When Racism Surfaces in a Small Maine Town

Noose found in Deer Isle, Maine – June 19th, 2020

While millions around the country were celebrating Junteenth, this was hung on the electric wires in a small island town in Maine. It is yet another reminder that Maine is not exempt from the racism being uncovered and boldly proclaimed throughout our country.

When I first saw this photo I stopped what I was doing and found myself thinking about how frightening it would be to see this if I was Black. And then I realized that was exactly what it was intended to do, scare the crap out of our Black and Brown neighbors and those who have stood up to support them. Well, it has accomplished the exact opposite. It has united us in our stand together for justice and the erasure of racism from our state and country. It has caused many of us to contact our state reps and demand they speak out. It caused others to have vigils in solidarity with our neighbors. And it caused others to unite for justice. We will not be intimidated.

While many have risen up to voice intense objection to this exhibit of hatred some have responded with undeniable racist comments that take your breath away when you read or hear them. Our “president” has certainly unleashed hate that has been revealing itself since electing Obama as president. For many, a Black president was just too much. His intelligence, education, and eloquence didn’t matter to them. Only his skin color mattered.

We’ve seen the photos of the KKK marching down Main St in Milo, Portland, Rockland and other towns in Maine in the 1920’s. So this should not be surprising.

We’ve seen photos of the KKK burning a cross in Rumford in 1987.

We even saw KKK flyers passed around the state a few years ago. So while I was sad and angry to see the photo of a noose in a quaint island town, I wasn’t surprised.

I cannot share the reaction of our neighbors who this noose was targeted to, but I can share mine. After shock, outrage, and sadness came confusion. Confusion over how to respond to this in a way that is supportive, effective, and responsible. A friend of mine said it well when she wrote, “It is a symbol of hate. I think the best way to respond is with symbols and actions that promote justice.” Molly Resnik. Thank you Molly; I couldn’t agree with you more. And that is what we must do. We cannot be silent in light of this act of hate designed to provoke terror. We’ve been silent for 400+ years and look where that has gotten us; to the photo above and of course to much, much worse.

Our country was built on racism. From the moment the first white European man stepped onto the shores of this continent racism was unleashed in all it’s ugly, harmful ways. Beginning with the taking of Indigenous peoples as slaves, to stealing their land and outright killing them. It continued under the guise of crafting a Constitution that claimed to grant rights “to all” but in reality those rights were only granted to the wealthy, white, landowning men. In all its savagery, it continued with the kidnapping and transporting of millions of people from Africa as slaves with the only goal of building the economy that became one of the “greatest” in the world. And it continues today in the forms of a for profit prison system and unjust drug laws that enslaves so many people of color all over again as well as many economic and educational injustices. So why it continues to surprise me really speaks to my ignorance and white privilege. A “privilege” if that’s what we want to call it, that ensured that I never learned the truths and evils committed in the name of our country. Never. Columbus, Jefferson, and Lincoln were just three examples of “heroes of amazing character and intelligence” that we learned about though the lens of upholding white supremacy. We were only taught the stories that kept the racist narrative alive and well. As they say, “You have to be carefully taught.” And we were carefully taught. And I believed it all, right into my old age. To keep white supremacy reigning in our country the distortion of these truths were carefully crafted and taught. Well, the internet is a lovely thing, and racist lies are no longer what we have to believe. We can “google” the truth.

Last week at a BLM rally a woman tried to intimidate my friend and I by driving her car up close to us while yelling profanities at us. She kept coming closer and closer, yelling louder and louder, until a police officer intervened. I wondered later what would have happened if she had been just a little angrier and drove a little faster. What if the police officer didn’t support the march and protect us? We’ve seen lots of evidence of this in other police departments all over the country. After the march, people proudly proclaimed how peaceful it was. Peaceful = success. Yes, of course we are glad it was peaceful. But I found myself thinking about that notion too. We still don’t want to be uncomfortable. We still want things to go smoothly, easily, calmly. But after 400 years+ of harm and violence maybe that’s not what we should use to gauge success. I am not advocating for violence in any way shape or form. But can anger arise and ever be ok? Can we feel uncomfortable and be ok? The answer needs to be yes. And not only can we, we should. Uncomfortable leads to growth and growth leads to changes. Deep systemic changes that are desperately needed and long overdue if we are going to continue to proclaim justice “for all”.

So back to that freaking, disgusting noose. We must not be silent. White people, this is a pleading call to speak up. Our voices, so long overdue, are needed and the time is ripe for helping create a large and lasting impact. BUT…. and this is a big BUT… we are not to out speak the Black and Brown community. We must listen to them, hear them, share their needs and their long overdue demands. This is not about us. Do not make it about us. We are not needed to be “saviors”. But we are needed.

Please call and/or write your state reps and your national reps. Call/write your governor, mayor, PD dept, city/town manager, school superintendent. Ask them what they are doing/saying to support this moment. Demand they speak out and work on changes that dismantle systemic racism in our legal, financial, and educational systems. March, hold vigils, create art, blog, speak on radio shows or podcasts, write letters to the editor, go to city council meetings and school board meetings (demand they be available via Zoom so those who can’t attend in person can still attend). But do not be silent.

We stand together, united in love, light, and solidarity demanding that we come through this more enlightened and kind, and with real justice “for all”.

Mary

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