Living in Maine as a Black person

Next month will mark 7 years that I have been in Maine, some days I feel like I should get some sort of badge for surviving that long but generally when I feel that way its just an off day. The truth is that once you get over the initial culture shock, Maine is not a bad place to live.

I can honestly say that I know my neighbors here far better than I ever knew any of them in Chicago, Mainers are an odd bunch, in many cases they don’t say much and have a tendency to keep to themselves. Yet in a pinch when you need a neighbor they are there for you. Case in point, as I have written before, my neighbor across the street 9 out of 10 times in a large snow storm will plow us out. I have never asked but its always a welcomed surprise to wake up and see that I don’t have to manually shovel a foot of snow. In the summer they often bring over a treat for my daughter when they see us out in the yard, we did reciprocate this fall by sharing our apple picking bounty over to them.

If you saw my neighbors, you would think they probably don’t speak to folks like me and while I doubt I will ever engage them on their political views, they are decent folks from what I can see.  Last summer a local Dominican family tragically lost their teenage son in a river drowning and folks came out to help the family, its that type of shit that makes me remember why I don’t mind living here.

Even my Black friends who live in smaller towns here where they are the only Black person, generally don’t encounter any hassles once folks know you live in town and see you around. I will be honest though and say I couldn’t live in a town smaller than where I live since 16,000 folks is pretty small to my Chicago brain.

All this to say, I still don’t understand Negroes who come to Maine intent on wrong doing, this storybroke last night, now in last night’s story they showed a picture of the alleged suspect and sorry to say he was Black. Look going to a lilly white town and breaking into someone’s house is a sure enough way to get your ass caught. For real, Maine is a small state, only 1.5 million folks in the whole damn state and folks of color and that is combining all of us make up less than 10% of the population so you ought to know if you fuck up and do something shady, your ass is going to get caught.

In my time here, I have noticed an increase in folks trying to come up here and doing shady shit, obviously it pisses me off. When we first moved here the big crime story would be some white boy robbing an convenience store with a knife, I admit that sort of shit used to make me laugh especially in my first year here. Robbing someone with a knife? That shit would not work back in Chicago at all. Yet as the years past, I have noticed the crimes getting more dangerous and scary and sadly at times more folks of color as the alleged suspects.

Now as a sista living in Maine raising my family, that shit distresses me to no end but also reminds me that such stupidity can make it harder for the rest of us trying to just live our lives in peace and quiet. As for Mr Bennett, the alleged suspect I suspect he better watch his ass while he is in the joint.

As for me, well I just plan on doing what I do which is to live my life.

How to raise a racist

This a true story that I am about to share with you, one that I almost hesitate to share because I know some of my readers in my daily life but one that I think needs to be shared for all those who think that the election of Barack Obama has done away with racism in America. For all the talk of post racial America, I call bullshit loud and clear. No, racism is still woven into the very fabric of this nation and our culture and I have discovered the seeds of racism are still planted very young and will ensure that we still will grapple with this evil for at least another generation.

Up until a few months ago, I worked at a freelance grant-writer and consultant, a job that after a while was starting to wear on me. Too many of my clients looked to me as a miracle worker and in the current economic climate I started to realize a little job security might be a good thing. Which is why when the opportunity came up to become Executive Director of a center that serves poor and working class families in a neighboring community came up, I jumped at the position.

Now as a Black woman in Maine, I was a tad hesitant about how this might work since all the families we serve are white, however as a person who was raised poor and working class I can relate to these folks. Well, initially I thought things were going well and while the board (aka my bosses) probably feel they are going well, I am starting to realize that for some of our families my blackness is an issue.

 Recently due to a staffing shortage, I have had to take over running of the after school program myself some days which means that I have a lot more contact with the kids and their families then either I or the board thought would be necessary. The only alternative was to be closed until I can bring on the necessary staff which for some our families would have had a devastating effect since our program is free and these are not cheap services. I will be the first to tell you that watching the kids myself is outside my comfort zone, I like kids, shit, I own a couple myself but watching someone else’s kids is a different situation then watching your own kids especially when you are watching 20+ at a time.

Well at first, it looked liked things were going good, several parents I spoke with last week were happy that I was there and that we were going to be open albeit for less hours while I resolve the staff shortage. However a kid told me something last week that cut to my core and honestly unnerved me initially….little boy A generally comes everyday with his cousin, little boy B. So I noticed that little boy B had not been coming, so I asked his cousin A where was B. Little boy A told me that his cousin B was not allowed to come if our site manager was not there.

Now I have lived 36 years as a Black woman in America so you know where my mind went but I didn’t push and just left it alone, though it was still in the back of my mind until yesterday. A couple days ago, I saw little boy B and his Mama outside the center, well the Mama looked in and saw me and then put boy B back in the car and drove off….and no the site manager wasn’t there so it was just me.

Again, I pushed the doubts aside but yesterday well they came out again, yesterday our site manager was in which meant I could go back to my job of running the agency instead of overseeing this program, but boy B told me something that knocked me off my axis. So both boys were in yesterday and I commented to little boy A that it must be nice that his cousin was there and he said to me in the presence of the site manager that Little Boy B again can’t come if I am just there because Little Boy B’s parents don’t like me. Mind you he said it in that childlike naïve way that kids repeat what they hear at home. The site manager asked why all the while turning beet red and the little boy just repeated his statement again and said because……and that was it.

 Now some might say “Blackgirl, you are jumping to conclusions” Um, no….like I said earlier I have been Black 36 years and some shit you just know, you don’t need a map or a GPS system in this case to get to the conclusion. Mind you until recently little boy B always came up to me and issued me a big hug and was always talkative, this kid is a sweetheart, in fact a truly likable kid. I have noticed that now he stays away from me as if he has been instructed to stay away from the nigger.

See, this is how you raise a racist and start em young. I will be honest I went home last night almost thinking what the fuck am I doing here. However I prayed to forgive that family and at this point it’s between them and the man upstairs, anger is not an emotion I either need or want though there is still sadness to see that such a warm loving kid is being raised to hate early on. So while for my more educated and open minded country men and women of the paler hue racism may seem like a thing of the past, I tell you nope it is not.

Lean on me

Last night I suffered another bout of insomnia which is happening more and more often this past year. Truthfully since the birth of the little one three years ago, I can count on one hand the number of nights I slept longer than six hours. Parenthood coupled with getting older seem to be working against me sleeping a full night….

However last night’s bout of insomnia was brought on by a conversation  I had with a dear friend who I was catching up with, part of me hesitates to write this because I’m not trying to put my girl’s business out there but I feel there is a larger piece here that needs to be shared.

My girl and I go back, way back, I’m talking we have known each other since we were like 10, this sista has always been the light and life of the party. When we was young hot things, I was always the wing-man, a role that suits me well in many way. Yet my girl was always on, shit I wanted her energy.

Anyway in the first hour of what was probably a three hour conversation, we were just catching up, doing our thing though I sensed there was something beneath the surface. True enough there was, midway through the conversation she confessed that the reason she had dropped off my radar was because she was going through some shit. Turns out she had been feeling a tad down, which then got us to talking about Black folks and mental health.

My girl’s issues are not the point here but this conversation reminded me that as Black folks, we have a tendency to not address mental health issues to the same extent our white counterparts do and truthfully that shit is killing us. I know because I have been there.

It was about nine years ago that the pressures of life had me on edge, I felt pulled in all directions, my primary care doctor put me on Wellbutrin, it helped but I sensed I need more, so I took the plunge. I went to see a therapist. This was a huge step for me, mind you at the time I was working with the homeless, many who suffered mental health issues, shit I often got them into therapy but at the time I felt shame about needing to see someone myself. In fact when I was in therapy I only told 2 people, the spousal unit and one close friends, I felt shame that I needed to see someone but at the same time, therapy gave me the tools to deal with stress.

However despite the sucess of therapy at that time, the reality is I still grapple with anxiety. I have a phobia, I cannot drive, driving gets me so riled up that while technically I can drive, truth is I avoid it at all costs. I have not driven in a long time, though this year I am actively seeking to work through this phobia because honestly its become problematic. I almost thought about not sharing this tidbit about myself, but I am at the point that rather than make excuses, I feel like I need to come out of the closet about it as I actively work through my anxiety.

That said, I find that in many Black families we all have relatives with issues but rather than call them what they are; which is mental health issues, we dance around the issues which I believe is killing us.

Instead as we stand on the cusp of history being made tomorrow, I think we need to take the time to do some self exploration and work to change ourselves. Are you eating too much? Drinking? Shopping? Maybe you engage in these behaviors because its easier that dealing with yourself….I know when I was young, I went through a year where I engaged in self destructive behaviors but didn’t know why….I know now that I was depressed.

There is no crime or shame in being depressed, in fact rather than hiding it, I feel we need to be open about it, tell someone, don’t be afraid to lean on family and friends. If they are real, they will be there for you. True change starts when we look at ourselves and then work outward.