Killing a child’s spirit or growing up Black in Maine

Living in Maine as a non-white person has at times meant swallowing bits and pieces of my own humanity in order to survive and keep the peace with the inhabitants of this place. In the real world, there is no transporter or magical pot of money to whisk me away from this place that often feels like a jail cell and a life sentence. Yet one day, I will leave this place and as hard as my experiences have been here, I moved here as a fully grown person whose existence was not shaped by growing up in a space where I was always “other.” Instead, I came here as a fully formed person and eventually I will leave here as a fully formed person who has learned a great deal and discovered a level of resilience I would have never imagined.

However, for children of color being raised in places like Maine, to find oneself in a place where you are labeled early on as “other” can make that journey to self and adulthood difficult. Especially  when you rarely see yourself mirrored in others, particularly the adults near you.

My adult son, who spent a large portion of his time in Maine as a child, is home visiting and resting with us. There is a 13-year age difference between my two kids but despite the age gap, my two kids love each other and my daughter looks up to her big brother. Which is why a few days ago, my son decided to go pick my daughter up from school. But an interaction that he witnessed is a reminder of how easy it is to destroy the self worth of a child with careless words. Even more so when a white adult decides to put a label on a child of color.

As my daughter was saying good-bye after school to some friends, my son observed a young boy of color who was somewhere between 3rd and 5th grade (the only grades at my daughter’s school) walking with two “friends” who happened to be white. The white boys were walking towards a man who was standing near to my son, when my son overheard the man say “What are you? A rapper or a gangbanger?” My son, whose back was to the kids, initially assumed the man was speaking to him; after all my son at 6’4 and brown-skinned might have fit whatever perceptions the man may have held about both rappers and gangbangers. As my son turned to respond to the man, he realized that the man was not speaking to him but to the Black child walking with the two white boys. My son looked on in horror as the child stumbled to find the words to reply but instead hung his head down. What can a child say in that moment? My son, aware of his own presence as a Black man, wanted to speak up on behalf of the child and ask the man what had possessed him to say such a thing to a child. Yet aware that as the lone Black adult on school property, his words of concern could be seen as threatening in a white space, he said nothing but stared the man directly in his eyes until the man became visibly uncomfortable and hurried away to his car.

However, the damage was done, as my son saw the young boy continue slumping where only minutes earlier he had simply been a child walking with friends getting ready to meet the father of his friends. In that moment, his two friends started to ask about his dreadlocked hair, specifically asking the young Black boy how he washed his hair with that stuff on? Sigh…

My son eventually walked away and gathered up his sister but not before noticing the young boy visibly fidgeting with his hair. As my son recounted the story to me, he said that he was reminded of his own childhood in Maine where careless comments on Blackness were a near-daily occurrence, often equating his Blackness with animals.  For many years he questioned his own self-worth and value, and it took leaving Maine halfway through high school and landing in place where he was no longer an “other” but simply a person before he could see the worth and value that I, along with my family, had worked so hard to instill in him.

I worry about my daughter and what scars this state will leave on her soul, but in truth I worry about all non-white youth being raised in this place, especially when they have no parents of color in a place where there are few (if any, depending on where you live) teachers of color, doctors of color or pretty much anyone of color some days. I am reminded of an old friend of mine who raised her two Black sons in Maine. Both left the state for college. While one son did eventually come back to the general area after college, he settled down in the slightly more diverse state of New Hampshire. The other son left and refuses to ever come back to the state. As he told his mother, he loves her, he doesn’t fault her or his father for choosing to raise them in Maine, but all the so-called “goodness” of Maine that people often tout when talking about why they choose to raise kids here meant giving up his very self worth as a human being. Much like my son, it was only when my friend’s son left the area did he find his own humanity as a person and not an “other.”

Maine is a beautiful place with a host of wonderful attributes but for children of color, the good is often an illusion masking a place that is only good for those who can blend in and not stand out.

27 thoughts on “Killing a child’s spirit or growing up Black in Maine

  1. Unfortunately in the State of Maine…. the “other” is as well those of whatever hue who dares criticize the lack of change here, who are unwilling to go along with the “status quo” and verbalize such ! A lot of spirits both adult and child are destroyed in this state, but while the young child has no choice in the matter the adult with enough inner strength can and should fight back. Will not win popularity contests but you may save Maine from herself. Unfortunately Maine is still the “no nothing state” and that immature adult that verbally attacked that young child affirms this !

  2. I am sorry for your and your family’s experiences, most particularly the children. Maine is where I was born and the place I chose to come back to; I am both angered and ashamed by the thoughtless and mean spirited things said and done by my fellow Mainers.

    • There is an underlying mean spirit among many Mainers. The origin ? Basically projecting their own self hatred upon others. They never made it and hate others that did so. The poems of Leo Connellan, the Rockport , Maine native who as a renown literary artist learns that he is not welcomed back home, describes this. The outcome, a state stuck in its past and unwilling to change as it falls further and further into economic bankruptcy !

      • I am sorry that this is your experience. I believe there are kind, loving, compassionate, and caring people in Maine, I believe there are also self involved, unkind, mean spirited people in Maine. I believe this is true everywhere on the planet. I know that if I remember only frightened people behave so badly, and I give them back kindness, I feel better. I believe that kind, loving, compassionate people are sometimes self involved, unkind, and mean spirited. I know sometimes that self involved,unkind, mean spirited person is me.

  3. That man is a real piece of garbage for talking to a child like that. Just disgusting. The worst thing, as you say, is the effect this has on children, it’s not fair to them, and they don’t have the capacity to just dismiss it the way most adults can.

    • Not only did he denigrate the little boy of color, but he modeled despicable behavior for that child’s friends, behavior that I’m sure they’ve seen plenty of, or soon will. As is so often pointed out, this shit is not innate, has to be taught. The damage to the children wasn’t equal, that’s for sure, but all were damaged, nonetheless, as are we all, every time someone says something that perpetuates hateful behavior. Words/actions have consequences far beyond ourselves. The ripples go out forever.

  4. This story stings on so many levels. I was that young boy slumped over and I also empathize with your son and the moment of helplessness that he felt as he watched that boys bubble get popped. The sad truth is that there will be moments like that again and again as he grows up. My husband is white and as we search for a place to live stories like this only highlight why I am so adament about finding a community that has SOME Black people there. I grew up as an other in a different way as my parents were foreigners, it truly is TOUGH. *Sigh
    Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you !

  5. Wow, thanks for that. I could see the whole thing – could see him ready to respond in a usual way to a grown man, then reworking the whole thing in a split second in his mind when he saw it was a totally different story playing out. I hate those moments when you know there is more to do in the moment, but can’t quite figure it out or push through the awkward. P.S> I’ve been listening to his music lately. It’s very awesome.

  6. I am so disappointed to hear this. I have lived in so. maine since ’98 having been raised in Mass. We have a diverse and loving family all over New England. The thought of anyone, let alone a loved one, being subjected to this ignorant behavior is nauseating. I don’t blame this family for wanting to leave and never look back. I would hope that someone somewhere in this state can help make amends to right this wrong with simple kindness and good neighborly generosity. You belong here my friends. That poor excuse for a human being should be exciled to Syberia. I am sorry that you’ve endured this.

  7. I’m so sorry that this still goes on in “Vacationland”, but unfortunately not surprised at all. I grew up in a small town in Southern Maine. In my early 20’s I moved to Portland, hoping to find a better and more inclusive place to live. I’m white, but also gay. People hold up Portland like it’s some bastion of acceptance in Maine. However I experienced and witnessed so much ignorance in that small city. Unless you fit into the mold – e.g. white, cis, straight – you are likely to deal with ignorance on a daily basis. Too many people refuse to speak up when they witness it too – I think some people would label that as the ‘mind your own business’ mentality of most Mainers, but to me it is pure cowardice. I now live in Oakland, California one of the most diverse cities in the country and love it here. I turns my stomach to think of ever moving back to Maine.

  8. It’s amazing that the focus of this story has turned from the nasty youths and their affect on a little girl to instead criticizing a woman for her “white privilege” in telling it.

  9. Did Your son go talk to the child to make sure he was okay? Can you have the principal or counselor talk to the child to tell him he doesn’t have to take that sort of stuff from an adult?

  10. Then why were you so upset with Jackie Ward for not saying anything to you? Your son should have taken the opportunity to help that child, instead he chose to run after after a speeding car full of thugs? As you stood calmly by(so says Ms. ward. You obviously hate white people and maybe in your mind justly so, but in order for you to “control the narrative”‘ you have deceitfully stirred racial tensions in my beloved state. Please stop

  11. We are in the season of recoginition the recognition of Christ our Lord and in that recognition, we need to remember what He (Jesus) was like when on this earth. He was HUMBLE, KIND, LOVING AND COMPATIONATE and OBEIDIENT. Yet, He said, (imitate me) so strive to be like He was. He is saying and He knew it was possible for us, because we all are different, he choose 12 different men from different places to be His diciples. BEFORE, he took the sin of Adam from us by shedding ALL of his blood on our behalf, because He loves us!

  12. It would be nice if these few comments could be directed to the post referencing Ms. Ward, rather than this one, which is about a grown white man asking a small child whether he’s a thug or a rapper. What on earth would possess a person to ask that? Think about it. Ponder it.
    I urge you to click on the link so thoughtfully provided by Mr. or Ms. Kucsma, and see the important work done by BGIM and her colleagues. While you’re there, click on Resources, then Links, where you’ll find all kinds of articles that might give you a different perspective. While we are all entitled to our opinions, only when we’ve educated ourselves about both sides can we claim to have an informed opinion, and argue our own positions thoughtfully.
    I have no way of knowing the racial makeup of the commenters, but we all have an “exclusive insight” – our own. And it becomes a lot more exclusive when you are a Black Girl in Maine.

    • Apparently the mechanics of this blog are such that comments become separated from the original posting.

      My reference to Ms. Stewart-Bouley’s crusade was with respect to her being in a snit because some other local news person dared to write about what she considered “her” story.

      • I don’t think there’s a lot of point in discussing this. You seem pretty wedded to your point of view. You don’t seem to be very interested in how Ms Stewart-Bouley has spent her career, because if you were, you could see on google that she spent a number of years running a highly thought of nonprofit for kids with few resources. She did great things for children of all races and creeds on very little money, the kind of thing that is sorely needed in this state.
        Be that as it may, can you not try to put yourself in her shoes in the Old Port the other day? People shouted vile things at her and her family, and every one around them on that crowded street said not. one. thing. And then, a person who was in close enough proximity that Stewart-Bouley’s daughter wanted to pat her dog, wrote about how badly she felt and we should all do something about it. I know that had I been in Ms. S-B’s shoes, I would want to know why that person and all the others standing there chose to do and say nothing. And when I found out the person was a celebrity of sorts and was being lauded for saying we should do something but did nothing, I’d be angry. I don’t think Jackie Ward is a terrible person, and I don’t know, but I’d bet Ms. S-B doesn’t either, but I don’t blame her for being angry.

          • The question I’ve been mulling is exactly how to tell my part of the story. I was there, saw it, hopefully said SOMEthing, so that part of it’s my story, too. How to tell it without imputing thoughts or feelings to the people directly affected. To tell it so people will HEAR it and still leave room the family’s story. I don’t know Jackie Ward from Adam. She’s young, I assume just thoughtless, as was I back in the day, even though I was surrounded by this stuff in Boston. I was quite sure that all we had to do was be of good cheer and stand together, and everything would be just ducky. I hate to think of the story I’d have written. It would’ve been about me. And, yeah, I did say something, but when threatened with jail as my friend was carted off for the sole crime of walking down the street with me, I shut up. So, it’s important to think hard about how to write these things, to pinpoint the REAL issue.

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