This past week, I watched protests unfold and ignite on my phone screen, scrolled past a Twitter feed full of chants and beatings and cops pepper-spraying indiscriminately. And I was struck by the dissonance, because I was reading it on the sofa in my quiet house on a quiet street with the smell of lilacs coming through the window.

I thought to myself, “We’re so lucky to live in Maine” – which I think at least 14 times per day on average – but this week, the peacefulness feels stale. It’s a peace brought on by the utter dominance of whiteness.

Maine is the whitest state in the union; whiteness blankets us like snow, muffling everything. We don’t have an epidemic of police killing unarmed black people because we don’t have that many black people, not because Mainers are magically less racist than people from other parts of the country. (I suspect our rurality plays a role in our lower rate of police violence, as well as the fact that our tiny town budgets don’t allow us to beef up our police departments with a ton of military surplus equipment. But mostly it’s the white thing.)

It’s a bit trite for a white writer like myself to quote Martin Luther King Jr, but he really had a point when he said there were two types of peace: “negative peace which is the absence of tension, (and) a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” I know which one we have, and I think our state deserves positive peace.

White Mainers don’t have to think about systemic racism in their day-to-day life if they don’t want to. That’s a benefit of white privilege. We can put our fingers in our ears and close our eyes and say “la la la, Obama was elected twice,” but that doesn’t change the fact that it is more dangerous to be a black person than a white person in America. And America includes Maine.

It’s not fun or easy to admit that I benefit from white supremacy, but I do. I benefit from it every day; when I walk my dog through the woods and along the banks of the Saco River, I’m walking on stolen Wabanaki land. When I get pulled over by a police officer for a vehicle violation (which happened to me last week – expired inspection sticker), I don’t have to worry that the officer will see me as a threat because of my race. I shouldn’t be receiving any special treatment on account of the color of my skin, but I do, and that’s something we all have to pitch in to help fix.

Most Americans don’t like the idea of unearned privileges – that’s why we find it gauche to talk about money. Some people are born with it and it eases their way in life, and they did nothing for it except to be born. Same thing with white privilege.

But not talking about a problem never solved any of them, and if there’s one thing I know from my struggle with alcoholism, it’s that you have to admit there is a problem before you can heal. Too many Americans are still in the denial stage about structural racism.

“What can we do?” is something you might be thinking. I wish I had some good answers. I don’t, but I can tell you what I’ve done.

I’ve tried to educate myself, to learn more about the insidiousness of racism and what can be done to unravel it. Black Girl in Maine is a really great local website, I have learned a ton from Shay Stewart-Bouley’s work. I’ve ordered “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, which I’ve seen at the top of several “recommended reading for white allies” lists.

I helped raise $1,000 for bail funds, because I don’t think anyone should be sitting in jail just because they don’t have the cash to bail themselves out, and especially when we are in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic. I did this by challenging my Twitter followers to donate to a group of bail funds, and I matched their donations with $500 of my own money I took out of my savings. I’ve been supporting black-owned businesses (you can find a useful directory at TheNileList.com).

And I can write. It’s my only talent. And so I’ve written this, and I hope it makes at least a few people stop and think.

Last week, one of my sister’s friends, who comes from a large Sudanese-American family, brought us two heaping platters of the most amazing spicy fish and chicken and rice and a dozen cookies for no particular reason, just as a pleasant surprise. It fed my family for three days. Last night, her brother was pepper-sprayed by the Portland Police Department. Twice.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mainemillennial

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