Several years ago, when I was in college, my best friend and I were walking around downtown Portland one day when a pack of white college-aged men began to heckle us, as men feel compelled to do for some stupid reason. (Side note: Cut it out.) I rolled my eyes, felt exasperated and told my friend to ignore them. A few blocks later, a group of young black men did the same thing. And I felt a brief stab of fear in my gut.

I’m not proud of this story. There was absolutely no logical reason for me to react differently to those two situations. (And statistically speaking, the white guys were probably more dangerous – criminals tend to victimize members of their own race. Don’t believe me? Check with the Department of Justice.)

Like most Mainers (I hope), I was raised by parents who taught me that everyone was equal and should be treated that way – that, as a famous preacher once said, people should be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I’ve always believed that, and I still do. But as I learned that day, it is possible to absorb racist attitudes subconsciously.

A major problem with white people seems to be an unwillingness to accept a simple truth: You don’t have to be an active racist to have absorbed racist attitudes, or to accidentally say, do or participate in something racist. If you accidentally step on somebody’s foot, it hurts them, even though it was an accident and you didn’t mean to. You still owe them an apology, and in the future, you might keep a closer eye on where you’re stepping. I know it sounds like liberal-arts navel gazing, but thinking about your own thought patterns and being willing to examine subliminal biases is important.

A certain former Jackman town manager probably hasn’t accepted that truth, which is why he can call himself “not a racist” while literally advocating for segregation and a “monoculture.” Monocultures are for yogurt. Maine is not a monoculture and never has been. Sure, it’s one of the whitest states in the Union. But skin color isn’t culture. Only a racist who has lived in Maine for barely a year would think that. Maine is many cultures; we are Abenaki, we are Franco-American, we are Somali-American and Hispanic and Yankee. Our own governor spoke French as his first language!

As for the idea that Islam is incompatible with the West: My sister is a white girl from Maine who is also a Muslim. She converted to Islam two years ago, and so far, our family has not descended into religious warfare. When my father died, her Muslim friends and their families came to our Christian church to mourn with us. I wouldn’t give that up for all the lobsters in the ocean.

A forest that only has one type of tree is not only boring, but also unhealthy. The town of Jackman, which has beautiful woods, clearly knows this. (And I hope that all this national media attention from this week’s debacle at least brings in more tourists to a lovely small town, the vast majority of whose residents probably think “New Albion” is a stupid name in the first place.) Maine’s state flower may be the white pine cone, but if all we had were pine trees, nobody would show up in the fall to see our leaves change.

In Biddeford, you can hear old men talking in French at the Dunkin’ Donuts. In Portland, it’s young families speaking Arabic. In Buxton, it’s me speaking English. We’re all Mainers, we all have sore shoulders from scraping ice off our cars and we just want our coffee. This is our culture.

Yes, Maine’s demographics are changing. They need to, or else we won’t have enough young people to sustain our economy (and their grandparents’ Social Security checks). And maybe encountering people who look different from you or who speak a language that’s different from yours makes you feel uncomfortable. If so, think about why. Ask yourself what type of Mainer you want to be.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

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Twitter: mainemillennial