Brown faces in white spaces…thoughts?

This weekend I had a chance to leave my little hamlet and venture into the big city of Boston, MA with the girl child for some one on one quality time. The past few weeks have been hectic with me dealing with various health issues and a crazier than usual time at work, so we needed some time together. To make it extra special I decided to take the train which the girl had never been on, hell she even got her first cab ride! I am so glad to know that cab drivers still drive crazy in larger cities!

Our travels took us to the Boston Children’s Museum which I must admit was fun even for me…I generally loathe Children’s Museums but this one had the perfect balance of exhibits to entice even the most cold hearted to connect with their inner child. The other thing this museum had that our local Children’s Museum never has was a great ethnic and racial mix of folks. Seriously, it felt good not to be the only darkie, to be in a space where I could just concentrate on being present in the moment with my daughter. I admit I was more than a tad sad to head back home and since then have been wondering is it possible to raise a healthy well adjusted child of color in place that is lacking in melanin?

I have been in Maine nine years now, in the first few years here I made regular trips back home to Chicago and into Boston but overtime life changed, finances dwindled and travel simply wasn’t a priority. I admit as lovely as the idea of not being in Maine is the reality is financially I would be shooting myself in the foot. Yet there is that gentle nagging that makes me wonder is this the best place to raise a child of color? My son spent a good chunk of his childhood here and believe me, when he first landed in Maine it was very different than the Maine we now live in. While he now goes to college in the Midwest, he loves New England, its home to him…but he also had the advantage of having spent his early years with me in Chicago surrounded by my family and others so he had a different foundation than my daughter. One that I think has served him well in navigating white spaces.

All this to say I am well aware of the fact that I am not the only person of color that grapples with raising kids in predominantly white spaces. I have several friends here (also Black) who have raised Black kids in Maine; one is now retired with sons who graduated from college a few years ago. In her case, one son hated Maine so much he rarely visits; the other son eventually did come back to Maine after college and now lives in New Hampshire with his partner. Interestingly both boys decided after growing up in Maine to attend historically Black colleges. This family was originally from Boston and had summered in Maine before making the choice to live here year round. My other friend also raised sons in Maine; her eldest just graduated from college this past spring and is back in Maine looking at job offers in Maine and in other parts of New England. This particular friend is a very afro centric sista who moved here from New York City because she wanted affordability and some connection to nature and knew there would be a trade off to achieve those things. But I have always loved how despite being in this very white space she created a home for her boys and often has served as the unofficial ambassador bringing together all of us brown and black folks who do call Maine home. In my early years we often got together for Thanksgiving, a potluck event that brought together African American, Caribbean and Latino influences.

In both instances these were families who are educated and basically could have chosen to live anywhere yet were drawn to Maine but often have acknowledged the hardships yet both have often told me and reminded me that raising Black kids can be hard period so don’t sweat the small shit. I know…I know but it’s hard not too.

I think back to my own childhood growing up in Chicago and while I had 2 Black parents, I rarely went to schools where there were more than a handful of Black kids. It is no secret that despite being the third largest city in the US, Chicago is a pretty racially segregated place once you get out of the downtown and north side lakefront communities. I knew kids from the area my grandparents lived in who never had white friends, the only white folks they saw were teachers, police, etc. I also know that sadly in many parts of my hometown Black kids see Black folks but they aren’t always seeing the most positive role models. I also know that outside of a handful of communities in the US that sometimes we as Black folks can be as intolerant and bigoted towards our own kind if they display any type of difference that we find threatening. Coming of age in the 1980’s as a Black girl who liked non-Black music and expressed myself wearing combat boots and other “white” things was painful and I still bear those scars. I do believe there is a greater spirit of tolerance in some areas though. I keep hearing wonderful things about Brooklyn but never having been there I can’t speak firsthand.

I have heard rumblings that when the Census Bureau releases its stats in the next few days it will show that for the first time ever, New York City will show a decline in Black folks. Already the information in general is showing that Blacks are leaving larger cities instead going south but I also believe coming to smaller states that traditionally don’t have great numbers of people of color. One of the interesting things that have come out of writing this blog for several years is the number of Black folks who contact me because they are interested in living in Maine. I often joke the state of Maine should contract with me as the face of diversity in Maine since apparently between my blog and other writings I am the only Black writer (we had another brotha who worked for the state’s largest paper but he moved south to Beantown) in the state.

So I pose the question is it possible to raise well adjusted children of color in white spaces or spaces with little diversity? If you have done it or are doing it I would love to hear your experiences. Do you think it’s even something we should consider? Is it harmful to a child to grow up in a space where they are loved, that is safe and wonderful in many ways but lacks people who look like them?

Not all skinfolk is kinfolk…living in Maine while Black

From time to time well meaning friends and acquaintances who live back in Chicago or places with far more diversity than my current state of Maine will lament with me over how hard it must be to live in a state where to be honest there is not a lot of racial diversity. In my early days in Maine, I would often associate bad days with the fact that if only I had more folks who looked like me, all would be well. As if the mere presence of Black and Latino folks would be my magical Tara from which I would draw my strength.

In the past year though while I do wish certain products and services were more readily available, personally it bothers me less and less that there is not a great deal of diversity here. See, not all skinfolk is kinfolks to quote the marvelous Zora Neale Hurston. I was reminded of this recently when I went back to Chicago and actually decided to leave a day early after dealing with some interpersonal shit with my so called friends.

Let me go way back to a time when I was just a wee lass growing up in Chicago so you can get a sense of who I am. I grew up with two Black  parents who raised their 2 kids to be Black. Yet I was that geeky kid who well to be honest was bookish, my cool factor was diminished in the eyes of my aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members because we lived on Chicago’s northside and not in the hood. (considering my folks were Black hippies we were hardly living large, we were broke) I attended schools where in the early grades I was the only fly in the buttermilk to quote my Granny.

This meant when I got together with family and family friends I was teased mercilessly for talking and acting like a white girl. See Black Girl in Maine, cannot jump rope aka double dutch to save her life, my dancing skills are well limited though I actually keep time with the music these days and don’t make a complete ass of myself. Whenever I tried to hang with my folk’s fact is I got burnt emotionally and was made to feel like I didn’t belong and was not welcomed.

Last time I saw one of my most fervent torturers was almost 7 years ago when my Mom was dying and even then this relative tried to as we used to say throw shade on me and clown me. Only problem was at that point I was a grown ass woman and at that stage in my life with my Mom in rough shape I had no interest in playing those games. I also let that same relative know we could take it outside and she would learn that the lil girl she used to tease didn’t exist anymore. I might still talk white at times, but don’t get fooled, if need be I will handle my business. Interestingly but that relative died 2 yrs after my Mom and now what family members do talk to me, often talk about maybe there was value in the way my folks raised my brother and I. In our generation of the family we are the only two have had no brushes with the law, or any outward signs of hard living.

Funny thing is at this point and I think I speak for my brother we don’t give a rat’s ass about them; though the lack of family and my kids makes me stay connected in an indirect way because I feel my kids should at least know these folks. Even though not all skinfolk in ya kinfolk.

So yeah my relationship to most of my family except for literally a handful of folks is strained at best. I am not sure I fared better when it came to relationships with non family members. In the 5th grade I met a sista who has been in my life ever since. Yet some shit went down recently that has me realizing that not everyone we call a friend is a friend some folks are merely acquaintances even if we are tight and have known each other over 25 years. Those 2 facts don’t make us best friends forever…

Don’t get me wrong its not as if I have had lousy relationships with all folks of color and great relationships with white folks because that is definitely not true. No, instead I have realized its important for me to just be around good folks who nurture me and offer friendship who I can reciprocate with. Fact is some of the best damn people I have met in almost 40 years on this planet have been here in Maine. All except for a few are white but true connection allows for connecting across race and culture. Yes, there are differences and yes they can be annoying at times but at the same time it is very possible to make connections and find a home.

It’s that point that was brought home for me when I landed in Chicago a few weeks ago and as soon as I entered the terminal at Midway Airport, I saw a sea of faces that looked a like mine. For a moment my heart rejoiced but within an hour I was reminded again not all skinfolk is kinfolk as I stood in line for the bathroom and a woman who looked like me with a cellphone had a mouth so foul and believe me when it comes to cussing I can cuss with the best of them even I was bothered. It didn’t help that when our eyes met she gave me a look that chilled me, I would love to say that was a one time event but any illusions of connecting with the sistas went out the window. When I returned to Maine, I talked to a dear sista friend of mine who left Maine in the past year to be in a more diverse area and she confirmed that she too had had some of the experiences I had in Chicago on my brief trip. My girl had left Maine seeking to reconnect with Black folks for the sake of her own sanity and for that of her kids but realistically she had not found it though in her case she was close enough to her biological family that the move was still a good one.

There are places where Black folks connect and are good to one another, yet in many urban areas that is not the case, I am sad to say. Obviously there are a myriad of reasons for why our young are hell bent on destruction but coming from Chicago and being where I am now a place that while it lacks diversity and a few other things gives me a pace of life I do like. I think for now I am going to stay where I am until the wind blows me in a new direction.

Diversity cometh this way

Just a quickie today since I am off to conduct a training and feeling a tad under the weather. Portland is Maine’s largest city at roughly 65,000 inhabitants which really tells you how small this state is with a mere 1.5 million folks in a space that is as large as the other 5 New England states combined.

Anyway folks are often curious about how a Black woman (from Chicago of all places) can actually end up in Maine and moreso not want to slit her wrists…well its not easy but for the most part I like living here though I wish we did have a tad more diversity. That said, Portland our largest city and a mere minutes from my little town is about to get its first Black police chief. Check out this story, yep, James Craig a brotha from Los Angeles who currently oversees the gang and homicide unit in LA has decided to come to Maine.

According to the local media, he wanted a change of pace and even though he will be taking a substantial pay cut to be the top dog , I hope things work out well for him. Its funny because Portland also as a Black mayor, one Jill Duson who having met in passing once at a local event is a decent sista from what I can tell.

Strange, how in the whitest state, 2 of our largest cities, Portland and Auburn both have Black mayors and now we add a Black police chief.  Change is indeed a coming to a town near you, Black president, mayors in white states and so the list goes.

I’m just being silly but I just wanted to share that piece of news. All jokes aside, congrats Chief Craig and welcome to Maine.