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.