It’s been almost ten years since I started publicly writing about race in Maine and if I had a buck for every time some well-meaning soul has leveled allegations of reverse racism at me, my eight year old would actually get that Disney vacation she so desperately wants.
Honest dialogue about difference makes some people very uncomfortable because it shows just how much work we still have to do as a society to achieve true parity. Yet dialogue is not divisive in fact empty and well-meaning platitudes along with heaping platters of avoidance are dangerous.
One of the reasons that I talk frequently about race is because race matters, no matter what we think. It matters to people of color and frankly it matters to white people too. Part of what makes white privilege a true privilege despite what some believe is the knowledge that you are always allowed to simply be a person. That no matter what you do, it is not held against you and your fellow white people just you as singular person. This may not seem like a privilege but knowing that you don’t carry the burdens of others on your back is a privilege.
Several weeks ago, the media reported the death of Abu Mansoor Al Amriki, in case you are scratching your head. Abu was an American born of the union between a Syrian man and a White woman from Alabama. Abu at 15 was the class president of his sophomore class with a “charismatic” personality. On the surface Abu had white skin privilege and by all accounts his upbringing in Alabama was uneventful. Yet somewhere along the way he lost his way and ended up as a leader in the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. In fall 2012 he made the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list and his death was announced on September 12, 2013 to little fanfare. Abu isn’t the first American to lose his way, remember John Walker Lindh?
When white folks make bad choices they are deemed bad individual choices; nothing more. No one fears groups of white men even though by and large they are the typical mass shooters. We most certainly don’t fear the white men who rob and pillage in the name of business, instead some of us aspire to be just like them.
Yet when a person of color commits a crime or goes wrong, it is an indictment on the entire group from which they derive. A young Black man commits a violent act and suddenly all young Black men are suspect. Several days ago, a group of Islamist militants stormed a mall in Nairobi, Kenya killing many and creating terror and mayhem. Reports are that several of the terrorists are Americans with one possibly being from the great state of Maine.
For Maine’s Somali community, this is bad news indeed. After a decade of struggling to be accepted and actually finding that acceptance, the news that one of their own may have broke bad is not welcome news. Somalis in Maine are concerned against a backlash and I am too. The truth is that should these reports prove true that one of the Kenyan attackers is from Maine, I would bet good money it will have repercussions for the rest of the group.
But why? Why must an entire group be subject to carry the weight of a few bad apples, why is the humanity that is naturally given to white people not extended to people of color? Why do we accept the status quo that routinely denies humanity to some but blindly gives it to others?