And we wonder why we are still talking race in post-racial America

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.

Oh, joy!

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….

17 thoughts on “And we wonder why we are still talking race in post-racial America

  1. Race
    Very sensitive… race…
    A Black President some say means racism is over with…
    That’s the equivalent of saying.. well.. I owe you 1,000 dollars.. I just gave you a 100, debt cleared….
    Truth of the matter is racism is part of the soft culture of American psyche.
    Its deep rooted.. its something that as American as apple pie, and baseball.
    As a Black man, an educated man, of African descent, I have went through every range of emotion from militant to pacifist and back twice. What ultimately people need to realize is being White and understanding the complex nature of being Black is like a man understanding the complexities of being pregnant. And though you’ll never KNOW what it is like, the communication is needed to listen to the others perspective and dont assume that putting a bandage on a shotgun blast averts the real issues.
    Race will never truly discussed for various reasons in the country or the world over. Racism is divisive and serves as tool to hide classicism. Racism taps into one of the strongest of human emotions, anger, and clouds perception, and thinking and reasoning. and yadda yadda
    That being said.. in 2009! In the era of a Black President what is really going on! And sis hold ya head!!!!

  2. this is a good blog. i honestly don’t know how to comment. im just now learning about race issues. ive spent my life being oblivious, but now i am trying to learn to be aware of my own actions and assumptions as a white person & to raise my sons to be aware.
    thank you for sharing this.

  3. Lil Bro wrote, “Racism is divisive and serves as tool to hide classicism.” And I agree with much of what you, Shay and he have written. I do think that so often what divides us is classism, and I have certainly felt that in my life. To be honest, I don’t believe everything can be divided along “race” (I like this explanation better http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/first/brace.html) . Many times I’ve read your blog, Shay and have felt exactly what you are speaking to, but then am told somewhere in the middle of your writing that I couldn’t relate if I’m white (I am.) It’s frustrating. Do you have a chip? Maybe. I have mine, too (want to discuss welfare with me, or infrastructure issues? yeah, major chips on my shoulders.) So many times, though, I’ve thought that what you seemed to be pointing out were issues of class, and not race. I’ve been invisible in this American culture, or suspect or unworthy, more times than I can count. Do I know there are indeed bigots out there? Oh yes. Some people will find a reason to hate, no matter what. But I don’t believe it’s us vs. them all the time.

  4. I haven’t commented in a while, but this drew me out…hope you don’t mind.

    I can understand the “White suit” comment completely, as my husband and I recently had a conversation about how Black folks are rarely awarded the pleasure of being just another person in the crowd when they go out in public. It’s almost like, even if you’re “above” race, as a Black person, you’re always aware that someone might say something stupid, stare at you for no other reason than you’re Black and they aren’t, or worse, you end up in a situation like Skip Gates. I feel like we often have to be hyper-aware of being Black and how that affects those around us, which is stressful, not to mention all kinds of screwed up.
    In terms of Obama’s presence as proof as a post-racial society, it’s obvious BS. With him in office, the craziness has seriously been brought into the open — for better or for worse. (As an aside, I was taught that the North was always worse than the South in terms of race because at least in the South, the shit is out in the open and folks of color could operate accordingly.) Pat Buchanan and his vile self saying outright that this country was largely built by White men? Texas educational “experts” declaring that Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez aren’t good enough historical figures for children to learn about, so they should be removed from history books? Attacking the president’s preteen daughter for simply wearing a shirt, and daring to call this otherwise classy young lady a whore? Who exactly are these people who believe we live in a post-racial society? Hermits who get no news?

  5. I’m late reading this one but there are a few statements I question, agree with, or felt sincere emotion from:

    “So I would urge all of you to please remember that it’s White people who commit the vast majority of crimes around here” (BGIM) – I don’t think any race or group of people would enjoy hearing such a thing about themselves from someone else whether true or not. It’s like pointing out a flaw in a mean way.

    “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 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.” (BGIM) – there seems to be fear of the unknown or the possibility in the first stmt as a mom and hurt in the last as someone who has proven herself but is still not good enough to some. Both hit home for me.

    “What ultimately people need to realize is being White and understanding the complex nature of being Black is like a man understanding the complexities of being pregnant.” (Lil Bro) – people don’t try sometimes. They just assume they know how it is to walk in someone’s shoes or they have “us” figured out.

    “Many times I’ve read your blog, Shay and have felt exactly what you are speaking to, but then am told somewhere in the middle of your writing that I couldn’t relate if I’m white (I am.) It’s frustrating.” (Amy) – I love your honesty here and, since you can relate to some things written here maybe it is sometimes about class and not race although admitting you have your own chips is a big step too.

    “Attacking the president’s preteen daughter for simply wearing a shirt, and daring to call this otherwise classy young lady a whore?” (Tia) – I didn’t hear about this! Maybe I need to google that.

  6. Hi Shay!

    Thanks for having this discussion…

    May I just say that I am tired, tired, tired of black people ranting about racism when they don’t issue swift consequences like the Jews do? Ranting does nothing…marching does nothing…call up Al and Jesse does nothing… black folks need a plan or they need to just stop the whining and ranting…

    No one is really listening anyway…except other ranting blacks…

    People listen when consequences are swift and severe…THAT is the only response we need to employ.

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

    Lisa

  7. Well, Ms. Shay did you know they still call mixed black people Mulatto here? And that the black ppl are cool with it. No one but me I think seems to correct them. As much as I love Maine this place is racially ignorant. And all the ignorance is passed down through the generations. I haven’t had the grand opportunity of being stopped while DWB but I do get the stares still and I stare right back sometimes I smile and say hello, sometimes I don’t. They are so secluded and a little sister/wife-brother/husband here. Most of them of just fucking backwards and ignorant as hell, don’t know they ass from they fucking elbows.
    As my kids get older, I will definately be pulling them aside and letting know don’t get caught up in these white kids bullshit. A lot of these kids are into drugs, drinking, smoking and all this hot mess that I didn’t even do in the South Bronx. I will have these kids on lock. Everyone will know these W kids, they momma crazy and she might burn your house down so don’t fuck with her kids.

    And another thing a lot of these white people think that the Somalis get a lot of help from the state opposed to all the poor white trash that is currently getting it. And I have a disscussion with my boss and she was talking about I think Somali but the woman wouldn’t talk English, none of her family was here in the states and they wouldn’t let her go to them. And quiet as its kept my boss can be abrupt and to someone already dealing with heavy issues , she could grate on the nerves. I honestly think that the white ppl here cannot comprehend the magnitude of what a lot of these Somali have gone through. I don’t know what they expect these people to be. I guess they should bend over backwards to please. Half of them ain’t never been hungry, much less been caught in the line of fire. Heard real gun shots, not deer hunters, followed by sirens. I dunno. I think all white people some degree live in a bubble and have concept of what’s going on around them. In Lewiston, where a lot of Somalis live, I here the grumbling. Even from the dirty looking Black people. Yup I said dirty. They get around the white trash and get just like them. I don’t want any of them touching me. And if one more homemade jail tattoo…

  8. Danielle–wow. Could you be any more offensive? Generalize much? As I’ve stated, I’m white. I also live in Maine. I have two white children and a white husband. Never in my life have I thought, acted like or have felt any of the things you so kindly attribute to all white folk in Maine.

  9. @BWBTT – I agree that I find too many blogs and links about black folks ranting to each other which does absolutely nothing but get your heart racing and, in the end, what was the solution?

    @Danielle – I’m black and I’m offended by your words. I don’t know about the Somali situation but I think BGIM said we can look up situations in Maine other readers like myself aren’t in the know about but I think your words here and generalizations are no different than what racism has done to us so why do it to someone else? I didn’t type the words but I felt ashamed to read them knowing that some things non-blacks mistakenly attribute to “all” blacks and I don’t wanna be grouped with how you feel although I can surely empathize.

  10. Amy, it’s wonderful that you don’t think that way. You should hold a class and pass your knowledge along. And I’m not saying that to be sarcastic. Really I’m not. And after class lets out please take them on a trip and not just to Boston to see the Red Socks game. Take them out of the NE area. 75% of the people here need exposure to the outside world. I don’t know where you live in Maine but it is backwards as hell here in the country. Some of the backwardness is neat and then some of its not. However, I will take some of it back, not all the white ppl in Maine think or act that way. Maybe I should clarify what I mean by when I say for my kids not to get caught in these white ppls bullshit. Everyone will always look a harder at my kids when they do things while chances are the white kids will get away with it. My child will not be anyone’s scapegoat or whipping boy. You can argue that fact all the to Canada if you’d like. Juvie Hall is filled with mixed kids. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe because these white women have kids with these Black men and he disappears, now they’re left to raise mixed kids in a state that is giving them the side eye.

    Now Amy, you want to admit it or not Maine is a bubble. I have never felt more Black than when I came here. My other classmates wanted touch my hair, my dreads were a hoot. Just about every single thing about black culture has to be explained. My dreads, my skin complexion, whether or not Black ppl are going to riot if Obama didn’t get elected. I’m not making this shit up. And it’s very good to know that you and you white kids and your white husband don’t think that way but a lot of the people here do. You are in the minority. There are a lot of people here that racially ignorant and a lot of that has to with the income level in my area. You have HS teachers making racial comments, kindergartners not playing with the Black child because she’s black. I don’t get stared at because I’m cute.

    And these are some of the trashy looking people I have ever seen in my life. That includes my 17 years in the South Bronx and various travels through the South. It just so happens that the majority of the ppl here happen to be white. I know you’ve seen them. I know you’ve wondered why do they look that way? Where are their teeth? Why are you talking like? Must the word fuck be in every sentence while your two kids are standing right next you? Is it a problem because I’m saying it? I’ll say it about Black ppl too. I cringe when I go home and see Black and Hispanic ppl acting and looking a fool there too. This same dude has been standing the corner for like years. I’m just calling a spade a spade.

    @32B

    That’s how I feel about living in Maine. I’m still here after almost 8 years, I accept the good with the bad. However I will admit did generalize some if it. And only a little. Since we are an Obama state I’ll drop it down to 39-49% but that’s as low as I’m going. That other 50%, I just love them. They are the reason stay here in one of the whitest states in the US of A. Check the census I speak the truth. Maybe you should take a trip up here and see it what its like. Because after you breathe easy, snack on some lobster and a whoopie pie, you might be like Oh, damn she was right about that 39-49% percent. But you’ll still come back though…

    @BGIM

    That’s because we’re not in a post-racial America. That’s all propaganda. And because you have ppl like me who generalize and are offensive much, I guess.

  11. @ Danielle – I did take a trip to some parts of Maine maybe a few weeks ago for business but, outside of work hours, the times spent in the area were just as tourists so everyone kinda knew we were visiting so they were nice. Visiting to see how and what locals go through up there is a good idea…to step in someone else’s shoes. No reason to fly from Chicago to Maine just yet but I’ll keep it in mind and thanks for replying back.

  12. I can absolutely understand what you mean in your column. It is a sad and disgusting fact that racial issues still exist in our country. As a Native American, we get to deal with a lot of ignorance and downright stupidity. It is frustrating to have to know that in 2009 we still have this issue on the map. Who keeps in on the board, one may ask. Hmmm, let’s see. One philosophy of mine is the actual government authorities who allow racism, then decide who, when, where and why, also what cases to justify, prosecute and eliminate. Why would be for the federal monies each entity receives to fight racial crimes and promote these same crimes. You are right on that the majority of crimes are committed by whites, and they can scream injustice to that all they want, but it’s a fact that they are the majority of any population. I may be incorrect on exact percentages, but the US census states that Blacks make up approx. 4% of our population and the Native Americans only make up less than 1% of our population. Never in a million years could our two races multiply enough times in order to match the white population. Natives also have the burden to carry themselves as a representation of their whole nation or nations of Natives. We are all thought of as drunks, and we all live on reservations out west, (which by the way is nothing more than an Indian ghetto forced on them by the government)all of us look one certain way, all Indians live out west, and the big one, all Indians do is gamble to government’s money, which somehow becomes each individual white man’s money—go figure—-in the casinos. Gee, do these people even know a real Native? For whites to think that just because they say or think racial issues are a thing of the past, they maybe should educate themselves a heck of a lot better. Don’t get me wrong, I am also half white, half Mohawk. But fact is fact. I did not find anything in your post offensive and your editor should have allowed you to post your article.I don’t know what editor you work for, but the sad truth is when I lived in Biddeford years ago and was dealing with Holland, they published every racial allegation and statement he made without hesitation even after other facts were proven that he was a piece of crap. I think they are just trying to do damage control now because in a way, the media is also to blame for that man’s reign of terror.

    Take care
    Denise Everest

  13. Racial slurrs, prejudice even the KKK yes they were here and not because Maine had an over abundance of African Americans. Think again Maine had a plethora of Franco Americans. As a matter of fact certain areas of Maine were predominantly French. You would think that because the French had a majority in many communities that they probably ran things and everything was in their favor. That wasn’t the case most of the jobs held by French people were second class jobs and most of the managerial positions were held by Anglo Americans. Many Anglo Americans made sure their self proclaimed superiority stayed intact they joined organizations to help preserve their positions in the community. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan a well known keeper of genetically superior individuals from slipping a notch or two down the racial ladder. Marches were organized and cross burnings were performed just to keep those pesky French speaking people in their places. My Grandfather remembered too well trying to stop the KKK from crossing into Biddeford from Saco. He was on the Biddeford police force that had to hold back the demonstrators and anti Catholic protesters from burning their crosses. Luckily those days are gone but the anti French sentiment still lingers among certain individuals. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and other races are experiencing what Franco Americans experienced a century ago. Before any Europeans set foot on American soil the original inhabitants not only had to face protesters but saw their entire way of life disapear at the hands of settlers from across the Atlantic. Bigotry has seen a constant revival from time to time and it seems there’s an endless stream of individuals ready to join the cause. No matter how tough the going gets or how much hardship one race has to overcome the need to rise above it should and usually does take precedent. Laws are created to prevent complete chaos and all Americans must follow those laws despite what hardship we went through. Race cards are used to cover and hide the injustice members from any race might have done against somebody. As soon as any person from any nationality tries to blame his or her actions by whipping out a race card that is usually a sign that the individual his trying to cover up some wrong doing against somebody else. Unless someone is mentally challenged the race card should remain in the deck and not used to cover up any misdead they might have done to another person.

  14. I won’t say I know what it’s like to be black because I don’t however I do know what its like to be on welfare have a man in jail 4 kids and to be looked down upon. I’m sure thats not even close but it’s probably as close as I will ever get I live in a family full of racist and I hate them hmmm is that an oxymoronwho knows. shay you have enlightened me and I thank you.

  15. I was raised across the river in NH, but am quite familiar with the Lebanon area of Maine. One of the most hateful things I remember, back in the late sixties, being at some gathering in So. Lebanon, and some of the local scum, a Korea Vet, bragging about how they would set things up so Black troops were positioned as much as possible in front of the white ones, and then during active combat, our white troops would shoot the Black ones in the back…

    This will always be my impression of what Maine is, and what Maine is about.

    I also remember how French people were treated, and it was foul… Then there were anti-Semites, too…

    I just cannot imagine why anyone would want to live there…. there are so many better places!

  16. Oh, and then there was that Goodfield thing, Richard Goodfield, he and his wife big on taking in the “FRESH AIR” kids in the summer…. Guess it was a great thing for him, he was molesting them, until one child got brave enough to tell… That was So. Lebanon too… Back in ’88… Nasty family… and again, Lebanon, ME.

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