In defense of Maine

By Elizabeth Hebert | Jan 21, 2016

I have received a lot of text messages from friends back in Northern Virginia since Gov. LePage made his infamous comments about "D-Money" impregnating young white girls in Maine.

One friend asked if, as an Asian woman, I was concerned that the governor might accuse me of moving to Maine for the purposes of selling opium and knock-off electronics to white men.

Having to defend my new home state from accusations that it is a northern version of Alabama circa 1963 — with LePage in the role of George Wallace — has been a radical and disturbing departure from the usual fending off of jokes about Maine being an uninhabited Arctic wasteland.

Defending Maine in this instance has been a little tricky.

I want to say that LePage is not representative of the people of Maine, but the people of Maine did elect him as their representative. Twice.

Also, I have to acknowledge that Maine is exceptionally white.

Back in Virginia, I lived in a county that was often criticized for lacking diversity and it was 63 percent white and 19 percent Asian. I did not stand out in the least. The county I live in now, Waldo county, is 97 percent white and 0.6 percent Asian and I sometimes feel like a palm tree in a pine forest.

About two months into our new life in Maine, my husband and I were in the grocery store and I saw another Asian woman wandering the aisles. It was so surprising to see someone who looked like me that I ran over to my husband and whispered excitedly, “Look! Look! There's another one!”

My Caucasian neighbors must be just as surprised to see me in their midst as I was to see the lady in the store, because I've noticed that people look at me a little longer than they do my white husband. I like to say it is because of my stunning good looks, but I suspect that is not the case.

If I feel like I stand out, and I am half white, I can't imagine what it must be like to be an African-American in Maine.

Recently, my editor and I were trying to think of an African-American I could interview for a story I wanted to do on diversity in Camden and we both came up with the same person. You would think that between the two of us, and in a town like Camden, with its many transplanted residents and cultural reputation, we could come up with dozens of names, but in reality there are just are not many to choose from.

So, I do acknowledge to my friends that Maine is sorely lacking in diversity, but I stress that just because Maine is very white does not mean it is very racist, any more than the fact that the state is full of elderly people means young people are being run out of town.

Stereotyping Caucasians as racists is just as wrong as stereotyping African-Americans as drug dealers.

Nonetheless, I do believe that living in a homogeneous population has exempted a lot of Mainers from having to think much about what it is like to be someone who is not just like them.

Your co-worker speaking in an exaggerated Charlie Chan voice seems funny if you're not thinking about the struggles of the recent Chinese immigrant living next door. Your friend's joke about a Mexican seems harmless if it is unlikely a Mexican is within earshot.

Perhaps Gov. LePage's comments sprang from a form of naivety. Perhaps he just misspoke. I have no idea what is swirling around in that man's head.

So, I do not try to defend LePage. Instead, I tell my friends that there is truth to the cliche that actions speak louder than words, and while my new neighbors might make an occasional comment that is a bit politically incorrect, they have been uniformly kind and welcoming to me.

I assure them that no Mainer has accused me of moving to the state to corrupt white people. They assume I moved to Maine because it is a great place to live. And they are right.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jan 23, 2016 10:48

I was born and raised here and don't remember spending a lot of time thinking about race. We were kind of removed from the troubles away from here, maybe ignorant to the facts. That doesn't mean we were not taught how to treat those that are different. Maybe LaPage is racist and made a broad statement, however is does seem to be as he stated. Whatever race or color a drug dealer they are still a menace to society. Anyone that goes into an area , where they are more noticeable for any reason, for the purpose of selling drugs cannot be too intelligent. I'd like to think that the majority of Maine people respect the respectable based on their words and actions not their race.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 21, 2016 17:10

Well, my only comment to this is: I grew up in Boston, Mass. and went to school with Black Americans, Chinese Americans, and melting, white, Irish, Italians, Armenians, etc. I never once thought of color or race, only befriended my school chums that interested me and enjoyed the things I enjoyed. I am now 81 years young and am still living an interesting life.

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