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 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