Yep, Maine is a really white place and it does matter

When you are a black woman who lives in a place like Maine, who writes on issues of diversity and even blogs under the heading Black Girl in Maine, it seems whenever a racial issue comes up, people will find you.

Yesterday, one of the larger papers in the state published this article “Why is Maine so white? And why does it matter?” While I am not regular reader of the Bangor Daily News, several readers of mine tipped me off about this piece and asked my thoughts on it. In some ways this piece is slightly reminiscent of a piece that Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz did a few months ago where yours truly was quoted.

However in this increasingly global world and marketplace in a state like Maine, it’s a question that is never going to quite go away.

Maine

Vermont

New Hampshire

West Virginia

Iowa

Wyoming

Montana

Idaho

Kentucky

North Dakota

These 10 states are the least diverse  in the United States, but if one looks at this list closely, one might notice another similarity between all of these states; they are also among some of the most rural in the United States.

I am not an academic and despite my original plans to pursue my doctoral degree, I don’t pretend to be one. However I do hold an undergraduate degree in African-American studies, so I do know a little about Black Americans. During the Great Migration that occurred between 1910-1930, most Black Americans left the rural south and landed in northern and Midwestern cities, places like Chicago and New York that offered a lot more opportunity than the rural south ever could offer. A Second Great Migration occurred between 1940-1970 where Blacks expanded to places like California and various western cities. In other words when Blacks left the rural south, they went to places with growth potential and far better infrastructure, hell in my own family, folks left Arkansas and settled in places like Chicago and St. Louis.

On the flip side when immigrants came to our shores, many of them also landed in large urban areas where the opportunities for growth were far greater. As a result of folks moving into cities over the decades, most cities have infrastructures that are far more familiar to most people of color.

In places like Maine, there simply isn’t a great deal of industry; our number one industry is tourism. Sorry, but who actually moves here to work in the tourism industry? Unless you are the actual owner of a business that caters to tourists, you aren’t exactly going to get rich. Maine as the northernmost state in the continental United States is also hindered by a lousy transportation system. Outside of a select few cities and towns, public transit is non-existent and in the era of expensive gas, driving all around the state is expensive. Never mind the fact that for all practical purposes, there is only one true interstate in the state, Interstate95 that runs north and south, traveling to the eastern and western parts of the states requires indirect pathways and frankly is time intensive. As a result, what real industries exist?

In the era of the declining wage, states like Maine are at a distinct disadvantage, wages here are even more depressed. Reality in Maine is that many people including college educated people juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet. At this stage in my life, none of my peers back home are juggling jobs.

Maine for all of her natural gifts, frankly doesn’t offer a great deal for a young up and comer hence why we tend to lose the young native born Mainers. Never mind that without a diverse array of industries to bolster public infrastructure, the cost of maintaining a crumbling  infrastructure is born on the backs of all of us in the form of high taxes in a state with low wages. My property taxes just jumped 18%.

Aside from cheap seafood, and gorgeous summers, Maine doesn’t exactly call out for anyone to move here. Frankly had it not been for my son and ex-husband, I wouldn’t be here. Sure, low crime is nice, as is four seasons, but I can’t pay my bills with those things. Maine can be a harsh place to live economically.

The thing is when you look at most of the so-called whitest states; many have similar challenges at some level, which keep them white. Who wants to move to places where life is going to be harder and not necessarily due to the color of one’s skin? That said, I do think being a predominantly white state is a hindrance because as the world shrinks and becomes more global and diverse, states like Maine are not leading the charge. Very few global companies really want to relocate to homogenous states with lousy infrastructure.

The word diversity has been thrown around so much in the past two decades, that for many people it’s almost impossible to have an honest discussion about what it means to live in a diverse and global society in the 21st century without invoking knee jerk responses and anger. Yet in a world where the bill collector is no longer Sue Ann Jenkins two states over but Patel across the ocean, to not strive for diversity can impact in ways far greater than just visual diversity.

So yeah, it does matter that Maine is so white because that whiteness may very well be a hindrance to the economic diversity that a small rural state like Maine needs to grow and thrive.

PS: Can we stop that terrible rumor that Black folks don’t move to Maine because it’s cold…Maine is frickin Florida compared to living in the Great Lakes in the middle of January.

PSS: Also can we stop that rumor that minorities move to Maine for the welfare benefits, I work in the social service sector and by and large I have met very few people that come here to get something. Seriously, waiting lists for subsidized housing is running 3 years in Southern Maine, no one is moving here for the free housing! Trust me on that.

5 Comments
  1. September 16, 2012
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