How not to have a Black friend

Cross cultural relationships can be a wonderful thing; hell I think they are so wonderful that I married a white guy! Honestly though, there are times when cross cultural relationships can be landmines where one party says or does something that is so outrageous that frankly it endangers the relationship. In honor of Black History Month and a speaking engagement I have tomorrow on Maine’s Public Radio Station (MPBN)  where I along with several others will be discussing what it means to be Black in Maine, today’s post feels quite timely.

I have spoken many times about my greatest challenge of living in Maine, my inability to make friends. No, not acquaintances, friends; people that I really feel I can reach out to if I am in need of a fellow human. The sad truth is I have made very few friends in my decade here and that will probably be the reason I eventually leave Maine. Living here is pretty damn lonely.

Admittedly Mainers appear to be very private people who while pleasant enough, just don’t welcome newcomers into their midst. I get it, I really do. Yet what about the others who like me are from away? Well, I find that too many times, well-meaning people inevitably say or do something that reminds me that they have little experience with people of difference and at this stage in my life; I don’t want to be anyone’s Black friend. Sorry. I did that in high school and I am not doing it again.

In the past several months, there have been signs that this blogging/writing thing might have some real growth potential for being something other than my private thought dump. Obviously, I have been excited, hell; writing has always been a dream of mine. Now I admit maybe I have been too eager to share good news with my” friends”, but isn’t that what we do? We share our ups and downs with friends. On more than one occasion, I have been met with responses that frankly left me shaking my head. People who are really sweet and nice who truly believe they are open minded and that they really aren’t bigots have basically told me “I guess being Black is working well for you.” The implication being that I am a talentless hack and the only reason that anyone pays any attention to anything I am saying is because I am Black. The first time it happened, I brushed it off and gave the person the benefit of the doubt but after a few more very similar exchanges, my spidey sense was alerted.

Hold up! Are you implying that the only reason that I have received any opportunities is because I am Black? Are you actually taking out the much talked about race card and using it on me?  Do you even know what you are saying?

This may seem like a funny conversation considering that the name of this space is ‘Black Girl in Maine’ but that is what I am. Yet what many people who have only known me a few years don’t know is that prior to the realization that I needed to move to Maine, I was in the process of applying to graduate school to with the goal of earning a Ph.D. in African-American studies. That’s what I studied at the undergraduate level and it was only after physically moving to Maine and after I had applied to several graduate programs in the Boston area and was accepted that I realized that distance wise there was no way I could go to an intense graduate program two states over. So, I went to career choice number two which considering that I had already been working in the non-profit sector and I made lemonade out of lemons. When life throws a roadblock up, you either plan out a new route or go back home and going back wasn’t an option.

My passion for African-American studies has never waned and for me to find myself occasionally serving as one of the voices of Black Maine while odd (after all, I am not from Maine, I just live here) is something that I am happy to do.

However to have it implied that it’s only my Blackness that has helped things along is silly at best and quite insulting at worse.  For starters there are 17,000 other Black people in Maine and we are not a monolith and to imply otherwise is to show one’s ignorance. Black folks in Maine are pretty damn diverse; there are Black Mainers with deep roots and history in Maine such as the Talbots. There are the many immigrants and refugees from a variety of African countries who have chosen to make Maine their home and a slew of folks like myself from all over who have chosen to make Maine home.  In this moment, my voice may be one of the Black voices heard often but I don’t speak for anyone other than myself at the end of the day.

Talk of race is always hard but the walls of that great “ism” known as racism will never be broken down if we allow ourselves to hold to stereotypes and assumptions.  If we allow our eyes to never be opened and go back to our comfortable and familiar space that may actually be offensive to others, we can be assured that nothing will change in our personal world…and if you know me, you probably won’t be on my friend list no matter what you tell yourself.

Note: I apologize if my tone comes across as harsh, but I don’t apologize for how I feel. No one likes to feel that they are being othered or seen as less than.

I want to go home! Life in Maine as a Black Girl

A reader recently asked me about writing more pieces about what life is like in Maine as a Black person. Totally makes sense, after all this is Black Girl in Maine. It’s also incredibly timely since today is one of those days where like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I want to go home. Like can we pack it up and go now! When I get that feeling, I know I am overdue for a visit.

Next month will mark a decade in Maine, and while the first year or so was culture shock, things eventually settled down. To be honest Southern Maine where I reside has made huge gains in the past decade on the diversity front. When we first landed here back in 2002, I could go days without seeing another person of color and generally that meant going into Portland, Maine’s largest city. Yet the twin communities where I live and work have had a rapid browning, oh don’t get it twisted, it’s still pretty darn white. However to quote my six year old upon seeing that we now have a Black neighbor down the street “It’s good that we aren’t the only black people here now”. Yes, that is true. The community center I run, now has a diverse mix of kids, Black, White, Brown and Tan, all being kids and having fun together. It’s so diverse now that I actually have my daughter come in a few days a week so she can actually make friends with kids like her. She is loving it.

Yet it’s still lonely. This past year has been hard on me, as I have struggled with doing some heavy lifting in my marriage that has resulted in some of the highest highs and lowest lows, I realized that I need a real support system here and that’s where sadly I feel blackness is challenging in a state like Maine. Aside from 1-2 people I know in this state, there are still those awkward moments that arise when people don’t know what to say, when political correctness stands in the way. Most native born Mainers I know unless they have left the state and lived elsewhere tend to have very little experience interacting with real life Black people and at times it shows. As I have shared before, I don’t find much hardcore racism but I do find people who at times are pretty damn awkward.

Let me be clear, it’s not always about race, as a native Midwesterner I think some of it is actually regional differences. Truth be told, I find East Coast Blacks to also be different than what I knew back in the Midwest. For starters many East Coast Black folks have a different background than those of us from the Midwest, more Caribbean roots than those of us with direct Southern roots and it can make things awkward at times. I talked to a sista I know from Texas who spent some time living in Boston and she mentioned a similar experience. I’m a down home bigmouth, sure I am a college educated professional but at the same time when I am relaxing, well shit…I like to kick back, get loud and let my hair down. I have yet to find the Black folks in Maine or anywhere near me with a similar outlook. Difference is good, it’s all valid but sometimes I want to be able to let loose and be me. That’s why I know I need a visit home.  Thankfully I put out the bat signal today and it seems my crew back home is going to make that happen…I see a long weekend that will include many whiskey sours, deep dish pizza and closing down this place at least one night.

Another challenge to life in Maine I have noticed and yeah it’s silly and vain of me but this is my space and I write what I like, is that in Maine, I don’t exist as a woman. I never quite realized that until recently when the reality that the Spousal Unit and I may be no more started to look more and more possible. Of course my mind started in on what about dating? The man and I had a great laugh about how we had traded places, prior to life in Maine, he was the invisible man, but like a fine wine he has aged well and women notice him. I on the other hand have become invisible, I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me after all I have single Black women friends in Maine who have told me all about their dating woes or rather lack of dating lives. I had heard them over the years but until recently never noticed it nor thought about it, but in realizing I may be joining their ranks I decided to check out the landscape…oh my! For a cocoa brown sista with short natural hair, there is no love. Thankfully for the moment I don’t have to worry much about this, but I won’t lie it did shake me a little to think that basically my very essence as a woman, a sexual being is not even noticed in this state.

In the end, Maine is a nice place, I like it, I am not sure what our future together will bring but at the moment, I am looking forward to going home where friends and family will nourish my soul on every level.

Looking for non-white folks who live in Maine as well as working class folks in Maine

In light of a discussion that started on this blog a few posts ago, I would like to ask any folks who live in Maine who are either non-white or who hail from working class or even more humbler roots to consider doing a guest post here at Black Girl in Maine.

One of the reasons I started this blog last year was because as I like to joke it was cheaper than therapy but also I was interested in connecting with others….in the past year, I regularly get emails from folks particularly people of color who are either contemplating a move  to Maine or folks who recently moved here who are in a daze…

Maine has this amazing reputation outside of New England of being a place of lighthouses, lobsters and leisure. Yet those of us who make are home know there is so much more to our state, but at the same time its a place where there can be a lot of ugliness if you are not white or poor. I will say that the first 2.5 years here were the hardest in my life, the only reason I stayed is because my position back in Chicago had been filled and I had no place to go back to, otherwise we would have left most likely.

Anyway I know there are a few folks who lurk here on a regular basis and I would encourage you to share your stories about Maine. Oddly enough BGIM started off as a predominiantly Black blog but it seems my demographics are shifting and because of that I think there is great potential fo a dialogue that can be beneficial for all.