Moving to Maine…the Black Edition Updated for 2016

I originally wrote this post in 2011 back when I had all of 17 readers and most of the them family members. However this post remains one of my most read with requests asking for updated information and in light of a recent comment that was left, I decided to revisit this post. 

Lately I have gotten a few inquiries about life in Maine as a Black person, specifically Black folks looking to relocate who want to get the scoop before they decide to actually move here. One of the many reasons that I started this blog was because back in the dark ages of 1999 or so when I realized I might have to move to Maine, there was very little online that gave me a clear picture of what I was getting myself into. I decided to move to Maine in 2001, I had been here a few times but nothing and I mean nothing could prepare me to what I was in for when I landed in Portland in 2002. So I consider it a service, hell almost my duty to keep it real so if you are Black and looking to move to Maine you won’t end up like me, where my first two years here felt like I had landed on Planet What the Fuck.

Many but most certainly not all Black folks in the US live in one of two places, down south where many of us have deep roots, or major urban areas like New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Philly, etc. But don’t get it twisted, we are everywhere, there is no state where you can’t find us!  By and large Black folks in the US are found in urban areas or the south and as such there are certain expectations of what we expect. I mean if you live down south or in a big city, you know you can find yourself a church where you won’t feel like a learning moment for all the other congregants, you can get your hair done or go to the beauty supply shop (now we all know Sally’s don’t count) where you can pick you up some discount Yaki or whatever ever you need to stay gorgeous and magical.  We are generally used to being able to go to a specific geographic location in these areas and we know we will see people who look like us. We will even be able to get some food that we might like…me, I love my soul food and being from Chicago I was used to being able to go to the Southside or Westside and get myself a plate of greens, Mac and cheese, and rib tips.

The first thing you need to know about Maine, it’s really, really white. So white you will be like oh my! Oh, this past decade we have had a huge increase in the Black population but that is primarily African immigrants. Yep, they are our peeps and while we are connected in many ways, in some ways we aren’t. After all we do have separate cultures and all people with Black skin aren’t a monolith.  However as far as actual Black Americans, African-Americans, Afro Americans, you get what I am saying…sorry but we are far and few. So what that means practically speaking is there is no Black hood, you will not find King Drive Blvd and know that you have found your peeps. Black folks in Maine are geographically spread out though the vast majority of us are found in the Greater Portland area. Portland is the largest city in Maine with a population of sixty something thousand folks.

So now that you know not to go driving around to find the neighborhood where we live, I have some more bad news. If you need your hair done, we have two salons in Southern Maine and one Black barber and white folks like to go to the brothas and sistas too, so whereas back home you were used to calling your hair person up and her fitting you in tomorrow or the next day. That does not happen in Maine, book 2-3 weeks ahead, so no sweaty sex for you if you are a relaxing wearing sista. Brothas, start practicing home haircuts now. Back when I originally wrote this piece there was one lone Black barber in Portland and that cat was unreliable, he might be open, he might not and unlike back home wherever that maybe for you, this brotha can do that….why? Do you really want to drive 2 hours to get lined up every few weeks? Yeah, I thought so. So keeping the coif done here is hard. However Trish at Blended Beauty is a braiding goddess and I recommend her though I often get my hair done in Boston these days.

On the faith front, we do have a Black church in Portland, the historic Green Memorial AME Zion but the last I heard it is a mixed race congregation. It is a Black church in that historically it was always considered a Black church, the pastor is Black but it does have white congregants. Unlike most of the United States where the church hour remains the most segregated hour in America, that isn’t the case in Maine. Granted you can also find yourself in some pretty uncomfortable spaces depending on where you go for spiritual edification.

Now you want to cook yourself a home cooked meal, some comfort food? Get ready to make a real expensive pot of greens. Seriously when you do find collards (mustard and turnip are very hard to find) you can expect to pay a good $2.50-3.00 a bunch and you know how many bunches it takes to make a pot like ya Granny used to make cooked in fatback or salt pork. So rather than try to recreate what you used to eat, do what I have done and just start sautéing your greens with mushrooms and onions, besides its healthier! I won’t even talk about what it’s like for a sista with Mexican roots, the lack of spice turns me into a real sad panda bear. Good thing I like to cook but even cooking myself there are limitations. While we lack soul food joints, taquerias, much less Cuban eateries we do have a fabulous Salvadorian hole in the wall and the Salvadorian sista who runs the place is good people. I go there and feel like family, last time I was in, hell I thought she was gonna ask us to wash the dishes.

By the way if you plan on moving here and you do not have a life partner, unless you have no desire for companionship, you must be open to interracial dating. Let me repeat that again, you must be open to dating white or else your chances for dating are about as good as winning the Powerball. A sista friend of mine spent 10 years here before she found a man to date and that was only when she decided she better go white, otherwise what few brothas of sound body and mind are like joints at a party. They have been passed around, believe me while the Black community in Maine is not geographic, we know each other and people talk. Now you can go to Boston, but do you really want to get a boo two states over? But I know very attractive white women who say dating here sucks, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Though one sista I know lucked out and found a Puerto Rican brotha who she promptly took to another state once they settled down.

When it comes to working in Maine, it can have its moments. Up until 2014, I was worked in the state of Maine but  working and living here took a toll on me. For far too many of us, the workplace politics and microaggressions are very real and it’s something you need to be aware of. Within weeks of moving to Maine back in 2002, I landed a decent gig but I also had people referring to me as the colored girl. During my time in Maine, I have worked as a non-profit consultant, executive director and teacher and the snipes and disrespect at times nearly overwhelmed me. I hear from others that they too have faced similar challenges. It can be hard to be the only non white person in a work space up here because unlike in other places, the odds are that even in other parts of your life here, you will be one of few if not the only one. To never see yourself reflected in the world around you can be a challenge and it’s something one needs to consider before calling the moving company.

People often ask if I can recommend areas to move to, I spent over ten years living in Saco, a town just twenty minutes south of Portland that honestly might as well been the moon when compared to Portland. Outside of Portland, it can be far easier to decent sized home for far less than what you would pay in Portland but you do have to think about your quality of life. What will it feel like when you show up for PTO meetings, the grocery store, etc. Will you be greeted and treated with respect or will you always be an outsider? I spent years trying to be active in my community, for five years, I headed up a community program for local youth and at the end of my tenure, it was clear that I was never going to be accepted. Similarly a sista friend who once lived in Kennebunk who also went the same immersion route eventually left Maine when her then eldest son started to reach the middle school years and suddenly was seen as suspect. My friend having been an active abd involved parent at her local PTO eventually concluded that she was fighting a system that was simply too much for one woman to handle. They are now living well down in Southern New England and her son’s are thriving.

As for me, after the breakdown of my marriage, I moved to one of the barrier islands that is technically part of Portland and its been like night and day. I sometimes wonder if my marriage could have been saved if we had left small town Maine sooner. It’s hard to thrive in a place where just a family walk feels like you are being put under a microscope waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So why move to Maine? It’s a gorgeous four season place, where nature is accessible and compared to many other places such as Boston and New York, the cost of living is far lower. The pace of life is humane and it’s a place where you can feel your own humanity. Growing up in Chicago, Lake Michigan used to be the balm for my soul but now that space has been filled by the ocean. I walk to the end of my block and there sits the ocean and I can afford to still eat. Maine in many ways is a magical state and despite being known as a shit starter around racial issues, I ultimately live here because what Maine gives me is far more than what it takes from me but it is an imperfect space. Then again, I am an imperfect being.  There are some good people here who are white and I can say that despite having a clown of a governor who keeps Maine in the spotlight with his bigotry, the needle is moving on race in this state.

So with that welcome to Maine!

16 thoughts on “Moving to Maine…the Black Edition Updated for 2016

  1. I find that the white folks in maine get their ideas about black folks from the tv. The times I have been there I have been profiled and did not feel they took me at face value. i think that happens after you’ve been the black person they’ve known for a looooong time. New black in town is not going to get that kind of treatment. Maine is worse than Vt and VT is awful about race, racism and privilege.

  2. Good points. Due to my work it puts me in a different position since I am like the Negro everyone knows. Though I spent time north of Bangor due to former spouse and it wasn’t bad, not great but the biker dudes were nicer than I expected.

  3. Oh Bikers Dude. No, those are my people! That’s way different. Nicest people to me around these parts in NH and Maine!!! 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. Hopefully I’ll be moving to Maine in the next year or two. Any suggestions for a Black woman dating White men in Maine? I know the brothers are far & few but I already know how to date them. I need some random tips on the white guys there. Ex. Natural or relaxed, thick or thin, when u see IR couples what does the Black girl usually look like? Any additional insight is great appreciated.

  5. I would like to add please read up on the state.Also I feel you can do anything you want to do, make a plan and JUST DO IT!!! you can talk yourself out of anything.I should know because I’am also a Black girl living in Maine.Good Luck!

  6. I enjoyed you on MHP this morning. Thank you for being in Main. My recent visit to your state and city was pleasant. Love the summer temperatures. Much different from South FLorida. Happy Holidays.

  7. I moved to Maine in Oct 2012 and at first things were okay, but as I work and live here and dating a man from Orono, I have found that Mainers have NO mouth filter I guess they think since they are the majority that they can say off coloured remarks like “I don’t really like black people, but you are different”. “Can I touch your hair?” “You are so ‘normal'” I haven’t heard the “n” word since the 80’s in the deep south, but this time it was directed at ME! Well, it was from my man’s ex girlfriend. Maine women are VERY territorial about us black women with their men. I was born in the UK, but lived in Texas for most of my life, but the accent is still there and being a professional woman of colour and foreign on top of that, make these people’s heads spin. They want to pigeon hole me in a media stereotype and I have never fit any mold. Ever. My man is very proud to show me off around Bangor. Never like I am a like a novelty, but I am a fashionista and like my mum and my London family, we like to “dress”,but conversely for a lot of the regular Maine women, LLBean is the fashion of choice. He used to blend into the crowd either alone or with his prior relationships, but being in an interracial relationship, we stand out. He is sort of a reserved, quiet and private person, but with me he has had to open his horizons and deal the the added attention; wanted and unwanted.But he is a strong man and the more people stare, the more he “claims” me. BUT and I mean a large but, he does not understand the racism because he thinks because he knows and loves me and my race, nationality and colour( I am chocolate brown), that everyone should feel the same way. I am dark with natural hair and I WILL rock a head wrap. I may be too black for these people, but if they won’t go out and get some culture, I will bring it to them. I can’t be bothered by ignorance. I have lived in Virginia where they STILL think the Civil War is going on. I am in my 40’s, living here with my children and grandson and have a wonderful man and a great job. I am going NO WHERE.

  8. Wow, that’s interesting. I get same the treatment in southern South Carolina but from the opposite direction. As a white, fair skinned red head in this area, the offensive and abusive comments are plentiful. This summer I’m looking forward to moving to an area where I’m better accepted..

  9. I’m white and I moved to Maine five years ago from Alabama, so a bit of a culture shock. I moved to Portland for a year, but after that moved out of the city and realized the cultural diversity is very much confined to the cities. In my opinion people up here are much more accepting of interracial couples than down south. My husband is originally from Maine. While I am not black, I felt his friends had misconceptions of southerners as ” racists”. I do not feel people up here are racist, but they differently do not have a lot of exposure to others of different race/culture, especially if they don’t live in Portland or Lewiston.

    • U sound like a racist…your peeps! Come on black girl dont be such a fool. But i guess its a good thing u have come here to work and not sell drugs like 80% of black folk that come here.

  10. This is racist in itself. What if I as a white man (yes, I said white and man in the same sentence, come get me to burn on a responsibly harvested stake) said all the things you said but in reverse about a community with a mostly black make up? Exactly. I’ve lived in Southern Maine all my life and have been around the country only to find myself back because this is the greatest state without your racism. You out of staters bring it with you and yes we are mostly white but we’re also warm and friendly and accepting without bringing up color because it doesn’t matter to us like the rest of the states. We haven’t been exposed to such bullshit and really don’t want it. Either live and let live or move. Race isn’t that big of a deal outside the US and we’re the happy middle Eden between Canada reality and American freedom, buy a gun, get a medical marijuana card, drink our beer, eat luxury food and shut up.

  11. Hi there!

    Don’t know if you remember me. I wrote to you before I moved down South as many do I’m sure. My name is La Tanya. I had hoped that you and I could meet and possibly strike up a friendship but you didn’t seem to enthusiastic about it. The feeling I got was that you probably were tired of people coming and going in your life black and white. I completely get that. I was in the same place as you, having a hell of a time making good friends. When I met black friends they moved in and moved out and always seemed to be afraid to become too close. Or they would not let me be me because I am not a traditional Christian and wanted to convert me. Funny, I was accepting of them but they could not handle me not being a fundamental Christian even though I love Jesus but I’m not into religion. When I met white friends, I never fit in and never got invited anywhere. My daughter never got invited to birthday parties. We were always on the outside. I experienced the abuse of power in the workplace so bad that I literally left the Medical field after working as a Respiratory Therapist for 22 years. I set out on a spiritual path and I am very happy for it never to return to the Medical field and vowed never to return to Maine. I am a student of A Course in Miracles and have found great peace within as a result of it. I have to admit that now that I am in the South, my family and I are missing Maine. I do (a little) my husband (a lot). My husband is white. We’ve been married 13 years. My daughter is a teenager which is another reason I wanted to leave Maine. I don’t want her to go through what I went through there. But living here in the deep south is far from peaceful and I don’t want her subjected to the stuff I see going on down here either. What a world we live in. Maine was at least peaceful if one is okay with walking alone for the most part. Now I know that I am not alone at all spiritually but I do completely know and understand how you feel. The journey as a Black Woman in Maine is not easy. We moved to the South 2 years ago. And surprisingly, we are considering coming back. I’m not sure how I really feel about that. It is hot as hell here. I do have a beautician. I’ve made quite a few friends, white and black. I’m not considered to be a colored girl here. (LOL!) I do remember that feeling of like WTF when I moved to Maine from Dallas. It was very insulting. So now my daughter hates the heat and so does my husband. So we are at a crossroads. My husband and I miss the ambiance of Maine. The walk along the beaches. Fall Foliage. I hate the high cost of living up there compared to where we are now. You have to pay over $1,000/mo to get a decent rental. In the South, it feels good to go shopping and find pretty clothes and a hair salon, a nice one! I don’t have to drive for miles to go to a movie or the grocery store. I do get tired of looking at grown men with their asses hanging out and I mean every where you go. I do get tired of hearing the loud, loud music. People here get out of their car, leave it running, with their music playing (LOUD) and go into the store and come back. Crazy… I just don’t see it as cool but I’m 53 so maybe younger women are okay with that. I’m learning not to judge people based on appearances though. I’m working on it. (LOL!) I am not old fashioned let me say that but I think there is a certain maturity level that is lacking in our black men that is so freaking annoying and I see it hasn’t changed in the last 20 years. Two different worlds the North and the South. Racism is thick here and with all the chaos going on in the world, we are leaning on returning to the North. Maryland may be a possibility. I hear you are on the islands near Portland now. Sounds wonderful! Would you please share how you found a house there? Did someone in Real Estate help you? You can write to me at tkkelly318@gmail.com If we do move back, maybe we can meet for tea or coffee afterall. I’m certainly open to it! Hope to hear from you! I hope you remember me. I think we connected briefly on Facebook too. Anyway, sending you lots of love and blessings! La Tanya

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