“Unlike race and racial identity, the social, political and economic meanings of race, or rather belonging to particular racial groups, have not been fluid. Racial meanings for non-European groups have remained stagnant. For no group has this reality been truer than African-Americans.” – Angela Onwuachi-Willig
Since moving several months ago to what could be described as an urban island in Casco Bay, I dropped my kid off at school and then walked over to the island’s lone cafe for my morning coffee and breakfast sandwich as I have taken to doing since moving here. It’s my wake-up time as well as my time to try to connect with the other residents since this starting over at middle age gig means a pretty lonely existence at times for me.
As I grabbed my coffee, I couldn’t help but noticing yet again that the island cops who are often in at the same time as me were once again giving me the eyeball. Truth is, that when my son came home last month and came to visit the island, he too noticed and felt the eyes of the island cops on him as well.
I have been hesitant to say anything or even write about the experience because, overall, the island has been the balm for my soul. Yet with a governor who is the laughingstock of the country and essentially “untouchable” and with my intimate knowledge of implicit bias, I can’t just mentally brush off the stares of those cops, especially when our governor has indirectly implied that Maine’s drug problem is the fault of people from away who go by the names of Money-D, Shifty and Smoothie (and then emphasized how they impregnate Maine’s white girls before they leave). Now when the heat got too hot after that verbal blunder, LePage tried to say that race was not an issue but let’s be honest, this is race-baiting, dog-whistle politics, connect-the-dots-style racism at its finest.
Maine has a drug problem; I knew it had a drug problem back in 2013 when I was still working with low-income (mostly white, by the way) families in Southern Maine and saw used drug needles in areas where kids played outside. Despite coming from a large city, I had never seen that type of thing before so blatantly. Drugs are an issue but a stagnant culture with a lack of equitable resources and a sense of hopelessness along with a desire to get a kick are some of the many reasons that people end up on the road to drug addiction. Maine has the oldest population in the United States and in too many Maine communities, keeping the tax burden low and maintaining a way of life that isn’t always compatible with the realities of modern day life aren’t making it easy for our young people.
Yet Maine’s governor would rather avoid talking about real solutions to Maine’s drug epidemic and instead lay the blame at out-of-state drug dealers who, in his small world, are Black. This might have been the end of the story except that LePage suffers from a chronic case of verbal diarrhea where his mouth just releases and runs with no forethought. Common sense and good advisers are usually a cure for this illness but in LePage’s case, nothing works. However this latest verbal blunder is one that increasingly leads to people being profiled and heaven forbid harmed. “I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry,” LePage said. “Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they’re killing our kids.”
In the past several weeks, Maine’s chief executive has implied that shady Black men are coming to Maine to do nefarious deeds including getting Mainer’s hooked on drugs and leaving white girls with half-Black babies that are somehow, in his mind, a special drain on the state’s resources. Now the governor is telling Mainer’s to take the law into their own hands and get rid of drug dealers. Joke or not, he said the words and has put that energy out into the universe.
Unlike my many white associates in Maine who often brush off LePage’s words as foolish drivel, I can say that his words create tension for those of us with Black and Brown skin in Maine. We know the looks and the stares when we travel outside of our known safety zones here in Maine. All we need now is some fool pumped up and looking to eradicate drug dealers trying to bust caps in our asses when all we are doing is trying to see some of our beautiful state. Or finding our movements receiving extra scrutiny for no other reason than the color of our skin.
I am tired of the governor’s race baiting but I am even more tired of the white silence that has given LePage the space to say these things.
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