Maine has had a long, painful relationship with racism. To say otherwise wouldn’t just be disingenuous – it would also be historically inaccurate.

Maine gained its statehood through the unfortunately named Missouri Compromise, in an effort to balance the number of free and slave states in the Union. Our geographic location in the United States (the northernmost contiguous state), coupled with our being one of the whitest states in the country, has given us a comfortable excuse since before the Civil War to declare that race is not an issue here.

The truth is more complex, of course, as racism and its supporting philosophy of nativism have long made their home in Mainers’ hearts.

I grew up in Augusta. As a student in Maine’s public school system, I did not learn that the town of Milo was the site of the Ku Klux Klan’s first daylight parade in the U.S., nor how Klan members helped elect Owen Brewster to the governorship in 1924. Brewster would later serve as one of our U.S. senators from 1941 to 1952, becoming a key confidant of Joseph McCarthy.

My eighth-grade module on Maine history also somehow failed to mention the rampant land thefts committed by the state, well into the mid-20th century, against the various indigenous peoples of Maine.

Nor did it discuss how Maine communities worked in concert for decades to “Americanize” minority populations by stripping their children of their cultural and ethnic identities as well as their languages. What’s more, we still segregate students who speak English as a second or third language from the rest of their peers for large portions of the school day.

So I suppose it confuses me when I hear lawmakers ask whether the latest racist remarks made by Gov. LePage mean that he has a mental health or substance abuse issue. What he has said is as Maine as enjoying a lobster roll on the beach or a loaded baked potato in the County.

Consider the provincialism we were all immersed in as children, which is often misattributed to the fact that Maine is a natural tourist destination. Popular vernacular such as being “from away” or seeing an “out-of-stater” aren’t just the quirks of a society that relies on the service and tourism industries for its economy, but are in fact social constructions rooted in xenophobia and racism.

Beyond our strong strain of racist and nativist politics, one need only look at the data to see the truly stark racial disparities in the good ol’ state of Maine. The overall poverty rate in Maine was 14.1 percent in 2014 (federal guidelines defined a family of four who earns less than $23,834 a year as impoverished). That same year, the poverty rate for African Americans in Maine was more than triple that, standing at a staggering 46.5 percent.

Of course, black and brown Mainers face not just economic discrimination, but also law enforcement discrimination: A 2014 USA Today analysis found they were 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than their non-black counterparts in South Portland, 3.2 times more in Bangor, 2.8 times more in Lewiston and 2.6 times more in Portland. In comparison, black people in Ferguson, Missouri, were being arrested at three times the rate of their non-black counterparts during a time of intense national unrest over the issues of race and policing.

Maine clearly still has a significant issue with institutional racism, but arguably the politicians in Augusta aren’t that interested in solving it. But what does this all mean for LePage and his party’s racist rhetoric? Or Maine Democrats’ pragmatic utilization of the ensuing debacle to leverage voters toward their own political ends?

Well, Maine Republicans have stood by our governor through it all, whether it be his declaration of a war on drugs and the racial implications that holds, or his threatening the life of an opposing lawmaker. Beyond some vaguely condemnatory remarks made by Senate President Michael Thibodeau, Gov. LePage is getting another pass from the good ol’ boys to keep on inciting the masses against people of color.

Democrats have had neither the political willpower nor the moral backbone to see through previous censure or impeachment initiatives, and the House Republicans have just sunk an effort to convene a special legislative session to handle the crisis.

So it looks like business as usual, as I doubt the Maine Legislature will be proposing any meaningful bills to address institutional racism when they reconvene in January.


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