After a hiatus from this space for a couple years, it feels quite timely that my return column kicks off the same week that this nation’s president-elect, Donald Trump, will be sworn in … barring any shocking last-minute twists. Nothing has been normal since the 2016 presidential election, so I’m not about to assume that the inauguration will go off without a hitch.
“DiverseCity,” which ran in The Portland Phoenix from 2003 to 2014, has always been a space to examine and touch on differences that define and sometimes (unfortunately) separate us, like race, class and religion — albeit with a heavy focus on that racial one. In 2002, when I landed in Maine as a Black woman from Chicago, the reality of being brown-skinned in the whitest state in America felt like an arrival in an alternate universe. My mere presence and existence in those days was often met with curiosity, and frequently with suspicion. I spent my first year in Maine trying to avoid leaving my house as much as possible and figure out how to survive (what I originally thought would be only eight years) in a state where my race branded me as an “other.”
Writing about the realities of race in this space, and later on my blog Blackgirlinmaine among other publications, would become an important outlet for me in processing and relieving my stress. And my increasingly vocal efforts became the appetizer for an ongoing meal of discussing race, inequity and even oppression here and beyond the state’s borders.
I was one of the first in Southern Maine to regularly give public voice to the frustrations, fears and lived realities of a person of color in Maine, but I’m certainly not the first to live here, and the landscape has shifted since I arrived. And I don’t mean just a slight decrease in the still-overwhelming level of whiteness. The spread of camera phones and social media, the high-profile racialized deaths of so many unarmed (and often unthreatening) Black people at the hands of white people nationally, and the election of our nation’s first Black president are just a few developments that have brought race to the forefront of the national consciousness.
But racial discussion and awareness that should have begun a process of progress and healing has gotten twisted. Instead, it blames victims of racism, and even bases presidential campaigns around exclusion and blame of nonwhite people for national problems. The hopes for a post-racial society many held after Obama’s election eight years ago have been aborted.
With the rallying cry of Black Lives Matter, we are standing at an important crossroads. As city, state and nation, we can no longer afford to deny that racism is still very much a part of our collective reality.
Millions voted for Donald Trump. Even in Maine, enough voters chose Trump that he won one of our electoral votes. Many Trump supporters claim they wanted a new sheriff in town, one who was not enmeshed in the current political system. But what really attracted many of them was a campaign loaded with covert racism and imagery designed to inflame white fears in a changing world. A world where white skin no longer pays the dividends it once did.
Those declining dividends have resulted in anger, and anger may mean more threat to people of color, as expressed by the election of a man eagerly supported by white supremacists. And while whiteness may not be as profitable to all white Americans as it once was, it still provides many protections, advantages and opportunities others are often denied.
Racism never went away; in fact, it’s gotten a very energetic resurgence in recent years. It’s not unlike alcoholism in that it can never be properly dealt with if it isn’t ever acknowledged. And so I return to these pages to help spark, encourage and expand consideration and discussions on issues around race and other forms of difference from the American “norm” that is not, frankly, the only right way to be.