Governor LePage and White Reality

It’s been almost five months since I last wrote about Maine’s bombastic governor, Paul LePage, who suffers from several chronic health conditions, ignorance and verbal diarrhea being chief among them. Just when I had started to forget that he was our dishonorable governor, he opened his pie hole and boy, was it a doozy!

To recap, in the event that you have been unplugged or hiding under a rock, civil rights legend and congressman John Lewis recently made a statement that he had no intention of attending the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump because he didn’t see Trump as a legitimate president. It’s safe to say that Lewis is not alone in his thoughts. Since at this point, we may never know which end is up as far as how Trump won.

The  president-elect does not appear to be a man with a great deal of impulse control and rather than taking option A, which would be to say nothing or option B, which is to agree to disagree and let the matter die…well, he didn’t do either. Trump decided to go for option C, which is get on Twitter and assassinate Lewis’s character and say that Lewis represents a broken-down district and that he was all talk.

I don’t know, but given that Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders who actually worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and had his head bashed in for racial justice as well as being arrested numerous times during the Civil Rights Movement, I’d say that the last words that one could use for Lewis are that he is all talk. Lewis has literally put his ass on the line.

So while the rest of the country was paying homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this past weekend for the MLK holiday, the president-elect  was showing the world why his nickname is Cheeto Jesus and reminding us that he is a petty little man.

Anyway, the situation ramped up when one of Maine’s U.S. representatives, Chellie Pingree, said that she too was taking a pass on attending the inauguration and, well, that’s when Maine’s chief buffoon, the dishonorable Paul LePage, had to throw in his two cents.

On a local Maine radio show LePage said the following: “John Lewis ought to look at history.” LePage told WVOM, a Maine radio station. “It was Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant that fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple thank you would suffice.”

Then if that wasn’t bad enough, a few hours later, LePage speaking to a reporter with the Portland Press Herald said that Black people and the NAACP should apologize to white folks. To be exact, here is what LePage said, “The blacks, the NAACP (paint) all white people with one brush,” LePage said. “To say that every white American is a racist is an insult. The NAACP should apologize to the white people, to the people from the North for fighting their battle.”

Mind you, LePage is the governor who said that President Obama could kiss his ass, and he had long refused any meaningful connection with the local NAACP. He is the same man who said that Black men are coming to Maine to sell drugs and impregnate its white women. He is also the guy with the “binder of drug dealers” that supposedly showed how most people involved in drug trafficking in Maine were non-white (something that was clearly disproved with actual crime statistics).

Now, it’s easy to chalk it up to LePage being racially ignorant and shake our heads, but frankly in the era of Trump, taking that tack is no longer acceptable. In fact, it is dangerous. The sad reality is that far too many white people are racially ignorant, meaning they have no idea Black American history is a part of American history and that it is far more complex than slavery, freed slaves and the Civil Rights Era. Most have no clue that the American government was complicit in creating the White American middle class while making sure than Black folks would always be relegated to a de-facto second class.  That when we talk about the plight of Black folks in places like Chicago, we have to look at how the system created the conditions and that no amount of hard work and boot straps is gonna work, especially when the system has been rigged except for a few tokens that white people love to show off. Ben Carson, anyone? (Or any number of others who are the very rare exceptions to the rule, from notable generals to musical artists to actors to beloved athletes)

LePage’s words express a common misunderstanding of history. Lincoln didn’t exactly free the slaves because he was a wonderful man (in fact, he considered a plan to send them all back to Africa, even though the ones actually from Africa at that point were probably a very small percentage of the whole). And given that Ulysses S. Grant died in 1885 and that Jim Crow was alive and well into the 1960s, it’s safe to say that Grant was not leading the charge to end Jim Crow.

To LePage’s other point, I think that LePage said something that is unspoken but often thought in many white spaces. Look at the comment section of any race-based article and you will see white people telling Black people that we can go back to Africa if we don’t like it. Given that my ancestors were forcibly brought here and made to build this country, why exactly would I be going anywhere? Or if I am leaving, it seems that white people should leave too; after all, this country really belonged to Native Americans. But I digress.

There is an air of superiority that exists in many white spaces and frankly, despite the number of white people who are striving to break free from toxic whiteness, far too many are happy in their racial silos where whiteness is exalted and learning about other people rarely happens as anything other than a footnote.

If nothing else has come out of the 2016 elections, it’s that America is not nearly evolved as many thought when it comes to matters of race, gender and other difference from the cisgender straight white male “norm.” Given the gravity of what we are facing as a nation, we can no longer afford to look the other way or remain suspended in progressive disbelief when the LePage’s of the world speak. Men like Trump and LePage are not the outliers that many believe them to be; instead, they are the men in power who can make millions of people’s lives miserable. And the first part of resisting is to look honestly at what we are facing.

In looking at our shared reality, looking at white reality is an important first step and that requires acknowledging that millions of white people do not see non-white people as equal to them or perhaps even equal to the pets in their homes. And the next step? Being prepared to take an actual stand against everyone who feels that way, from strangers to your closest relatives, and to change that reality to something much more just and equitable.
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Misattributing LePage’s actions to a breakdown, or He was always a bigot and a racist

I dislike having to continue to talk about my state’s governor, Paul LePage, because he’s not going to change, the legislature is probably going to continue to not really act against him in a substantive way (though they may end up surprising us), and to malign him is to preach to the choir for much of Maine’s population (and to spit into the wind when it comes to the less-than-half of Mainers who truly support him…let’s not forget he didn’t win by a majority of the vote in either of his elections).

So, why are we here again, when I just talked about him a few days ago?

Well, in a way it’s not really LePage I’m talking about. He’s more an avatar of a problem I’d like to address: People’s continuing reluctance to call out his (and others’) racism and to deflect from the fact he’s a toxic bigot. And, in so doing…over and over…those who do so show their own anti-Black (and anti-Muslim, and anti-lots-of-other-things) biases and bigotry, however subtle or deeply hidden they may be.

When LePage talked about his binder of dealers and left a profanity-laden voicemail message for a Maine legislator (Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook) whom he thought had called him a racist, there were legislators and other citizens of the state who cried out that LePage was showing himself unfit to hold the governor’s office because of his actions.

Except the actions that people called him out on—the actions that really set them off and made them feel he was unfitwere being insulting to a white legislator and, as some maintained, that some of LePage’s remarks showed him to be homophobic. Precious few people were focusing on the fact that LePage had just accused non-white people, particularly Black and Latinx people, of being the enemy. Accusing them, in denial of all the statistics that say most drug traffickers are white, of being the source of drugs in Maine and of impregnating white girls before they leave.

He did it before now, though perhaps in less dramatic a fashion, as he didn’t paint Black and Brown people as military-style enemies who presumably should be dealt with violently back then—at least not as obviously. But he’s said multiple times how non-white people are the problem. And not just with regard to drugs. He’s blamed African immigrants for disease in this state as well as accusing them of being financial leeches. He’s gone so far as to blame them for diseases that are carried by insects and not people.

In Boston on August 29, just after the latest “binder of dealers” brouhaha, he doubled down and said: “The heroin-fentanyl arrests are not white people. They’re Hispanic and they’re black and they’re from Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, Waterbury, Connecticut the Bronx and Brooklyn.”

Never mind that FBI stats say fewer than 15 percent of drug traffickers arrested in Maine are Black or Brown. Are we to believe less than a fifth of the traffickers are responsible for all of the heroin and fentanyl in the state?

Since the very start of his first term after the 2010 election, LePage has worn his bigotry openly on his sleeve.

Now many people want to say he’s having a breakdown or that he’s lapsed into booze. Hell, I’ve said as much with regard to the latter, but not the way I think most people are. I just think he drank too much the day he called Gattine and let his true self spill out even more. Most people want to attribute his latest comments and actions to a breakdown or to alcoholism. They make out like he’s just gone over the deep end.

But he’s always been over the deep end. He’s always been steeped in a white supremacy, bigot-minded world of his own. And it’s not, in my opinion, because of any illness of his mind or weakness for liquor. It’s because he was evil from the start, and he’s still evil now.

Except that people aren’t focusing enough on the fact that he’s always spouted racist filth and is just doing so more boldly now.

To attribute his actions now to anything but willful ignorance and vileness when he’s shown us what he is from the beginning is to distract from how racist he is and how much his words invigorate other racists and help contribute to an insidious creep in the minds of anyone who’s not racist but is just biased. Because we all have biases and, when it comes to Black and Brown people and the threat they supposedly pose, those biases run deep in most white people everywhere. Anything that deflects from the sheer evil of LePage’s words is one more chance for the idea that Black and Brown people are a threat to seep into more minds, even ones that consider themselves open and progressive.

LePage may be having a breakdown. He might be hitting the sauce. But all that is irrelevant.

Because he’s always been a racist, and the majority of Maine (and the nation) has turned a blind eye to that fact from the start. Some have pointed out he’s racist, but not the majority of his detractors. They’re too often afraid to use the word “racist.” Even Gattine stressed that he didn’t recall calling LePage a racist but rather said his remarks were racially insensitive. From my standpoint, Gattine should have said, “I don’t think I called the governor a racist exactly, but now that I think about it, I really should have.”

Not nearly enough people have said what needs to be said, and no one should let him get out from under the fact that he is a racist, through and through. And if you haven’t recognized that before now, there might be a chance you are too…or that you are at risk of becoming one.

I’d rather that this moment in time be the eye-opening one that lets people truly admit what they’ve been to afraid to say all along.

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When Paul LePage went full-on racist, or Paul’s binder of dealers

I really had no intention of ever wasting any more words on Maine’s governor, Paul LePage. I thought I had said all that I needed to say several months ago in my open letter to the governor but then the past several days happened. The quick-and-easy version is that several days ago at a local town hall meeting in North Berwick, Maine, LePage once again stated his belief that Black men are bringing the drugs to Maine and he once again insinuated that these same Black men end up with Maine’s fair maidens, aka white women. Oh boy! Here we go again! But wait! LePage was only getting started. Turns out that the governor who has publicly admitted to not reading the newspaper has been keeping his own private binder of who’s who among Maine’s drug dealers (makes you almost long for Mitt Romney’s “binders of women” instead). And in this private binder of his, there are an awful lot of Blacks and Latinos who are driving up Interstate 95 from exotic locales such as Waterbury, Conn., and Brooklyn, N.Y. to sell their poison to unsuspecting Mainers. According to him, this is an accurate representation of arrests of drug dealing fiends, and he says 90 percent of them are Black or Brown.

Oh dear! But wait! We aren’t even halfway through this week’s adventure in Maine politics. Nope, after receiving blowback from many across the state, the governor decided to ratchet things up by calling a Democratic lawmaker and in a profanity-laden voicemail that sounded suspiciously like a man who was under the influence of something more than a triple Venti mocha, he used homophobic slurs, swore profusely, threatened the lawmaker and basically buried himself in a very deep hole that caught everyone’s attention. When’s the last time a sitting governor told called a lawmaker vile names, left it on a voicemail and essentially said run and tell that? I am from Illinois, the land of governors who end up doing federal time (Rod Blagojevich anyone?), but even in the land of Lincoln and a side of criminality, at least our governors don’t go get that gully.

So just when everyone is looking askance and wondering what the hell is wrong with Paul LePage, in trying to defend himself, he pretty much hit the nuclear option by statingLook, a bad guy is a bad guy, I don’t care what color it is. When you go to war, if you know the enemy, the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, you shoot at red, don’t you? You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy. And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority right now coming in are people of color or people of Hispanic origin. I can’t help that. I just can’t help it. Those are the facts.”

While a large majority of Maine’s media was still trying to unpack LePage’s drunken tirade, the unfortunate fact is this: For hours, most people seemed to have overlooked the fact that Maine’s sitting governor essentially called people of color enemies of the state of Maine. News of the tirade has hit the national media circuit yet few are willing to even touch LePage’s latest words in the midst of his attempts to explain his actions.

Where do we even start? For starters, none of this surprises me. Since day one, LePage’s verbal blunders and gaffes have been largely overlooked, yet as a person of color who happens to live in Maine, I  haven’t missed a thing (and they aren’t blunders or gaffes…they are intentionally crude). Over the years, LePage has increasingly pushed a narrative that others anyone who is not white, from his refusal to attend Maine NAACP events that are customary for governors to attend to telling  Barack Obama to kiss his ass. The handwriting has been on the wall since LePage introduced us to his imaginary Black criminals (better known as Smoothy, D-Money, and Shifty) that he was setting the framework for complete vilification of Black and Brown people in Maine.

The thing is that LePage is essentially an unrepentant asshole who is a racist despite having “adopted” a Black Jamaican. And this moment didn’t happen in a vacuum. Every time people brushed off LePage’s racialized comments and attempted to soften his harsh and direct language by instead suggesting that LePage is “crazy” or “nuts” (or “just speaking his mind”) we allowed him to more or less continue without consequences.  The Maine House voted against impeaching him months ago, instead passing a resolution calling for cooperation and civil behavior. I think it’s safe to say that resolution meant very little to LePage and, well, now we are here.

There are many levels to this story and I won’t even begin to delve deeper but I will say that for Black and Latinx people in the state of Maine, the sense of fear is real. When people hear their governor say that Black and Brown people are the enemy in a state where 95 percent of the residents are white, what is the real impact on actual residents of color? It’s tense interactions, it’s fear. Fear that if you wander outside of whatever happens to be your safe zone, that you are essentially a walking target (and perhaps not even so safe in that zone). A drive in the country on a beautiful day might be just a little less beautiful as you encounter watchful eyes who wonder if you are bringing poison into “their” state. Never mind that the state has a rich history that does indeed include non-white people, because the implication of LePage’s words and those unspoken ones of his supporters serve to de-legitimize the presence of people of color in Maine. For people like LePage, if you’re Black or Brown, you must be bringing drugs or diseases to the state, or at the very least are leeching off the welfare system.

The thing is when people don’t speak up, this is what happens. And it happens most of the time. White people trade on white politeness and civility rather than speaking truth to power. They overwhelmingly remain silent and allow the weasels and the dreck of humanity to gain a foothold.

Though it may be that LePage’s attack on a white, male lawmaker could be his downfall, which once again speaks to how white privilege and anti-Black bias works. You can say the most horrendous things about people of color for years and while it’s bad, you still get re-elected and never really see any consequences. However, it’ suddenly beyond the pale when the object of attack is another white man. Granted, if LePage’s expletive-filled tirade somehow results in his leaving office sooner than later, I doubt that too many of us would drop any tears. But if we are serious about being a truly racially inclusive state and country, we must look beneath the surface and see how our own silence can contribute to the creation of even greater problems.
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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.