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 stating “Look, 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.
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.