“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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