“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”
[Of course now, in the aftermath, Maine is once again the laughingstock of the nation.] That is a spot that I thought belonged to West Virginia & MIssissippi, but clearly there is room for Maine in this bunch.
West Virginia also has a heroin epidemic, as well as a high number of prescription drug abusers with a spiraling downward of the coal industry. So, when exactly do we discuss the economic and cultural climates that become fertile ground for a drug trade and an addiction problem to take hold, and how to correct that problem? That discussion will start when folks can get past race/ ethnicity and address “ism’s” without perpetuating them further.
As your commenters have indicated, finger-pointing always seems t be the modus operandi of those who seek to maintain control by scaring the hell out of citizens because they themselves are scared and unknowledgeable of how to address and correct situations affecting citizenry.
LePage’s comments don’t surprise me solely based on my one visit to Houlton, Maine years ago to visit relatives. That visit was eye-opening.
Maine is indeed, unfortunately the “Mississippi of the North” but unlike Mississippi who fully acknowledges its issues and is working them out — Maine is still in total denial !
I just want to say that I feel horrible that “our” governor could be such a piece of trash. I live in Portland, but I’m from further north. I was raised to respect everyone; that race was not a thing to judge people with. And I’m proud to say that my older Mainer parents continue to be open loving people that don’t care about the color of a person’s skin.
Of all the responses I’ve read concerning LePage’s racist comments, you have come the closest unearthing the latent racism and sexism that exists in Maine society. It is painful for me to admit this, for I am from here and love this place deeply. The ways in which Maine people may disagree yet respect another to hold their own opinion may be what enables racists and allows their beliefs and attitudes to go unchallenged.
Thank you for your work towards creating a place that’s safe and welcoming to all. It’s long work.
On the flip side …. when hanging around Portland High School (actually waiting to catch a Metro Bus)… I am always totally impressed by the “black students”– both girls and boys. When compared to the “white students”— they are so much more mature, so much better mannered and I never see anyone smoking. Just nice and very wholesome kids when compared to the smoking, swaggering and ill dressed “white student”— boy and as well girl. I doubt vey much that any of these black female students would place themselves in the position of doing street drugs or getting impregnated. Maybe this is after all a “white problem” in Maine ?
When I heard about what LePage said yesterday, I found myself horrified on several levels. The first is was the shock of the comments themselves… Horrible, racist assumptions that it’s deplorable that no one called out.
But it goes far beyond just racism… What LePage said deflects attention for the matter at hand. Maine (as well as New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts) has a serious heroin problem. There’s a lucrative drug trade between New York/Southern New England and Northern New England.
So, when exactly do we discuss the economic and cultural climates that become fertile ground for a drug trade and an addiction problem to take hold, and how to correct that problem? Oh wait. We don’t, because folks like LePage would rather point fingers at boys with brown skin and funny names than to say, take an honest look at what’s happening here.
Epidemic level heroin addiction doesn’t arise in a vacuum. Healthy happy people don’t wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll take a shot of heroin and quit life today, sounds like a fine idea.” No, it’s a symptom of something deeper. Poverty, social isolation, depression, hopelessness, lack of a will to live. Why aren’t we looking at why so many Mainers are so unhappy that they’ve decided that heroin is their best option to get through the day? Why aren’t we talking about how to give these people a reason to live for and recovery?
And if we’re going to talk about racism, why aren’t we talking about the racism that occurs in states like New York and Connecticut which hinders people of color from attaining well paying jobs, perpetuating the cycle of poverty in the communities that D-Money, Shifty, and Smoothy come from? The decision to make a career choice of dealing heroin doesn’t arise in a vacuum either. That also comes from not having any hope of a better option. *mic drop*
Exactly…lack of hope, not only in our youth…poverty, housing crisis, lack of jobs, violence….your comment is spot on
The interesting part of the lack of immediate media attention is that it too a Republican operative, Lance Dutson, to sound the alarm with a Thursday (I think) press release.
Shay, my name is Gloria Tripp Harrison, I am a descendant of Malaga Island, if you have read the history, you have probably heard of it. My Dad was a descendant of the island and a lot of history goes along with it. Would like to talk to you, If interested, please email me.
To just add. While Malaga like many coastal islands up and down the Casco Bay were
welfare sites….. for example the now very gentified Peaks Island was used by Portland’s Social Services as a dumping ground for its welfare population in the 1960’s … the difference between Malaga and the rest is that its population consisted mostly of mixed race “black and whites” families. An inconvenient fact that was recently “outed” !
In response to the other comment, my understanding of Malaga would not lead to my calling it a “welfare island.” Malaga was inhabited by pretty independent families and the state decided to commit what basically amounted to a genocide against those people. This horrible injustice occurred in 1912. Please see a short film on this history here: http://www.malagaislandmaine.org/
Here I am quoting an USM anthropologist. The fact that the school was run by missionaries and other factors would qualify it as welfare …..but independent they were and as mixed race were expendable.
It saddens me to hear of your challenges in Maine. I come from a mixed faith background — my mother was Catholic, my father was Jewish (I was raised Jewish). Years ago, this combination was equally “shunned” and I suffered considerable prejudice growing up — even in my native New York. I don’t know if it helps but I do not regard LePage as my governor. He is an unfortunate leader and I cringe at the mere mention of his name. I think we came here for the same reason — the incredible, natural beauty of this state. I can tell you that there are good, welcoming and caring people who live in Maine. Yes, there are those “unfortunates” like LePage but they do exist in every community and every state in the nation. In short, please realize that good exists here — in the people and in the natural splendor here — and you are welcome in Maine.
Thank you for writing this. Especially this: “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.”
Yes. This. Inexcusable.
Wow what an eye opening post, maybe I shouldn’t move to Maine from California. After reading your article Maine seems very barbaric and unwelcoming to people of color.
… and she is spot on in her summation of the State. For the most part there is a veneer over the racism, but that has worn thin in some places and has come completely off in others…. Portland and much of the coast is very progressive, but as you move into the interior and north of the State you find the attitude she expresses more prevalent. As someone who was born here, I used to think most of Maine was progressive, but since the 1st LePage election it has become very clear that Maine, like much of this country, still harbors the kind of belief system that we fought the civil war over.
Don’t move to Maine, my friend. Not until that puke that some call their governor is done. He is “the worst” of Maine people…and there are many. 🙁
Yes please move to Maine—We are not all as ignorant as Mr. LePage. Shay has portrayed the State of Maine as backward as the South was in the 50’s. We are not. She says that outside Portland and some coastal areas we are an ugly unaccepting state. We are not. Every community, in every state, has ignorance in some form or another; Maine is no different. Mainers are known for their kindness, willingness to help others, hard work ethic, and respect for tradition. But they have also learned that change is necessary. No. we don’t have the cultural diversity that big cities do but our state has diversity. We are told there are two Maines–how many states are told this? Though we don’t have large racially diverse population, ours is growing as many displaced families from all over the world are settling within our borders. Shay I am sorry that you have had a terrible fourteen years here in the ignorant State of Maine. I only wish you hadn’t lumped everyone outside of coastal Maine and Portland into one big pile. Some of us–in fact most of us–are very friendly, accepting people who want nothing more than the best for our state!
In contrast to its beauty, Maine is a very rural, poor state with not only object poverty found here but abuse. The young child -particularly females are born into families in our coastal and Western mountains and now progressing on to our urban areas — where not only is poverty but addictions – drug, caffeine and alcohol a part of their daily life as is incest, rape and abuse. The culture is multigenerational and its source is white male entitlement passed down from father to son, to grandson. This is the environment that Governor Le Page was exposed to as a child . Able to surmont this environment – it is his administration and his only that has passed those initiatives such as “violence against women”, addictions and welfare acts in an attempt to counter such pathology. Yet there is an element of elites here that have attempted to block every one of his initiatives. Not only is Governor Le Page involved here but as well are local initiatives such as “Boys into Men”. Meeting with their staff in Augusta, their main issue was the sugar coating of this problem to the extent that Sheriffs knowing these families well – however charge such “heads of households” who do rape their daughters with a lesser crime in order to avoid a prison term – for to do so would mean that the family is now a public charge !
Beth, to be perfectly frank, you’re wrong. And it’s not about lumping “the rest of Maine” in there either. I’ve spent all of BGIM’s years in Maine right alongside her, and much of Southern Maine is the same way. Mainers are superficially polite but not accepting or embracing. That’s one big reason why non-Mainers are referred to as “From Away.” Outsiders are not embraced unless perhaps they are committed to keeping Maine the way it always has been (which isn’t, generally speaking, really the “way life should be”). People who aren’t white get even less welcoming treatment, even if they get surface politeness…even if they are willing to say, “Maine is great and let’s keep it the way it always has been without change!” Maine is not an awful, evil place. But to paint it as progressive, tolerant or welcoming to outsiders is a farce. And while you might be very open and welcoming (but perhaps less than you think your are maybe) and your neighbors might be (but trust me, most of them aren’t as open as you think), a huge swath of Maine wants no part of embracing major cultural or racial change. Period.
LIke she said…once you leave Portland, things change..MaINE is huge, rural and very much uncomfortable with non-whites…it’s not impossible to fit in, but not easy either…he was elected TWICE.
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