It’s been almost five months since I last wrote about Maine’s bombastic governor, Paul LePage, who suffers from several chronic health conditions, ignorance and verbal diarrhea being chief among them. Just when I had started to forget that he was our dishonorable governor, he opened his pie hole and boy, was it a doozy!
To recap, in the event that you have been unplugged or hiding under a rock, civil rights legend and congressman John Lewis recently made a statement that he had no intention of attending the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump because he didn’t see Trump as a legitimate president. It’s safe to say that Lewis is not alone in his thoughts. Since at this point, we may never know which end is up as far as how Trump won.
The president-elect does not appear to be a man with a great deal of impulse control and rather than taking option A, which would be to say nothing or option B, which is to agree to disagree and let the matter die…well, he didn’t do either. Trump decided to go for option C, which is get on Twitter and assassinate Lewis’s character and say that Lewis represents a broken-down district and that he was all talk.
I don’t know, but given that Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders who actually worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and had his head bashed in for racial justice as well as being arrested numerous times during the Civil Rights Movement, I’d say that the last words that one could use for Lewis are that he is all talk. Lewis has literally put his ass on the line.
So while the rest of the country was paying homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this past weekend for the MLK holiday, the president-elect was showing the world why his nickname is Cheeto Jesus and reminding us that he is a petty little man.
Anyway, the situation ramped up when one of Maine’s U.S. representatives, Chellie Pingree, said that she too was taking a pass on attending the inauguration and, well, that’s when Maine’s chief buffoon, the dishonorable Paul LePage, had to throw in his two cents.
On a local Maine radio show LePage said the following: “John Lewis ought to look at history.” LePage told WVOM, a Maine radio station. “It was Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant that fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple thank you would suffice.”
Then if that wasn’t bad enough, a few hours later, LePage speaking to a reporter with the Portland Press Herald said that Black people and the NAACP should apologize to white folks. To be exact, here is what LePage said, “The blacks, the NAACP (paint) all white people with one brush,” LePage said. “To say that every white American is a racist is an insult. The NAACP should apologize to the white people, to the people from the North for fighting their battle.”
Mind you, LePage is the governor who said that President Obama could kiss his ass, and he had long refused any meaningful connection with the local NAACP. He is the same man who said that Black men are coming to Maine to sell drugs and impregnate its white women. He is also the guy with the “binder of drug dealers” that supposedly showed how most people involved in drug trafficking in Maine were non-white (something that was clearly disproved with actual crime statistics).
Now, it’s easy to chalk it up to LePage being racially ignorant and shake our heads, but frankly in the era of Trump, taking that tack is no longer acceptable. In fact, it is dangerous. The sad reality is that far too many white people are racially ignorant, meaning they have no idea Black American history is a part of American history and that it is far more complex than slavery, freed slaves and the Civil Rights Era. Most have no clue that the American government was complicit in creating the White American middle class while making sure than Black folks would always be relegated to a de-facto second class. That when we talk about the plight of Black folks in places like Chicago, we have to look at how the system created the conditions and that no amount of hard work and boot straps is gonna work, especially when the system has been rigged except for a few tokens that white people love to show off. Ben Carson, anyone? (Or any number of others who are the very rare exceptions to the rule, from notable generals to musical artists to actors to beloved athletes)
LePage’s words express a common misunderstanding of history. Lincoln didn’t exactly free the slaves because he was a wonderful man (in fact, he considered a plan to send them all back to Africa, even though the ones actually from Africa at that point were probably a very small percentage of the whole). And given that Ulysses S. Grant died in 1885 and that Jim Crow was alive and well into the 1960s, it’s safe to say that Grant was not leading the charge to end Jim Crow.
To LePage’s other point, I think that LePage said something that is unspoken but often thought in many white spaces. Look at the comment section of any race-based article and you will see white people telling Black people that we can go back to Africa if we don’t like it. Given that my ancestors were forcibly brought here and made to build this country, why exactly would I be going anywhere? Or if I am leaving, it seems that white people should leave too; after all, this country really belonged to Native Americans. But I digress.
There is an air of superiority that exists in many white spaces and frankly, despite the number of white people who are striving to break free from toxic whiteness, far too many are happy in their racial silos where whiteness is exalted and learning about other people rarely happens as anything other than a footnote.
If nothing else has come out of the 2016 elections, it’s that America is not nearly evolved as many thought when it comes to matters of race, gender and other difference from the cisgender straight white male “norm.” Given the gravity of what we are facing as a nation, we can no longer afford to look the other way or remain suspended in progressive disbelief when the LePage’s of the world speak. Men like Trump and LePage are not the outliers that many believe them to be; instead, they are the men in power who can make millions of people’s lives miserable. And the first part of resisting is to look honestly at what we are facing.
In looking at our shared reality, looking at white reality is an important first step and that requires acknowledging that millions of white people do not see non-white people as equal to them or perhaps even equal to the pets in their homes. And the next step? Being prepared to take an actual stand against everyone who feels that way, from strangers to your closest relatives, and to change that reality to something much more just and equitable.
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