Open Letter to Gov. Paul LePage from a Black Mainer

Dear Paul,

I hope that you don’t mind, but I am going to call you by your first name. I don’t stand on formality and titles are so overrated. Besides, to be frank, using language like “Honorable” doesn’t quite feel right in the context of what I need to say to you.

Paul, I am hoping this post reaches you but seeing as how you have publicly stated that you don’t really read the newspaper and don’t care much for journalists or blogger types, I am not holding out much hope that you will actually read this. However, I am hoping that one of your handlers will get wind of this and share the contents with you. Because I think you need to hear what I have to say.

My name is Shay Stewart-Bouley and I am a Black woman who lives in Maine. I write a blog called Black Girl in Maine and I have written for publications such as the Portland Press Herald, Journal Tribune, Portland Phoenix and the now-defunct Dig Portland. I have even appeared in a few national publications as well as a few anthologies. However, I am not a writer by trade. No, my current day job is as Executive Director of Boston based Community Change Inc, the oldest continuously running anti-racism organization in the country.

I currently live in the Portland area on one of the islands of Casco Bay though I spent many years in Saco and still have a family home there.

Paul, I have a big problem with the false narrative that you have been constructing around Maine’s horrendous drug problem. First off, Maine really does have a serious drug problem. From York County up to The County, drugs are a huge problem. However, this narrative that  you are fixated on is wrong and it’s downright dangerous. You seem hell bent on blaming out-of-state Black people, specifically Black men, for bringing their drugs up to Maine…thus insinuating that these out-of-state Black folks are the ones causing this drug epidemic.

You keep waffling on the race piece. I mean, you have always had some issues around race. I won’t go into your past because presumably you recall, but to be frank, I don’t think that you think that Black people are part of Maine’s history. Which is pretty funny seeing as how books like H.H Price’s Maine’s Visible Black History: The First Chronicle of Its People does a marvelous job of documenting the history of Black people in Maine. Never mind that many of our fine institutions in this state such as the University of Southern Maine even has an African American Collection of Maine History. I am just saying Paul…Black people have roots here. Some of them very deep and long roots. We are part of the community, albeit a small percentage, but we do exist.

The thing is that right now you are clinging to a dangerous rhetoric that causes Black people to be “othered” and given how on-edge people are about this drug epidemic, frankly I think it’s only a matter of time before someone is going to get hurt. After all, you have cracked wise about Maine being an open carry state and that maybe Mainers should just shoot dealers. Of course, every time you make one of these highly offensive remarks, you attempt to spin it but frankly I am tired of it and your latest comment about how you had to scream at the top of your lungs about Black dealers to the state legislature was the final straw for me.

Look, you don’t have to like me, I don’t have to like you. But as the chief officer of this state, you need to mind the gap between thoughts and words. You actually need to be a responsible and reasonable human being in addressing the state’s drug epidemic rather than assigning blame to Black boogeymen. Yes, there have been some Black folks from out of state who have been caught dealing up here but how do you think they got here? Real talk, Paul…someone had to tell these characters that there was even a market up here. My guess is that some white folks in Maine made those connections to even get that ball rolling. Trust me Paul, while you may see Black people especially Black men as subhuman magical beings that just landed in Maine and set up a drug shop, the reality is that it had to start here and most likely it started with white people. Never mind that last year, there was a record number of meth busts; pretty much everyone I have seen arrested on meth charges is a white person. Hell, meth pretty much seems to be a white boy’s game if we are being honest.

The thing is, your rhetoric isn’t doing anything to get help for Mainers struggling with addiction. After all, you have made it virtually impossible for single low-income folks to access healthcare. We have few treatment options to begin with and that says nothing for addressing the reasons why so many in our state are going down this path to begin with. Instead you are going for the cheap fearmongering tactics which aren’t getting anything solved.

Frankly, it is hard to be Black in a state like Maine. Hell, I moved here back in 2002 for family reasons and it continues to be a struggle to plant roots in a place where I am from away and I am Black. Raising kids in this state, however, gives me a moral imperative to speak up because I want my kids to feel that this is a safe state for them.  My eldest at 24 has long had to endure the weight of Blackness and maleness in this state. Our story isn’t unique. I know more than a few Black families in Maine where the duality of Blackness and maleness causes our sons to flee this state. I know Black women here who are reconsidering if Maine is a place where they can raise their families. In most cases these are white-collar, college-educated folks…a demographic that this state could use given that we have the oldest population in the state.

Paul, I guess I should wind this up but I would love to sit down and talk about race relations and give you some professional guidance wearing my professional hat. Though I suspect this post is nothing more than me spitting in the wind. However, I believe in the power of faith and I believe in the possibility of change so perhaps you or your handlers will reach out  to me so we can start a productive dialogue that will result in you not demonizing Black people and in real solutions to addressing the drug issue. Thanks for your time!

Shay Stewart-Bouley, M.Ed, aka Black Girl in Maine

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