“These are guys by the name D-Money, Smoothy, Shifty. These type of guys that come from Connecticut and New York. They come up here and sell heroin, then they go back home.”
“Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we’ve got another issue we have to deal with down the road.”– Maine Gov. Paul LePage
Sigh…double sigh. Back in 2002, when I moved to Maine, I had no illusion that Maine was a racially diverse or even necessarily a racially welcoming state, but the need to end a protracted custody battle and create stability for my then-minor son led me to pack up my life in Chicago and tell my then-new husband that I was moving to Maine whether he joined me or not. Luckily he understood that sometimes we go places we would rather not go because it is the right thing to do. Needless to say that if I were in a relationship with the state of Maine, our Facebook relationship status would no doubt be “it’s complicated.”
This spring I will celebrate 14 years in Maine; I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that fact. This isn’t where I saw myself being at this stage in my life. Then again, life rarely gives us the order that we placed according to our specifications.
What I do know about my time in Maine is that this is a state where the stiff upper lip of many Mainers creates an environment where the ugly isms continues to find a home. Outside of certain coastal locales and our most populous city, Portland, there is a level of ugly that lies beneath the surface and in recent years has found a spokesperson in the form of our current governor, Paul LePage.
To call Paul LePage a character would be an understatement. He is product of his environment but at the same time, he speaks for those who are uncomfortable with a shifting racial and social climate in both our country and in the state of Maine. LePage’s “everyman speak” is the same type of homeyness that makes GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump an attractive candidate to some. LePage’s time in office has been marked with verbal blunders since day one. LePage’s Maine is a place where people like yours truly don’t exist (except when you want to blame problems like drugs on anyone but the overwhelmingly white population) though according to the Maine Revenue Service, I very much exist. In LePage’s Maine, Maine is a white state for white people and when in white spaces, LePage feels very comfortable expressing his “truths” which apparently resonate with many.
LePage’s latest gaffe though is no simple gaffe. Maine is in the middle of a drug epidemic and a drug epidemic in a rural state with few resources is both a problem and a tragedy. However, at a recent public meeting, LePage felt comfortable laying our state’s drug issues on the feet of characters named: D-Money, Shifty and Smoothie who allegedly come up to Maine to peddle their drug wares and impregnate young white girls. Of course in typical fashion, after being called out on his comments, LePage said that he was misunderstood. Of course in the midst of the “faux” apology, LePage continued to sound his dog whistle as he informed the world that we all know that Maine is a white state.
LePage’s initial comments rely on racial tropes that have prematurely ended the lives of many Black men throughout the history of the United States. Black men and boys have been killed when even at the mere hint the idea that they would lay with a white woman. Emmett Till was a young Black boy who in 1955 was killed for whistling at a white woman. The idea of sexual relations between Black men and white women still strikes fear in the hearts of many though we are too polite to have that discussion.
I won’t dissect LePage’s comments piece by piece because he has a track record of saying ugly things and being offensive. He governs by a type of shock and offense protocol that his base accepts as “straight talk” or maybe even “common sense.” While many are saying that he has gone too far this time, I think he is an example of what happens when those who aren’t pining away for the “good old days” (when whites made the rules for white benefit in openly oppressive fashion and got away with it) do nothing and let the people who do pine for those days go unchecked. Racism continues to thrive in part because white people on average are not comfortable with racial discomfort and instead use words to explain away such racialized actions or they resort to silence as in the case of LePage’s audience the other night (and silence is often implicit consent when it comes to racism). It took almost a full 24 hours for LePage’s latest gaffe to go public despite the fact that the room was packed full of people by all reports and there were members of the local Maine media in the room.
In a room full of people, not one person had the courage to stand up and tell LePage that his words were racist, hurtful and disgusting. That in an overwhelmingly white state, you don’t explicitly mention the whiteness of supposed “impregnation victims” unless you are juxtaposing that whiteness with something else and clearly pointing the finger at non-whites, and Black people in particular. That, combined with the almost 24 hours of silence, is far more unnerving to me than our buffoon of a governor running his mouth in a case of verbal diarrhea.
Of course now, in the aftermath, Maine is once again the laughingstock of the nation. For Maine’s nonwhite community, many of us are tired of feeling invisible most of the time and then being the targets of blame for the state’s problems, and feeling as if we must justify our continued presence in a gorgeous state that we choose to call home. Sadly, I fear this isn’t the last we have heard from LePage and his ilk, after all when we allow such ugly words to go unchecked, we encourage the hate and the fear to settle in and plant roots.
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28 thoughts on “Musings on D-Money, Shifty, Smoothie and Maine’s Governor…or Why The Hate Thrives”
White folks, it’s not your job to convince Black people that, despite of blatant evidence to the contrary, that race relations are hunky-dory and they should give Maine a try. Any Black person with a decent sense of self-preservation is not going to put their health and safety, mental or physical on the line so you can feel good about your state and yourselves as White people.
What is your job is to go to your fellow racist White folk and either, one convince them not to be racist or two ACTIVELY work against their racism and that of your governor and I mean do more than smile at the 2 Black folks you see weekly. If you want racism to go away, it’s not up to Black people to put ourselves on the line so you can play “diversity.” It’s going to take long, hard, unappreciated, no-you’re-not-going-to-get-a-cookie work and you all are past due for putting some skin in the game.
Thank you, Witchsistah! My thoughts exactly and much better expressed than I can. I’m over here in Vermont…THE whitest state in the Union. In Burlington and beyond, People of Color are stared at as if they are freaks everywhere they go and subjected to micro and macro-aggressions at every turn. As a friend says, “Vermont hasn’t even gotten to regular racism yet.” I’m white, living in central Vermont and engaging in a lot of Racial Justice efforts with and at other white people. Not writing to pat myself on the back (gag!), but just to say that the levels of racism here in this “nice” state with all the “nice liberal” people are no different here than anywhere in the U.S., which is to say – epidemic and everywhere and deep and institutionalized into the fabric of…everything. I’ve lived all over the U.S……and I am leaving Vermont, because in spite of feeling quite at home here in many ways amidst the liberals and progressives…the lack of diversity here is soul-destroying. People are so goofy and clueless and naive about racial issues here, even the ones that are kind of supportive. Mostly, they don’t think it’s their problem…because there are so few people of color here. That’s a truly wacked-out thing to believe. There is little understanding of white privilege, white fragility or the experiences of people of color. It’s as if it’s all a story about somewhere else. Whew.
I was very seriously thinking about moving to a suburb of Portland within the next year, but I was concerned over the lack of diversity. After your governors comments I really don’t think I want to!
While Portland is becoming more diversified thanks to the beautiful African refuge families amidst us — the area and state does have issues — lack of jobs and even if a professional job is offered the competition is such that you can expect to be paid about $15, 000 a year than the same job in NH. In spite of all of the negative press around Governor Le Page this is one of the many issues that he iis attempting to address here and as well putting teeth into changing the horrible abuse against women here, the high rate of incest and the drug epidemic now facing the state. Governor Le Page has a fantastic history of running away from a very abusive home situation, spending several young teen age years on the streets of Lewiston ME. One of the many French Canadian towns here that has the KKK on their backs for years. He was taking in by several local families. Was able to take his college admissions in his first Language of French. And did well as a business in both Maine and Canada. Becoming the mayor in the small town of Waterville. And as payment forward took a young Afro Caribean teenager into his own home. In spite of the negative and selective press given him – most Mainers over look his slips and roughness. Good grief his impeachment hearings today up at our State House is being run by a Portland Green that kicked his girlfriend out of their apartment after roughing her up ( my source is valid).
OOPS ! …..that would be $ 15, 000 more than the same job in Maine. And indeed as you can see — Maine Media is rather selective as to what news they report and what they do not. For example of the “slips” charged on Le Page was his reaction to the Portland NAACP however what was overlooked was that he has always since his Waterville mayor days – honored Dr. King at a Waterville Breakfast . What nary a mentioned was this—- when LePage was running against the Democrat Lady, Libby Mitchell ( who’s roots go way back to the South Carolina hinder lands and prides herself on learning her political skills at the feet of her white southern relations !!!!!!) and the Independent , Elliot Cutler. The Portland NAACP was snubbed as well by Ms. Mitchell and as a result the whole chapter including myself voted for Elliot Cutler !
Shay, I would not begin to question your perspective because I am not a black woman living in this environment and you are, therefore please don’t take anything that I am going to say as a challenge to your perspective. You’re living this, and you know how it is.
You and I have been residents of Maine approximately the same amount of time (it’s going to be 16 years for me in March). I grew up and lived most of my life in NJ, where people are supposed to be “progressive,” but I have to tell you, I witnessed more hate speech and racism there than I have in Maine. It was just more carefully veneered, and came out of the mouths of yuppies in upscale neighborhoods with BMWs in their driveways, but still as vile. These were so called educated professional people making racist assertions about “you know, the kind of people who live in Trenton” from their posh Princeton addresses seven to ten miles away. So, this scourge is everywhere, wrapped prettier in some places but always as ugly underneath.
I live in Oxford County. I don’t have to tell you what that means. Here we have poverty, heroin (oh, and by the way, the dealers – when arrested – all seem to be white), relatively high unemployment rates, and low education levels. We also have a predatory casino that thrives on the desperation that surrounds it. This is the kind of “interior Maine” that some of the other commenters have targeted as particularly racist. But we also have, in my particular area, downtown Norway – a mid-revitalization main street town that’s been featured in Downeast and other magazines for its progressive character, not only economically, but socially. The people I know who are bringing Norway back with love and community mindedness are horrified by this governor and by his supporters. I would beg you and everyone reading this not to give up on rural interior Maine. The seeds of positive change are here.
LePage was only able to gain power because we do not have a system that protects us against someone like this winning with less than 50% of the vote (which is why I support the ranked choice voting initiative). LePage is a horrible person. I don’t think there’s any way around that as a valid opinion of his character. He is not a good man, but he does not represent the people of Maine. He represents a loud, willfully ignorant, racist minority, just as Donald Trump does nationally. As a person who has not had to face racial discrimination personally, I am continually embarrassed and deeply angered by this governor. I can not even begin to imagine (and I mean that literally – I have not walked in your shoes) what this incident and so many others like it have meant for you. I am so sorry that this is happening in our state. LePage, Trump, Cruz, and other totalitarian leaning politicians really scare me, not only for who they are but for the level of support they are able to raise. I do believe, though – and this is big for me because my faith in humanity is currently pretty low – that this is not the prevailing character of the majority of Mainers.
I agree completely, however, that when we are silent we are complicit. While I do not believe that the majority of Mainers are like LePage and his ilk, I do believe many are guilty of simply tolerating him with a sense of quiet desperation and trying to survive until his reign of ignorance is over. This is in part because they don’t know *what* to do, and in part because those who support LePage are such bullies that those who don’t are likely intimidated by them. That has to change.
I don’t have the answers here. I find what’s happened to our state under this regime absolutely devastating – socially, environmentally, economically, and more. I hope once we are rid of him things get better for all of us, but particularly for you and for everyone else this garbage governor has harmed.
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