of nasties without that level of evil sitting in the hearts of the people.
America was built on a foundation of hate and hate may very well be our undoing as a nation. If the hate doesn’t kill us, lack of access to healthcare might very well do it.

Note: Yes, I do have a full-time job but the realty of a four person non-profit with an operating budget under $250,000 is that we don’t have employer-sponsored health coverage for the staff because we can’t afford and as the Executive Director of Community Change Inc. I know the organizational budget as well as I know my own personal budget. Small, grassroots nonprofits often lack the amenities of our grown-up brethren, such as retirement plans and health insurance. 
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Violence in Chicago, or Race and how society makes villains to blame

Much has been said lately of the rates of crime generally and violence in particular (and especially gun deaths) in Chicago. Chicago, the place where I was born and raised and, until the past 14 years, give or take, lived my life. A city I still love.

And things got REALLY ugly when a kidnapping and torture by some Black youth against a white special needs youth occurred, and was videotaped. And on Facebook and Twitter, all the white people who can never work up the energy to get outraged when Black and Brown people are brutalized were suddenly energized, furious and scary in their calls for retribution and the broad blame they laid. Many of them blamed the Black Lives Matter movement and also decided that all Black people were part of BLM and so managed to conflate a lot of things that don’t go together with four messed-up young adults doing something heinous for their own sick reasons.

What has gone often unsaid out loud about the violence in general beyond just this really sick incident, but has been very loudly suggested on many fronts (especially social media), is how it’s the fault of Black and Brown people. How little they care about their neighborhoods. How violent they are. How lacking in goals and ambitions.

Pretty much: Look at those dark-skinned animals and what they have wrought!

Let me moderate my thoughts as I write the words…at least somewhat moderate them: Screw that B.S.

I remember in my childhood the South Side neighborhood and home in which my Granny lived (especially when my Paw-Paw was still alive and healthy in the house with her). I remember how middle class/working class it was and how normal it all was. How neighbors spoke to each other and looked out for each other (mostly by making sure all the kids were behaving themselves and telling on them to their parents when they weren’t).

But I also remember how it all changed. How as Black and Brown people settled in to be responsible homeowners how the last of the white people began to drift away. Some because apparently the neighborhood was getting too dark for them and others because even if they were committed to sticking around, they got older (and died or had to go to retirement homes or whatnot) and their kids and grandkids didn’t want to live among “those people.”

And as the neighborhood got more and more brown, how the property values steadily went down. Not because the homeowners were irresponsible, but because throughout U.S. history and even now, real estate people start devaluing neighborhoods almost the moment the first brown-skinned face shows up to buy property.

And then the self-fulfilling prophecy. As the area was deemed less valuable and the people in it seen not as “worthy,” suddenly things like the city maintaining streets and providing prompt and courteous police service and such was less important. And the schools. And public transit access that would let people there get to jobs or just go shop. And then the grocery stores went away to be replaced by liquor stores. And the gangs grew.

But who got blamed for it all? The Black and Brown residents.

They were just living off welfare or involved in crime or running side hustles because they liked it that way. They didn’t care or have ambition. They loved drugs more than anything. They protected the criminals. Those were the stories, at least

But how do you survive when you can’t even get cabs to come to your neighborhood when the public transit service is cut? When there are not only no jobs in your area but no way to get to them? When you can’t sell your house because people long ago deemed the area “bad” for not being white enough. When you can’t move somewhere “better” because you can’t afford first and last month’s rent and deposit, much less moving costs? That’s when people end up on welfare or turn to crime.

People with business interests and city officials with other priorities let their racism create the bad situations. They may not have done it with specifically evil intent, but they decided to shut their eyes and ignore the fact they were shifting the money and resources away once they didn’t like the look of the people there. And that’s evil itself and evil enough.

And that’s largely what’s happening now. Again. Rahm Emmanuel, as mayor, has done terrible things to the city as a whole (which affects the poorer and more vulnerable…and typically Black/Brown areas even more). He’s cut public health especially in the area of mental health services. He’s gutted public education. The Chicago police force is allowed to continue to use practices that are less than fair and equal when it comes to which hue of people get the fist (or taser or bullet) instead of the outstretched hand.

The problem isn’t the people of Chicago (Black or otherwise), unless you’re talking about the key policy-makers and the people who control the money and jobs and influence in government. Those who have…or kind of have something…get what love there is to be given. Those who have not get nothing. Or, more accurately, they are typically given periods of hope or progress in bits and pieces and from time to time, only to have what little light appeared at the end of the tunnel yanked away by, for example, the current mayor and his friends and allies. Never is awareness and help extended long enough to actually fix anything. Never are the underlying systems, inequities and biases ever addressed and fixed.

And so the cycle of blame begins, which would be fine, if the blame got aimed enough at the right people, instead of the people who just happen to be Black and Brown and whose lives definitely don’t matter to the people in charge most of the time.
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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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