Lemons to Life and the Raising of the Collective Chorus

Living in Maine has been and continues to be one of the largest challenges in my life. Since my arrival in 2002, the sense of isolation and the racial homogeneity has at times threatened to take me to a very dark place. Yet my responsibilities to family and specifically my children have required me to put my personal feelings to the side and take the sourness and/or bitterness of life in Maine (it’s not constant, but it is all too common) and turn it into something sweeter.

In many ways, this space has been an attempt to turn that proverbial bowl of lemons into lemonade by using my voice to claim not only my own space but to create a space for all nonwhite people who call Maine home.  In a state where, far too often, people of color are viewed with suspicious eyes and perceived as “freeloaders” or “criminals”  there has been a need to create a narrative that pushes back against such thoughts.  A narrative that uplifts and affirms Black and other nonwhite people in the whitest region of the country.

I started writing for publication in 2003. After several pitches to local publications, my idea for a column on diversity found a home at the Portland Phoenix where, for over 10 years, I wrote a monthly column tackling all manner of thoughts on diversity (even those beyond racial diversity, such as economic, class and food issues). In 2008, I created this blog and eventually found myself writing far deeper pieces than I was allowed to do with the Phoenix.

When I initially started writing and later speaking about race and racism, it was a lonely scene given that there were few people of color in Maine publicly addressing racism and racial inequity. The demographics of this state don’t afford many the opportunity to openly address inequity without potentially affecting one’s livelihood.  Having spent five years heading up a small nonprofit in Southern Maine at a time when this blog started to receive attention outside of this state, I am well acquainted with the struggle. In 2012, when I appeared on the now defunct Melissa Harris-Perry show, I actively downplayed the appearance with regard to local people because I realized that I still needed to get along and exist in the town that I was living in.

My transition to running a Boston-based anti-racism organization in 2014 allowed me to amplify my voice without concerns for my job and later, when I realized that the end of my marriage had arrived, it meant I could leave the too-small, too-homogeneous town that I had been in years. That also meant I really became free to turn up the volume.

However, in recent months, I have noticed a shift; one that is welcomed and frankly long overdue: younger woman of color who are looking to raise their voices  to speak openly of the racism that they encounter while living in Maine. My Facebook feed is filled with women of color in Maine who are speaking up and out. A few weeks ago, a young, Black, Muslim student at the University of Southern Maine was verbally accosted by a white man who called her a dirty ni**er at the school library. The young woman not only reported him to the school authorities but she snapped his picture and shared the exchange on Facebook which caught the attention of the local news networks, and the school is taking action. If you are a regular reader, you may have read the piece written my first regular contributor Marena Blanchard who also has been spreading her wings over the Bangor Daily News. The chorus is filling up and together we stand and lend our collective voices and energy, knowing that together we are strong.

We are Black women who, young or old, straight or queer, Christian or Muslim, wealthy or poor, share a common thread of Blackness in Maine. That common thread is not the entirety of our existence but in a state like Maine, it is a strongly shared reality. We all know the pain of being the ni**er, we know the daily slights and microaggressions, we know the blatant acts of racism. And yet we also know the joys of Maine: the ocean, the woods, the simple pleasures that transcend race and make Maine home, no matter what our reasons for being here.

As I look out at a changing landscape, it means that after eight years of just writing, I am making changes as I look to accommodate more voices in this space. Starting in January 2017, I will be adding podcasts to the mix, and I am looking to move Black Girl in Maine from more than a blog and podcast but to a media hub for nonwhite voices in Northern New England. I have long held to the belief that we need to look at who creates the narratives that we read and believe. In most places, the narratives are fed to us by white people who are often unaware of the biases and prejudices that are often projected in the messages they share, which in turn tends to keep things like white supremacy and institutional racism alive and well, in both subtle and overt ways.  Now more than ever (especially as we see so many Black hosts in particular having their shows yanked recently from various channels like Comedy Central and MSNBC), there is a growing need for nonwhite voices to be heard and elevated, and my mission is shifting to do just that.

In the meantime, I continue to welcome your readership and your support as we make the shifts here. If you have ever thought about financially supporting this space, please consider a tip or becoming a monthly patron as I am committed to not only elevating voices of color but compensating them as well. Something that is missing far too often when people of color are offered “opportunities” to express themselves in media online or otherwise. In the act of dismantling racism, we cannot create further inequity and, in a world where Black women earn 63 cents to the white man’s dollar, asking Black women or any woman of color to work for free is simply unconscionable to me. 

For my Maine area readers, I am honored to announce that I will be one of the speakers at this year’s TEDxDirigo talk on November 5. If that sort of thing is of interest, here is the information.
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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.