Who’s really playing politics? or the Maine GOP should stand down and listen

“The personal is political.”

Our lives don’t exist on just one course; they don’t just go in one direction. We have multiple selves and experiences that criss-cross, tangle and run parallel. Yet for far too many years as a society, we have asked people to deny the existence of the multiple intersections that make up the totality of their experiences and individual personhood. Thankfully, that notion is slowly being dismantled as technology like social media and newer learning makes clear that we are not all simply humans but that instead we carry with us our multiple realities, whether they be queer, people of color, able-bodied, spiritual, cis-gendered and more, in whatever combinations make us ourselves. Yes, that change is coming, though slower than I would like.

Which is why in the aftermath of a recent hate crime outside of Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, it was remarkable to see the student body rallying around four Black students who were accosted by a white man as they waited for the bus.  Portland School superintendent Xavier Botana not only condemned the acts but given that the attack occurred after President Trump issued a temporary travel ban barring people from seven Muslim majority countries along with the ongoing discussion of erecting a wall between the United States and Mexico, the superintendent didn’t shy away from touching upon these facts in his remarks.

Since Trump was elected, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a spike in hate crimes across the country. Closer to home in Maine, we are seeing KKK activity in a handful of communities and white nationalists across the country have openly spoken of feeling empowered and of wanting to establish white culture and the concept of Western Civilization’s superiority as the one single way of being in America. Lastly, we have Steve Bannon, who serves as Trump’s chief strategist and who has openly espoused white nationalist views. In other words, we are currently living in a climate where racial bigotry has been given a wink and a nod to come out of the shadows and where it has even been given keys to the doors in the highest corridors of political power. Hate no longer needs to hide in the closet, despite what many may believe. In electing a man whose rhetoric is inflammatory and racist, we have made the personal political.

In today’s edition of the Portland Press Herald, Jason Savage, executive director of Maine’s Republican Party, accuses  Botana of politicizing the hateful incident and states that he is creating a hostile environment for those who don’t share his views.

In the day and age of fake news and false equivalency, let me repeat again: the personal is political. And schools, if they truly want to be inclusive spaces of true learning and the development of critical thinking skills, cannot deny the realities of the larger world especially when students of color and their families are feeling the very real impact of the larger world and its implications.

The hostile environment has existed for a long time for people who aren’t part of white culture; the people Savage is so concerned about being “marginalized” are simply having to deal with a bit of uncomfortable awareness as their assumptions about their racial and moral superiority are questioned. That’s not hostility.

I would hope that anyone working in a school system could understand why we must speak truth to power and name the current realities, regardless of party affiliation.

The other charge lobbed at Botana is the use possible use of school time for the students to prep for a rally in support of the Black students. In a so-called democracy, teaching kids to use their voices is one of the most powerful things that we can do. It connects the book learning to real life application. If we can teach our kids about the Boston Tea Party and the power of protest that gave this nation its independence, why not have a practical application that is relevant and timely now? Frankly for far too long, we have lived with a passive approach to education in a white-washed context. The time has come to make a shift away from that.

One of the barriers to true racial and cultural progress is the inability of far too many white folks to actually understand anyone else’s perspective. To understand that we don’t lead single-issue lives. To see that race affects everything from the mundane such as stores that only carry shades of lipsticks and pantyhose geared towards white skin tones to our children being accosted on their way home from school, and sometimes our lives being cut down due to the color of our skin. Racialized incidents are a regular occurrence for many people of color, yet white people often are blind to that reality and in many cases cast suspicion upon people of color. The mindset of white supremacy is to deny the lived experiences of anyone but white people.

However, our hope lies with the younger generations who increasingly are trying to see beyond themselves. In the case of the students who rallied on behalf of their peers, they apparently wanted to make a difference and we would be wise to set aside our own biases and listen to them. They have much to teach us if we are willing to actually hear them. As for the Maine GOP, the needs of the many (and diverse) outweigh the needs of the few (and obstructionist/isolationist). Right now, the GOP is the one playing politics and attempting to inflame an already unfortunate incident. Trying to make mockery of the victims of the abuse and the culture that allowed that abuse to happen, and trying to make victims of those who are too comfortable in an age-old status quo and who need to open their minds and heart toward all humanity.
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The GOP and their Personal Responsibility Problem

It’s become increasingly clear since last week’s U.S. Presidential election (though it was pretty clear even before that) that there are a fair number of people who are in crisis. People who are now going off the rails. Wives running over their husbands, people committing suicide, relationships in tatters, and so on—so much of it related to post-election angst.

It sure doesn’t help that the fella who had the not-so-good fortune of losing seems to be the leader in this parade of “just can’t let go of the dream.” Mitt Romney on a conference call to supporters reportedly told them that Obama had a bigger turnout because of the freebies he promised his core constituents. His core constituents of course being the Blacks, Browns, and whoever else—mind you, I just paraphrased but it gets to the heart of what Romney stated. For starters why is Romney still having so-called private discussions? Dude after that 47% incident maybe you need to watch what you say in so-called private discussions. This is 2012; nothing is private.

I am less concerned though with what Romney said and more concerned about Romney’s sense of personal responsibility. Look, Romney is part of a group that believes heavily in personal responsibility and it seems to me that personal responsibility is a two-way street. That means a willingness to acknowledge one’s shortcomings and take responsibility for them. The truth is Romney and his clan had a weaker strategy and more importantly they greatly discounted how much the changing racial and cultural demographics would mean in this election. Funny thing is both on my blog and in columns I have talked extensively about America’s browning and what that will mean to America. Guess Romney and the folks he employed don’t read my work or the work of any of the other folks out there who have discussed these issues. Sorry, Mitt. Let it go.

Closer to home in Maine, in the continuing saga of GOP folks losing their minds, we have outgoing Republican GOP Chair Charlie Webster.  “In some parts of the state, there were dozens of black people who came in to vote,” Charlie Webster said in an interview. “Nobody in town knew them.” When I first saw this report, I was flabbergasted. Egads! Whole dozens of Black folks showed up in towns just to vote and no one knew them. Of course Mr. Webster didn’t name any towns, so the accuracy and veracity of his claims is suspect already, but the implication for those of us who are Black and who make Maine our home is that we don’t belong.

Choosing to live in Maine as a person of color is already an arduous task. For starters, Mainers aren’t always the most overtly warm and friendly bunch and in places like this it takes time to build connections. I have a Black associate who lives in the same town as me and has probably been here almost as long as I have, yet we rarely see each other even in a city of only 16,000. Now one might think surely we should see each other often, after all there aren’t that many Black folks here, but the reality is we are out living out living our lives.

There is also the fact that Webster’s assumptions play into the outdated notion that Blacks aren’t in Maine. Yes, Maine is a pretty homogenous state but Blacks have a deep history here in this state and to imply otherwise continues to show just how outdated and out of touch from reality the GOP has become.

If there were some voting hijinks going on, I hardly think anyone was sitting around and making a plan that included an idea to bus some Black folks into Maine. Maine has 4 electoral votes; sure, every one of those votes counted but not nearly enough to plan for the type of deception that Webster’s words seem to imply.

The bottom line is that the GOP needs to take a little responsibility for their loss and their inability to connect with the current electorate and not the one they dreamed of in their heads. Let go of these dangerous and harmful fantasies, guys.