And we wonder why we are still talking race in post-racial America

If you are sensitive to discussions about race, do me and you a favor and just skip this post…I am talking race today and it might start feeling a smidge uncomfortable. What you are about to read is a column I wrote for a local publication that was rejected by my editor on the basis that maybe when I am talking race, I am the one with the chip on my shoulder. It was suggested that I need to look at why I get so bothered by racial things…I don’t know maybe its because as a Black woman living in these divided  States of America that despite having a Black president racism is still a fact of life and as much as I wish race wasn’t an issue that I didn’t haveto think about, that just is not the world I live in….

Uncomfortable in my own skin

I’m proud to be Black. I sometimes joke with my husband that I’d like a “White suit” for those days I don’t want to deal with preconceptions from other people that derive from the color of my skin but the fact is: I wouldn’t want to be White.

Then again, lately I feel conspicuous in my dark skin. So, what’s the trigger for that?

Hell, what aren’t the triggers?

In the nearly three months since David Okot was killed by the Portland Police after reportedly waving a gun around in a threatening fashion, I’ve watched the continued deterioration of relations between Somali and Sudanese immigrants and the police. Seems like whenever police have to chase a Somali or Sudanese kid for stealing something, now they’re accused of harassing these two groups. And lately, there have been rumblings that when the police are called by some Somali and Sudanese residents of Portland, the calls might be ruses to lure police into confrontations.

Closer to my home, Rory Holland of Biddeford in late June reportedly shot dead, at 1 a.m., brothers Gage and Derek Greene–aged 19 and 21–outside his home. Holland has a criminal record going way back, for a variety of unsavory crimes, and is the kind of guy who seems to like to file lawsuits against people for fun and profit.

Also, there is Shalom Odokara, who runs Women in Need and was vice chairwoman of Portland’s Planning Board until city officials learned that she recently pled guilty to criminal charges in federal court. She was already on probation after pleading guilty in 2006 for embezzling $108,000 from the World Bank, and in 1989 she was convicted for trafficking heroin from Nigeria to Maryland.

As if that’s not enough, it turns out that Portland city council member and current mayor Jill Duson apparently knew about at least portions of Odokara’s criminal past already, and didn’t tell her colleagues, nor ask Odokara to resign.

Can you guess what Okot, Holland, Odokara and Duson all have in common?

Yeah, they’re Black.

And I feel sometimes like the rest of us Black people are being judged in light of that. Any time even one Black person makes the news prominently for a crime in this state, I get tense because people almost invariably start look at me harder and more suspiciously. And in a short span of time, three major stories in which four black people and a couple of entire immigrant African populations figure prominently.

Oh, joy!

Partly, I sense the judgmentalism in the comments I see online in response to news articles about these events. But while I realize that those aren’t allMainers, why is it that so often, when I sit down in a restaurant or coffee shop and settle into my “eavesdropping for entertainment” mode as usual, someone starts talking about Rory Holland or Odokara or the “Somali problem” within seconds? And why am I getting more grumpy looks from people after living in my community for six years now?

And no, I don’t mean the Canadian tourists; I’m used to getting weird looks from them every damn summer. I’m talking people who see me in passing on a regular basis.

In African-American culture, many of us are raised to understand that, for right or wrong, our actions will be seen as representative of the entire Black community. My 17-year-old at times tells me this thinking is outdated. But even he has come to realize that  wearing the baggy pants and gym shoes that is so popular with youth is a surefire way to invite trouble from racists and attention from police even though he doesn’t do anything nefarious or suspicious.

So I would urge all of you to please remember that it’s White people who commit the vast majority of crimes around here–and no, aside from having run into Rory Holland in downtown Biddeford from time to time and steering clear of him because I thought he was creepy, too, I don’t know these people. And I certainly shouldn’t be judged based on them.

End of column……

Obviously this piece has a local slant so feel free to google additional information if you really want to know what goes on in Maine. Now it was funny because as the Spousal Unit (aka resident white guy in my house) and I were discussing how I should proceed with my column, we got news of this story. Seems Skip Gates, a well known Black scholar and Harvard faculty member was arrested for breaking into his own house. Now having read the police report it appears Gates forgot the rules of Blackness in America…when dealing with the police, they don’t give a damn who the fuck you are, and you can best believe Barack Obama in a few years when he is out of office if his ass ever gets caught without Secret Service detail and the local police think he is suspicious, he too could get locked up.

If you think I am tripping as the young folks used to say, well you are asleep at the switch. There may be a few times when Black folks cry race when its something else but too many times race is the issue, it never stops being an issue.  Sadly too many well meaning white folks these days point to the fact that we have a Black president as hard evidence that racism is mostly dead. Look, truth is Obama won because the economy sucked and folks realized that with McCain and Palin we would really big screwed…when it comes to folks and their money, they will do what advances their best interest and McCain was not in most folks best interest. You think the economy is screwed now? Imagine life under the maverick duo? I know…nasty thought!

Instead we have to look at ways to get around issues of race and not let it be an issue but that still does not stop us from having days when we shake our heads and go damn!  As for me, well I am gonna do some soul searching and figure why oh why I get so bothered by race..maybe its because every time my son leaves the house there is a part of me that prays and wants to tell him no don’t go. Maybe its because I hear the stories of abuse that Black and biracial kids put up from their peers here in Maine for the crime of not being white…maybe its because despite the fancy letters that go after my name, I still encounter folks daily who question who I am and whether or not I am qualified to do my job. Just little stuff that keeps me wondering….

16 thoughts on “And we wonder why we are still talking race in post-racial America”

  1. Oh, and then there was that Goodfield thing, Richard Goodfield, he and his wife big on taking in the “FRESH AIR” kids in the summer…. Guess it was a great thing for him, he was molesting them, until one child got brave enough to tell… That was So. Lebanon too… Back in ’88… Nasty family… and again, Lebanon, ME.

  2. I was raised across the river in NH, but am quite familiar with the Lebanon area of Maine. One of the most hateful things I remember, back in the late sixties, being at some gathering in So. Lebanon, and some of the local scum, a Korea Vet, bragging about how they would set things up so Black troops were positioned as much as possible in front of the white ones, and then during active combat, our white troops would shoot the Black ones in the back…

    This will always be my impression of what Maine is, and what Maine is about.

    I also remember how French people were treated, and it was foul… Then there were anti-Semites, too…

    I just cannot imagine why anyone would want to live there…. there are so many better places!

  3. I won’t say I know what it’s like to be black because I don’t however I do know what its like to be on welfare have a man in jail 4 kids and to be looked down upon. I’m sure thats not even close but it’s probably as close as I will ever get I live in a family full of racist and I hate them hmmm is that an oxymoronwho knows. shay you have enlightened me and I thank you.

  4. Racial slurrs, prejudice even the KKK yes they were here and not because Maine had an over abundance of African Americans. Think again Maine had a plethora of Franco Americans. As a matter of fact certain areas of Maine were predominantly French. You would think that because the French had a majority in many communities that they probably ran things and everything was in their favor. That wasn’t the case most of the jobs held by French people were second class jobs and most of the managerial positions were held by Anglo Americans. Many Anglo Americans made sure their self proclaimed superiority stayed intact they joined organizations to help preserve their positions in the community. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan a well known keeper of genetically superior individuals from slipping a notch or two down the racial ladder. Marches were organized and cross burnings were performed just to keep those pesky French speaking people in their places. My Grandfather remembered too well trying to stop the KKK from crossing into Biddeford from Saco. He was on the Biddeford police force that had to hold back the demonstrators and anti Catholic protesters from burning their crosses. Luckily those days are gone but the anti French sentiment still lingers among certain individuals. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and other races are experiencing what Franco Americans experienced a century ago. Before any Europeans set foot on American soil the original inhabitants not only had to face protesters but saw their entire way of life disapear at the hands of settlers from across the Atlantic. Bigotry has seen a constant revival from time to time and it seems there’s an endless stream of individuals ready to join the cause. No matter how tough the going gets or how much hardship one race has to overcome the need to rise above it should and usually does take precedent. Laws are created to prevent complete chaos and all Americans must follow those laws despite what hardship we went through. Race cards are used to cover and hide the injustice members from any race might have done against somebody. As soon as any person from any nationality tries to blame his or her actions by whipping out a race card that is usually a sign that the individual his trying to cover up some wrong doing against somebody else. Unless someone is mentally challenged the race card should remain in the deck and not used to cover up any misdead they might have done to another person.

  5. I can absolutely understand what you mean in your column. It is a sad and disgusting fact that racial issues still exist in our country. As a Native American, we get to deal with a lot of ignorance and downright stupidity. It is frustrating to have to know that in 2009 we still have this issue on the map. Who keeps in on the board, one may ask. Hmmm, let’s see. One philosophy of mine is the actual government authorities who allow racism, then decide who, when, where and why, also what cases to justify, prosecute and eliminate. Why would be for the federal monies each entity receives to fight racial crimes and promote these same crimes. You are right on that the majority of crimes are committed by whites, and they can scream injustice to that all they want, but it’s a fact that they are the majority of any population. I may be incorrect on exact percentages, but the US census states that Blacks make up approx. 4% of our population and the Native Americans only make up less than 1% of our population. Never in a million years could our two races multiply enough times in order to match the white population. Natives also have the burden to carry themselves as a representation of their whole nation or nations of Natives. We are all thought of as drunks, and we all live on reservations out west, (which by the way is nothing more than an Indian ghetto forced on them by the government)all of us look one certain way, all Indians live out west, and the big one, all Indians do is gamble to government’s money, which somehow becomes each individual white man’s money—go figure—-in the casinos. Gee, do these people even know a real Native? For whites to think that just because they say or think racial issues are a thing of the past, they maybe should educate themselves a heck of a lot better. Don’t get me wrong, I am also half white, half Mohawk. But fact is fact. I did not find anything in your post offensive and your editor should have allowed you to post your article.I don’t know what editor you work for, but the sad truth is when I lived in Biddeford years ago and was dealing with Holland, they published every racial allegation and statement he made without hesitation even after other facts were proven that he was a piece of crap. I think they are just trying to do damage control now because in a way, the media is also to blame for that man’s reign of terror.

    Take care
    Denise Everest

  6. @ Danielle – I did take a trip to some parts of Maine maybe a few weeks ago for business but, outside of work hours, the times spent in the area were just as tourists so everyone kinda knew we were visiting so they were nice. Visiting to see how and what locals go through up there is a good idea…to step in someone else’s shoes. No reason to fly from Chicago to Maine just yet but I’ll keep it in mind and thanks for replying back.

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