The governor of Maine's early January race-related comments about impregnated white girls and drug dealers and the aftermath of those comments prompted Margo to write; her piece, in italics, follows. Thank you, Margo, for letting me share it here.
An Open Letter to My White Brothers and Sisters
After his remarks about drug dealers from New York with names like D-Money, Shifty and Smoothie who “impregnate young white girls” before leaving Maine, there has been a landslide of public rhetoric repudiating LePage’s speech as racist, and even a petition on MoveOn.org calling for LePage to repudiate his own speech. Mike Tipping and Ron Schmidt both wrote thoughtful reflections on the ways his speech violates the values our communities try to maintain.
LePage’s speech indicates racialized thinking. His explanations of his gaffe showed even more plainly that he really did mean he was talking about white women being impregnated by men that he pretends he didn’t mean to say were black. In the minds of most readers or listeners there hasn’t been any question his fictionalized drug dealers were black.
The BDN cartoon Jan 9/10** showed LePage’s face as the joker with the caption “The Race Card.” Actually, we as white people have held all the aces and face cards in the race deck, whether we descend from slaveholders or not. Whiteness was institutionalized as an identity in North America to separate from and thereby justify the enslavement of African people and their descendants.
The BDN editorial rightly references the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a Chicago 15-year-old who fell victim to horrific violence while visiting southern relatives. The men who kidnapped, tortured and killed him for whistling at one of their wives, acted on the stereotype that white womanhood needs defense against sexual advances by black men. This was only sixty years ago.
Last fall my literature students read James Baldwin’s play “Blues for Mister Charlie”**** which Baldwin wrote in response to the events surrounding Till’s murder. The play contains no suspense or question of guilt—the audience sees Lyle Britten shoot Richard Henry in the first seconds of Act 1. The action centers upon the relationships among white people: in particular Lyle, his wife Jo, and the town newspaper editor Parnell Jones. Despite being known for his liberal leanings and his friendship with the victim’s father, Parnell discovers his deepest allegiance lies with his childhood friend Lyle, the murderer. The play ends on a note struck by Juanita, the murdered Richard’s girlfriend, who to Parnell’s question “Can I join you on the march, Juanita? Can I walk with you?” responds, “Well, we can walk in the same direction, Parnell. Come. Don’t look like that. Let’s go on on.” We as white people have much work to do ourselves before we can be good neighbors, allies, or family to people of color. And I am sure Paul LePage loves his family and wants to do all that is best for them.
So rather than calling for repudiation of this public utterance, we should let LePage’s speech reveal the need for deep teaching among white people by white people about how we have profited and continue to profit through white skin privilege, even if we do not have access to privilege through other means such as social class, gender, or religion.
* This photo is a screen shot of of Margo's LinkedIn profile photo.
** Screen shot of my own FB page on which I shared another person's post.
*** Screen shot of following web page: "The Joker." George Danby Editorial Cartoonist. Bangor Daily News, 08 Jan. 2016. Web. 23 Jan. 2016. <http://danbyink.bangordailynews.com/2016/01/08/the-joker/>.
**** Screen shot of one result of my "Blues for Mister Charlie Images" search: <cinema/photos/2013/03/greatest-african-american-plays.html#!032013-shows-star-cinema-plays-langston-hughes-black-nativiry>