The Western foothills and mountains of Maine, similar to much of rural Maine, is a quiet place. We who live here value the calm, privacy, and refuge that the dense forest provides from the violence and the pain that we see on the news. But the tall pines, the rivers, and the mountains are only physical barriers. As protective as those trees and mountains are, this is only a false sense of security from the hate that plagues our entire country.
This hatred reminded us of its presence when two men joined a Black Lives Matter protest on June 1st in Farmington, Maine, and decided to chant “f*ck black lives” over the crowd. Strangely, I find myself somewhat glad that this happened. I feel that many were surprised by this act of absolute ignorance because rural Mainers, while recognizing the lack of diversity in our state, feel separated from the events of Minneapolis, Ferguson, or Brunswick (Georgia), because “that stuff just doesn’t happen here.” This mindset that racism is not an issue in Maine largely stems not only from the fact that we are not diverse, but also attributed to the privacy that our rural landscape provides. It is fairly easy to go long periods of time and not have an interaction with a person of color, and it is also incredibly easy for acts of ignorance to go without witnesses or correction. Meanwhile, those of us Mainers who are people of color must deal with the ignorance that their community members are capable of at a disturbingly high frequency and with little assistance.
I have lived in Kingfield my entire life. My father and I are the black community in my town. Therefore, I have always lived in a white neighborhood with white friends, and I’m even half white. But it is clear I am not one of you. I was called “n*gger” on many occasions in elementary school. I was looking at the river during a walk with my girlfriend in Avon when a car stopped and asked where the nearest KKK meeting was. I have been told to “go back to where you came from” while running on a nature path in Farmington, not to mention the racist comments I overheard while attending Mt. Blue High School. And I must say I am not impervious to these acts of ignorance. Just a few days ago, on a run along the Carrabassett River outside Kingfield, a car slowed down and began to pull over just a hundred feet ahead. I quickly detoured onto an ATV path that luckily was between me and them. I realize that the person likely pulled over for a harmless reason probably unrelated to me, but we’ve learned that jogging while black (Ahmaud Arbery), reaching for your wallet while black (Philando Castile), walking home from the store while black (Trayvon Martin), and existing while black (Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many more) is sometimes enough for someone to validate taking a life. At the very least, the fact that I felt I needed to alter my run based on a subconscious fear I have of my own community members should be enough to indicate that there is racial tension here.
I also want those reading this to realize that these two people at the protest are not an anomaly. One person who displays their ignorance signifies ten, fifty, and probably more people who feel the same but remain in the woodwork and framing of this figurative house. And while rotten wood is silent, a home built with rotten wood is not as strong as one that is not.
Again, I wish I did not hear of this incident in Farmington, but I hope this helps Maine residents realize that racism is not something that occurs in pockets but is deeply ingrained in our culture—even in the “peaceful” woods of Maine. Do not feel as though Maine is immune to this generational hatred; know that just because you can not see it does not mean that it is not there. Know that my experiences are shared by many minorities in our state, many of whom have experienced far worse than I have. Know that these protests in rural Maine are not sideshows to the events in the major cities and are not falling on deaf ears. Know that I appreciate you, who are finding the love in your heart and time in your day to fight against something that has been plaguing our society for so long.
So please, stay active, stay alert, stay safe, and help us become the state and the nation it should be for everyone who calls it home.
—Guest blog post by Isaiah Reid
Dana Degenhardt says
Thank you, Isaiah. This is such an important message…I’ve seen this behavior among Mainers…both those that are Native Mainers and those ‘From Away.’
It’s time for us all to stop and tell our friends “your behavior is unacceptable. This is why. And it needs to stop now.”
Don Robinson says
We need more voices like yours to resonate throughout the woodlands of Maine. Thank you, Isaiah. God’s speed!
Mary Donnelly says
Thank you Isaiah for this beautiful writing. I will share with many. Also thank you NRCM for putting this writing on your web page and thanking your organization to educate people around racial inequality. Mary Donnelly
- Barbara says
Thank you for sharing your story. No one person, community, county is immune. We must look deeper, think harder, and critically defeat racism in every form.
Judy Redding says
Thank you Isiah. This is a beautifully written essay about the very ugly racism that exists in Maine. That is not beautiful at all. Of course racism exists here. We have all been brought up in a white-centric culture. All of us must acknowledge our own conscious and sub conscious, racist attitudes so that we can call racism out when we hear or see it.
Cecil Gray says
Hi Isiah. I grew up in NC and lived thru the 60’s when civil rights clashed in the trenches with systemic racism that ran right back to the first colonies. My senior year Durham became “officially” segregated or opened for bussing. I had many black and white friends and tensions were boiling. I am white and tensions were boiling. I first saw the Klan when about a hundred or so of them rode thru a field in Southern Va. on my way to my grandparents house. I was 8. It made me shutter. As I grew into my 20’s I began to roam the country in search for the elusive utopia setting. After many stints from California to Mexico to Mass. I wound up in the New Vineyard area with some scattered back to the land hippies. Eventually I and my partner then lived on a land trust in Bingham with an interracial group of families each on our 5 acres. My two daughters spent their early years here and I am so thankful for the land and people who were our woods neighbors. That said my black neighbors from Jamaica, Boston and Mass were well aware of their skin color when interacting during town trips. As years went on some of us scattered and it began to hit me that I was living in pretty much an all white state. I began to hear n*gger jokes and subtle undercurrents. In short Maine’s racist history is right up there in the big leagues of racist footprints. Milo had the first full dressed daylight Klan parade in the twenties. It’s deep. It’s Trumpian tendencies have erupted especially in the rural areas that use to be saturated with union jobs and economic content. I myself have had moments where my blood boils as they bring back NC flashbacks and again I am white. I am impressed with your ability to live with the finer things Maine has to offer. I am sad and embarrassed and mad as hell that you have to be primed at all times to detour from confrontational possibilities. I protested in Skowhegan the other day as I have a zillion times before from streets to water fountain conversations and anywhere I see it. Stay strong if u can humanity holds a special place for u and just maybe the forces that can call enough will now take public actions to insert the legal and civic actions to move us forward.
Rebecca P Jessup says
I’m grateful for Isaiah’s essay on real experiences even in rural Maine. It is painful to be reminded that racism penetrates even here, where it would be so simple, so easy, for whites to make room for the tiny minority of non-whites. Why that seems impossible for some just baffles me. In some ways I am ashamed to have enjoyed white privilege all my life, but I hope and pray for reconciliation, for a time of “malice toward none and charity toward all.”
Patricia Williams says
Thank you for your courage and clarity. I lived in Western Maine for 25 years. I am asking family and friends who live in Maine and other rural and/or all (seemingly) all-white areas to read it.
Thank you, Isaiah.
Joaquim Goes says
Thank you Isiah for sharing your experiences in Maine. I am of Indian origin and moved to Boothbay Harbor in 1992 and lived there for ten beautiful years. Like the rest of Maine, BBH is not very diverse but I never experienced racism. Everyone in town knew us as we stood out. But I must share my experience on the first morning after we landed. The house we rented on was close to a little river. The morning I woke up I saw something that I had never seen before. The clouds had descended on the river and it appeared as if heaven had come down to Boothbay Harbor. My wife and I were so excited to see this sight so we quickly stepped out and walked along a path that led to the water to capture a few pictures and share them with our families back home . No sooner we were midway there a man with a rifle started approaching us and he told us that we were trespassing and asked us to leave. We were fresh off the boat and we didn’t know better. That incident left us shaken and we felt the need to be cautious and on our guard always. We lived on the same street for two years and we saw the man very often, sometimes in the company of our common friends. I am not sure whether his views changed when he learned where we worked and what we did. I hope they did that no one should be judged based on the color of their skin. Other than this first encounter, we felt immense love and spirit of community always in BBH. We are grateful for the beautiful times that we spent there
Nancy Stefani says
Thank you for your nicely written article, Isaiah. I am so very sorry for the IGNORANT people in our country, and especially in our own state! I grew up in Avon, and am ashamed of what occurred to you there!
I want everyone to share the hell out of this! Thank you!
Christian Schmid says
Thank you Isaiah. Initially I didn’t want to come back to Maine, having been away in Indiana for 25 years, because it is « too white » here. It’s unfortunate to have such a high degree of ignorance because basically these same people deep down are decent and hard working. Also the beauty and life style are hard to find anywhere else. So hang in and hope that your words will reach and help to unite us.
Jose de la Cuadra says
I am so naive or ignorant about the depth of racism in some parts of America. I am Filipino-American and is getting serious about investing and getting a vacation home in rural Maine. I am native to California for 47 years where I have never experienced outward racism. Now I am thinking, would I feel welcome in rural Maine, if I resided there? It is such a beautiful place from what I see and read. I just hope the people would welcome everyone without fear of subtle or outward discrimination. I feel I can make a contribution to any community I may reside in.