Current Events

When Paul LePage went full-on racist, or Paul’s binder of dealers

I really had no intention of ever wasting any more words on Maine’s governor, Paul LePage. I thought I had said all that I needed to say several months ago in my open letter to the governor but then the past several days happened. The quick-and-easy version is that several days ago at a local town hall meeting in North Berwick, Maine, LePage once again stated his belief that Black men are bringing the drugs to Maine and he once again insinuated that these same Black men end up with Maine’s fair maidens, aka white women. Oh boy! Here we go again! But wait! LePage was only getting started. Turns out that the governor who has publicly admitted to not reading the newspaper has been keeping his own private binder of who’s who among Maine’s drug dealers (makes you almost long for Mitt Romney’s “binders of women” instead). And in this private binder of his, there are an awful lot of Blacks and Latinos who are driving up Interstate 95 from exotic locales such as Waterbury, Conn., and Brooklyn, N.Y. to sell their poison to unsuspecting Mainers. According to him, this is an accurate representation of arrests of drug dealing fiends, and he says 90 percent of them are Black or Brown.

Oh dear! But wait! We aren’t even halfway through this week’s adventure in Maine politics. Nope, after receiving blowback from many across the state, the governor decided to ratchet things up by calling a Democratic lawmaker and in a profanity-laden voicemail that sounded suspiciously like a man who was under the influence of something more than a triple Venti mocha, he used homophobic slurs, swore profusely, threatened the lawmaker and basically buried himself in a very deep hole that caught everyone’s attention. When’s the last time a sitting governor told called a lawmaker vile names, left it on a voicemail and essentially said run and tell that? I am from Illinois, the land of governors who end up doing federal time (Rod Blagojevich anyone?), but even in the land of Lincoln and a side of criminality, at least our governors don’t go get that gully.

So just when everyone is looking askance and wondering what the hell is wrong with Paul LePage, in trying to defend himself, he pretty much hit the nuclear option by statingLook, a bad guy is a bad guy, I don’t care what color it is. When you go to war, if you know the enemy, the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, you shoot at red, don’t you? You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy. And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority right now coming in are people of color or people of Hispanic origin. I can’t help that. I just can’t help it. Those are the facts.”

While a large majority of Maine’s media was still trying to unpack LePage’s drunken tirade, the unfortunate fact is this: For hours, most people seemed to have overlooked the fact that Maine’s sitting governor essentially called people of color enemies of the state of Maine. News of the tirade has hit the national media circuit yet few are willing to even touch LePage’s latest words in the midst of his attempts to explain his actions.

Where do we even start? For starters, none of this surprises me. Since day one, LePage’s verbal blunders and gaffes have been largely overlooked, yet as a person of color who happens to live in Maine, I  haven’t missed a thing (and they aren’t blunders or gaffes…they are intentionally crude). Over the years, LePage has increasingly pushed a narrative that others anyone who is not white, from his refusal to attend Maine NAACP events that are customary for governors to attend to telling  Barack Obama to kiss his ass. The handwriting has been on the wall since LePage introduced us to his imaginary Black criminals (better known as Smoothy, D-Money, and Shifty) that he was setting the framework for complete vilification of Black and Brown people in Maine.

The thing is that LePage is essentially an unrepentant asshole who is a racist despite having “adopted” a Black Jamaican. And this moment didn’t happen in a vacuum. Every time people brushed off LePage’s racialized comments and attempted to soften his harsh and direct language by instead suggesting that LePage is “crazy” or “nuts” (or “just speaking his mind”) we allowed him to more or less continue without consequences.  The Maine House voted against impeaching him months ago, instead passing a resolution calling for cooperation and civil behavior. I think it’s safe to say that resolution meant very little to LePage and, well, now we are here.

There are many levels to this story and I won’t even begin to delve deeper but I will say that for Black and Latinx people in the state of Maine, the sense of fear is real. When people hear their governor say that Black and Brown people are the enemy in a state where 95 percent of the residents are white, what is the real impact on actual residents of color? It’s tense interactions, it’s fear. Fear that if you wander outside of whatever happens to be your safe zone, that you are essentially a walking target (and perhaps not even so safe in that zone). A drive in the country on a beautiful day might be just a little less beautiful as you encounter watchful eyes who wonder if you are bringing poison into “their” state. Never mind that the state has a rich history that does indeed include non-white people, because the implication of LePage’s words and those unspoken ones of his supporters serve to de-legitimize the presence of people of color in Maine. For people like LePage, if you’re Black or Brown, you must be bringing drugs or diseases to the state, or at the very least are leeching off the welfare system.

The thing is when people don’t speak up, this is what happens. And it happens most of the time. White people trade on white politeness and civility rather than speaking truth to power. They overwhelmingly remain silent and allow the weasels and the dreck of humanity to gain a foothold.

Though it may be that LePage’s attack on a white, male lawmaker could be his downfall, which once again speaks to how white privilege and anti-Black bias works. You can say the most horrendous things about people of color for years and while it’s bad, you still get re-elected and never really see any consequences. However, it’ suddenly beyond the pale when the object of attack is another white man. Granted, if LePage’s expletive-filled tirade somehow results in his leaving office sooner than later, I doubt that too many of us would drop any tears. But if we are serious about being a truly racially inclusive state and country, we must look beneath the surface and see how our own silence can contribute to the creation of even greater problems.
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Say no to Trump and stand with Maine’s Somali community

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has not been having a good week. Then again, when one has reached the age of 70 without obtaining a filter, common sense or a shred of decency, and decides to run for the leader of the free world, the weeks might get a little rocky.

After a week of horrific gaffes that has the Republican party shaking its collective head in fear or frustration or a combination of both, Trump decided to bring his special brand of ignorance and intolerance to the state with the oldest and whitest population in the union, perhaps hoping to find kindred spirits in his silo of fear and whiteness.

The Trump train of fear that stokes the fires of intolerance sadly didn’t let us down as the Bangor Daily News reports,  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump painted a frightening image of Maine’s Somali refugees in a dark speech here on Thursday, saying the U.S. is admitting people from “among the most dangerous places in the world” and that “has to stop.”

The New York billionaire’s remarks underlined his nativist platform that includes calls for halting Muslim immigration from certain countries, a border wall with Mexico and mass deportation of undocumented immigrants.”

Somalis in Maine are Mainers. Full stop. They are our friends, neighbors, coworkers and family and right now we need to send a unified message to Trump and people who support his hateful rhetoric that their message of anger, exclusion and intolerance is not acceptable.

Here’s a message Portland’s mayor, Ethan Strimling, received, and I think it’s not just worth reading; it’s a call for those who care about our Somali brothers and sisters and who can show up to show up…literally:

“Somalis have been part of Maine since the early 1990s. We are citizens of this country and members of this community. We are participants in all sectors of the economy. We are professionals, laborers, students, business owners, veterans and members of law enforcement. We care about our communities and we are here to stay. Trump’s rhetoric at his rally in Portland on Thursday was very destructive. It is damaging to the psyche of our youth to hear a major party presidential nominee condemn our culture and religion, especially while standing next to the governor of our state. We condemn his name calling, scapegoating and the lies perpetrated by his campaign. We will be holding a press conference to discuss this issue further on Friday, August 5, at 2:30 on the steps of City Hall.”

Come out and support our Somali brothers and sisters and send a message that the hate that Trump is peddling is not acceptable. 


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Be quiet and listen…why we can’t move beyond race

If you have ever engaged in a conversation with another person, only to realize halfway through said conversation that you are not having the same conversation…well you know a little of what it is like to discuss racism in America in 2016. It has become increasingly clear to me that one of the reasons that we have not evolved nearly as far as many believe that we have when it comes to racism in this nation is because rarely are we having the same conversation when it comes to this subject. The other piece is that the average White American lives in a racialized silo and rarely has little in the way of meaningful or “below the surface” conversations and interactions with people of different races.

As a popular meme that has been making its way through Facebook mentions: If the Black people in your life aren’t talking to you about the uncomfortable moments that are a part of daily life for most Black people, you don’t actually have Black friends.  You just happen to know some Black people. There is a world of difference between making casual chitchat with Black people you know and actually having Black friends and family members who openly talk about what they face as a part of their everyday life. Like a new acquaintance of mine in Maine, who has been pulled over and hassled by cops so often in one of the towns here that her kids now freak out whenever they see cops. Being pulled over by the cops might be an occasional inconvenience for white folks but for Black folks, it is more than a mere inconvenience; it is that moment when you wonder if you will even make it to your next destination and if you will become the next trending hashtag on social media. Yet few of us will have these conversations with people we don’t feel safe and comfortable with; however, we will gladly shoot the shit about sports or weather. But whatever you do, don’t ever mistake casual chit-chat for a deeper connection. Even I, as someone who writes about race, rarely shares the truly uncomfortable moments with anyone who is not a family member or friend…and my actual friends are very few in number.

This past week, Michelle Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention and during her speech she spoke a bit  to the history of the United States: That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.”

As you can imagine, the line about waking up in a house built by slaves was not well received by those who would rather live in denial about America’s past when it comes to people of a darker hue. Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly went so far as to say that the slaves were “well fed and had decent lodging provided by the government.” Many others across social media chimed in to add that the slaves were paid for their work.

Paid? Slave being paid? Ummm…

Do we even know what it means to be a slave? To keep it simple, I will use the Wikipedia definition of slavery.

Slavery is a legal or economic system in which principles of property law are applied to humans allowing them to be classified as property, to be owned, bought and sold accordingly, and they cannot withdraw unilaterally from the arrangement. While a person is enslaved, the owner is entitled to the productivity of the slave’s labor, without any remuneration. The rights and protection of the slave may be regulated by laws and customs in a particular time and place, and a person may become a slave from the time of their capture, purchase or birth.

Slaves were not paid. Their owners were paid for the use of those slaves’ time and sweat and blood. And if the slaves’ accommodations while working on the White House were better than what they had on the plantations or wherever they were shipped from, they still had no freedom and no say.

Slavery is and was ugly business and I am of the personal belief that the only way one can possess another human (just as they would possess an inanimate object) is to dehumanize the person that is being owned. After all, if you were to see your own humanity in the eyes of a person that you owned, it would be pretty hard to keep the owning human gig going. In creating America, we essentially created a caste system that put people with Black and Brown skin at the absolute bottom and we are all still living with the residual effects of that caste system.

America has never had a reckoning when it comes to our unpleasant racial past. Instead, we operate like the petulant child who is asked to clean their room. Take all the stuff, throw it in the closet and hope like hell no one opens that closet door. If you have ever engaged in the toss-it-in-the-closet style of cleaning, you know what happens over time. Eventually that door has to be opened and when it does, you are confronted with a mess of epic proportions that requires nothing less than your full time and attention. That is where America is when it comes to our racial issues. Since 2008 and the election of President Obama, the closet door has started loosening and now with Donald Trump as the official Republican candidate for president, our racial mess is slowly falling out the closet and the door cannot be forced shut again.

Back to the issue of slaves building the White House.

Let me reiterate: Yes, slaves assisted in building the White House and despite any confusion on the part of people without a basic grasp of word definition or history, slaves were not financially compensated for their work. The slave owners were compensated for allowing their slaves to work on the White House. Yes, the slaves were fed and housed but if one thinks that the slaves were lounging in even two-star accommodations during their off-time, much less three or four, I would say that you haven’t thought very deeply or critically about racism or oppression.

Yet the inability of millions to truly think and to actually listen when people of color speak about their lived realities…and their inability to even pretend to do so honestly and completely in most cases without at some point deflecting the topic or deflating the value of the words those people of color speak…means that we are never going to move the needle on race on an interpersonal level. In recent weeks, I have heard from more than a few white people who have accused me of race-baiting, among other things. After brushing my own very human feelings off, it is abundantly clear that despite being intentional and clear in all my work, my words are simply not being heard nor are the words of the many Black and Brown people who are standing up and demanding full inclusion into the human family. Change requires a dismantling of the oppressive structures that keep us locked into a system that favors one group, but never can we forget that individual people are the heart of those structures. Hence we need you to listen to us.
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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