Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling thinks that depicting the governor as a member of the Ku Kux Klan verged on hate speech and is a “step too far.”

He thinks that the portrait trivializes the KKK. Not at all. Gov. LePage may not be burning crosses or lynching black men, but his insistence on singling out people of color as the sole source of Maine’s drug crisis in spite of evidence to the contrary, even when that evidence is shown to him, is racist speech.

This is the real hate speech, not the graffiti on some wall. And it is not the artist of that work who has gone a “step too far.” It is the governor himself.

What if, inspired by the governor’s false statements, someone decides to attack young black men and do bodily harm? Such things have been known to happen.

Racism is many things and does not have to be conscious to be racism. “I’m not racist. Why, some of my best friends are …” means the speaker is blind to his own prejudice.

The “gentlemen’s agreement” to discriminate among polite people who just don’t want “that kind” in their neighborhood is racism, but who among those polite people would see themselves as racist for such an agreement? They’re much more likely to agree with Robert Denbow (“Letter to the editor: Racism charge polarizes, just like it was meant to do,” Sept. 7) that it’s “today’s jaded sense of ‘no-nos’ ” and dismiss any criticism.

Linda Pankewicz