The Portland Phoenix

Politics & Other Mistakes: Ugly recent history

If you look at the numbers, Mainers ought to have a hard time being racist. According to the U.S. Census, Maine is the least diverse state in the nation, more than 94 percent white and less than 2 percent Black.

There’s almost nobody to hate.

But we’ve always managed to overcome a shortage of essential ingredients.

According to an exhibit at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, the state’s shipping industry derived a neat profit from transporting slaves in the early 19th century and exchanging them for cotton. Lately, though, we’ve taken a less mercantile approach to racism.

The Maine State Police Trooper of the Year for 2021 ran into trouble in court after evidence showed he stopped a Black motorist because he had “dreads” and was wearing a “wifebeater.”

A South Portland school board candidate told the Portland Press Herald last year he had “evolved” since posting stories and memes in 2019 disparaging Somali refugees, Muslims, and transgendered people. “I don’t feel like it’s something I’m going to spend a whole lot of time on, trying to defend who I was years ago,” said Adam Hamilton, age 48.

In Bangor schools, according to the Bangor Daily News, Black students told administrators that white students used class discussions to defend slavery and white supremacy. In North Berwick, the school district failed to respond to complaints about Confederate flags displayed on vehicles in the student parking lot. In Gardiner, some parents complained that a summer reading list for Advanced Placement students promoted critical race theory. Among the books cited was James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.” Courageous school officials dropped the list.

In Portland last year, a shadowy group called Concerned Ethnic Fathers posted signs around the city urging voters to reject the school budget because it increased spending on equity initiatives.

The problem isn’t limited to schools. A study released in 2021 shows Black women in Maine are four times more likely than white women to receive inadequate prenatal care. As of August 2020, COVID-19 infection rates among Black people were 10 times greater than for whites.

According to 2019 data, Blacks accounted for 18 percent of arrests in Auburn, even though they constituted only 1.3 percent of the population. In Lewiston, where 5.2 percent of the population is Black, 22 percent of those arrested were of that race.

In 2018, Kyle Fitzsimons of Lebanon (the one in Maine) testified before a legislative committee considering a bill to fund job training for immigrants. Fitzsimons said he’d moved to Maine to escape “multicultural hell holes” in New York and Rhode Island. “You’re bringing in the new Third World,” he said. “You’re bringing in the replacements.”

Fitzsimons is currently awaiting trial on a variety of charges stemming from his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

Former Brewer Deputy Mayor Thomas Morelli posted racist statements on social media in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. When the postings attracted media attention, Morelli claimed his account was hacked, but later admitted he wrote the stuff.

In August 2020, a Black Lives Matter banner outside the Maine Jewish Museum was defaced and then torn down. That same month, a BLM banner on a woman’s lawn in Waldo was vandalized with a red swastika.

Cathy Weeks resigned from her position on the Waterville Planning Board in November 2020. A judge had issued a protection from harassment order against Weeks after testimony she called her new, Iraqi-born neighbors “radical Muslims.” Weeks was also said to have tried to convince a real estate agent not to sell to the family.

In late 2020, at a meeting of the New Gloucester selectmen, member George Colby wrapped up his recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by stating, “liberty and justice for all, for everyone. Even us white folks.” After a recall petition was launched, Colby resigned. In an op-ed in the Lakes Region Weekly, he doubled down on his comment. “Since it wasn’t racist,” he insisted, “I’m not going to apologize for saying it.”

Do these incidents constitute a pattern of racism? Or are they just isolated incidents of people and institutions displaying random bits of discriminatory behavior? Since it seems like a serious problem either way, does it really matter?

Please don’t send emails to that begin “I’m not racist, but …”

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