Open Letter to Gov. Paul LePage from a Black Mainer

Dear Paul,

I hope that you don’t mind, but I am going to call you by your first name. I don’t stand on formality and titles are so overrated. Besides, to be frank, using language like “Honorable” doesn’t quite feel right in the context of what I need to say to you.

Paul, I am hoping this post reaches you but seeing as how you have publicly stated that you don’t really read the newspaper and don’t care much for journalists or blogger types, I am not holding out much hope that you will actually read this. However, I am hoping that one of your handlers will get wind of this and share the contents with you. Because I think you need to hear what I have to say.

My name is Shay Stewart-Bouley and I am a Black woman who lives in Maine. I write a blog called Black Girl in Maine and I have written for publications such as the Portland Press Herald, Journal Tribune, Portland Phoenix and the now-defunct Dig Portland. I have even appeared in a few national publications as well as a few anthologies. However, I am not a writer by trade. No, my current day job is as Executive Director of Boston based Community Change Inc, the oldest continuously running anti-racism organization in the country.

I currently live in the Portland area on one of the islands of Casco Bay though I spent many years in Saco and still have a family home there.

Paul, I have a big problem with the false narrative that you have been constructing around Maine’s horrendous drug problem. First off, Maine really does have a serious drug problem. From York County up to The County, drugs are a huge problem. However, this narrative that  you are fixated on is wrong and it’s downright dangerous. You seem hell bent on blaming out-of-state Black people, specifically Black men, for bringing their drugs up to Maine…thus insinuating that these out-of-state Black folks are the ones causing this drug epidemic.

You keep waffling on the race piece. I mean, you have always had some issues around race. I won’t go into your past because presumably you recall, but to be frank, I don’t think that you think that Black people are part of Maine’s history. Which is pretty funny seeing as how books like H.H Price’s Maine’s Visible Black History: The First Chronicle of Its People does a marvelous job of documenting the history of Black people in Maine. Never mind that many of our fine institutions in this state such as the University of Southern Maine even has an African American Collection of Maine History. I am just saying Paul…Black people have roots here. Some of them very deep and long roots. We are part of the community, albeit a small percentage, but we do exist.

The thing is that right now you are clinging to a dangerous rhetoric that causes Black people to be “othered” and given how on-edge people are about this drug epidemic, frankly I think it’s only a matter of time before someone is going to get hurt. After all, you have cracked wise about Maine being an open carry state and that maybe Mainers should just shoot dealers. Of course, every time you make one of these highly offensive remarks, you attempt to spin it but frankly I am tired of it and your latest comment about how you had to scream at the top of your lungs about Black dealers to the state legislature was the final straw for me.

Look, you don’t have to like me, I don’t have to like you. But as the chief officer of this state, you need to mind the gap between thoughts and words. You actually need to be a responsible and reasonable human being in addressing the state’s drug epidemic rather than assigning blame to Black boogeymen. Yes, there have been some Black folks from out of state who have been caught dealing up here but how do you think they got here? Real talk, Paul…someone had to tell these characters that there was even a market up here. My guess is that some white folks in Maine made those connections to even get that ball rolling. Trust me Paul, while you may see Black people especially Black men as subhuman magical beings that just landed in Maine and set up a drug shop, the reality is that it had to start here and most likely it started with white people. Never mind that last year, there was a record number of meth busts; pretty much everyone I have seen arrested on meth charges is a white person. Hell, meth pretty much seems to be a white boy’s game if we are being honest.

The thing is, your rhetoric isn’t doing anything to get help for Mainers struggling with addiction. After all, you have made it virtually impossible for single low-income folks to access healthcare. We have few treatment options to begin with and that says nothing for addressing the reasons why so many in our state are going down this path to begin with. Instead you are going for the cheap fearmongering tactics which aren’t getting anything solved.

Frankly, it is hard to be Black in a state like Maine. Hell, I moved here back in 2002 for family reasons and it continues to be a struggle to plant roots in a place where I am from away and I am Black. Raising kids in this state, however, gives me a moral imperative to speak up because I want my kids to feel that this is a safe state for them.  My eldest at 24 has long had to endure the weight of Blackness and maleness in this state. Our story isn’t unique. I know more than a few Black families in Maine where the duality of Blackness and maleness causes our sons to flee this state. I know Black women here who are reconsidering if Maine is a place where they can raise their families. In most cases these are white-collar, college-educated folks…a demographic that this state could use given that we have the oldest population in the state.

Paul, I guess I should wind this up but I would love to sit down and talk about race relations and give you some professional guidance wearing my professional hat. Though I suspect this post is nothing more than me spitting in the wind. However, I believe in the power of faith and I believe in the possibility of change so perhaps you or your handlers will reach out  to me so we can start a productive dialogue that will result in you not demonizing Black people and in real solutions to addressing the drug issue. Thanks for your time!

Shay Stewart-Bouley, M.Ed, aka Black Girl in Maine

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Musings on D-Money, Shifty, Smoothie and Maine’s Governor…or Why The Hate Thrives

“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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LePage is a boob but…

Uh oh…he’s done it again. Maine’s governor, Paul LePage has had another attack of foot in mouth syndrome, also known as asshole disease.  Since landing the highest office in Maine a couple of years ago, LePage has had a series of high profile flubs. They include telling the local NAACP chapter (yes, we really do have one in Maine) to kiss his butt after he was criticized for not attending annual MLK Day celebrations as his predecessors had done. There is also his infamous “little beards” comment; removing a mural from the Maine Department of Labor offices that depicted the history of the state’s labor movement and playing hide the mural.  The list of flubs is pretty extensive and to say that LePage is a man suffering from a lack of tact, would be one of the kindest things we could say.

However LePage’s latest bout of foot in mouth syndrome has made the national news (I personally think this guy likes being known as the boob of Maine) when it was reported that LePage told a group of Republican Maine lawmakers at a private function that President Obama hates white people. Now there is a lot of speculation about whether or not this is true but considering LePage’s track record, if he said it I wouldn’t be surprised at all. LePage is a man who seems to court controversy.

Of course the usual suspects are groaning and moaning over these allegations, after all LePage is making Maine look like a backwater of bigotry. He is but the truth is that we also aren’t nearly as evolved as we like to think that we are. Sure, Lepage’s winning was a strange fluke of sorts caused by the inability of others to get their shit together.

However after eleven years in this state, while I think there is a lot of ignorance due to a lack of exposure in this state, there is also a lot of acceptance of the status quo when it comes to matters of difference. Unlike some parts of the country where people are vocal in their dislike, Maine is different; it is a very polite place. Yet that surface politeness is a cover for true feelings that are well hidden. It’s a place where you can be friends with someone, become their kid’s godparent and read in one of the largest papers of the state, how said friend looks at people of color and thinks monkeys. It’s a place where there is a lot of talk around change, tolerance, and acceptance especially in our urban core Portland but at the end of the day there is very little actual change. Our talk of change and righteous indignation over obvious boobs such as Paul LePage feels good but rarely do we really look at ourselves.

This piece was in today’s Bangor Daily News and it struck a nerve with me “Maine is not the enlightened bucolic spot that some believe it is. There’s a cancer here that the governor feeds.” Maine like most of the US, wants to be more than it really is with regards to tolerance and acceptance but sorry kids, we aren’t there yet. Almost every friend of color, I have made in my years here has moved on and out of the state. The number one reason they leave? It was just too much to live and raise kids here. I keep trying to get a few of them to return since misery loves company but sadly I have had no takers. Racism in Maine is not a grand and open affair; it is a series of micro aggressions that piece by piece steal away at your dignity reducing you to a bitter shell. I fight against it by writing and doing a few other things, but there are some days, I surrender to the knowledge that on any given day, most of the people who I deal with, would rather not deal with me. They probably aren’t even aware that they are sending out those signals but they are.

So while Lepage may the state look bad on the national stage, in many ways he is a reflection of who we really are and the values that we really hold dear. Just that as a walking clown with no tact, it is far easier to laugh at him.

By the way, I know that there are some truly good people in Maine but we simply need more of you, you are too few in numbers especially in a state of this size.

PS: Thanks to all who have reached out to me after my last post, it really means a great deal.