Y’all I am going through what legitimately might be the single worst period of my life with a heartbreaking and exhausting family health crisis, so I need to catch some joy and light where I can. And at least one small bit of light I was able to snatch this week in an off-year election cycle was news of historic election wins by people of color.
And one of those wins was close to home in Maine. As many of you readers know, I live in Maine. I live in Southern Maine. I live in the Portland area. Therefore, I live in the bluest part of state that otherwise tends to be fairly split down the middle. So when people of color (Black people in this case) like Pious Ali are elected to city council and people like Rachel Talbot Ross are elected to the state legislature (these two aren’t new wins this election, by the way), it’s great news (and welcome news and news we don’t get often enough) but it’s not entirely earth-shaking.
But this week something particularly special happened: Safiya Khalid, who arrived in Maine as a refugee about a decade ago, became the first Somali-American to be elected to Lewiston’s city council.
Look, if you’ve been reading my stuff long enough, Lewiston might ring a lot of bells for you. It’s where quite a lot of Somali refugees/immigrants were settled. It’s a fairly conservative town in one of the two whitest states in the nation. And there have been many tensions around welcoming (or more precisely, not welcoming) so many brown-skinned people, especially from another country, for many residents. Past mayors and other community leaders have, at times, been openly hostile to them.
During her campaign, she took some serious hits. Online trolls from as far away as Alabama and Mississippi rushed in to tell her to go back where she came from and tell her she had no right to be running for office.
But she won, y’all. By a significant margin. And at 23, she’s not only the first Somali person on the city council (itself a bit eye-opening considering how long Somalis have been a major part of the town) but probably the youngest person who will have sat on the council.
But she wasn’t the only such news this week. There were historic wins by candidates of color, notably several women. Nadia Mohamad, who is the same age as Khalid, scored a win much the same, becoming the first Muslim woman and first Somali elected to the city council in St. Louis Park, Minn. In Virginia, the state senate and the Fairfax County School Board got their first-ever Muslim women (and notably, Ghazala Hashmi also becomes the first Indian-American woman on the Virginia senate). Also, Chol Majok, a 34-year-old who fled violence in South Sudan, became the first refugee elected to public office in Syracuse, N.Y. Moreover, in Arizona, a state quite red, democrat Regina Romero became the first woman and first Latina to become mayor of Tucson.
None of this changes the fact that the United States is still a nation mired in institutional and systemic racism and has been steadily ramping back up on the interpersonal racism as well in the Trump era. But it does show that people can change. Voters can change. It shows that we can adjust our thinking to stop electing white people—especially white men—to every office. It shows that we can, if we choose to, make elected offices represent the actual population instead of the ruling power group (white men). We aren’t there yet, but we might be getting there.
And that, for the moment, can put a smile on my face as I survey all the crap piled around me (and us) in this world and wonder what to shovel next.
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