Burns: How do we respond to LePage’s continuing racism? We fight to win.
This week, once again, Governor LePage has made an embarrassment of himself and this state with remarks that are both casually, and seemingly deliberately, racist.
Wading into an ongoing dispute between President-elect Trump and longtime Congressman and Civil Rights Movement icon John Lewis, LePage challenged Lewis’s knowledge of civil rights history by citing a string of provably incorrect historical information, all the while playing an old, tired, trope that the successes of the advancement of civil rights should be laid at the feet of magnanimous white leaders, rather than the generations of grassroots movements that were led by people who were actively oppressed by those institutions of white supremacy.
In keeping with what we should have already have come to expect from this administration, when he was challenged on these comments, LePage doubled down, going on to clarify (in his now trademark, seemingly stream-of-conscious way) his view that “The blacks, the NAACP [paint] all white people with one brush… To say that every white American is a racist is an insult. The NAACP should apologize to the white people, to the people from the North for fighting their battle.”
Whether these remarks are ignorant and racist is not a reasonable question to ask– they are obviously both. The question those continually infuriated with the Governor’s actions after these long six years of such rhetoric must ask is: what is the most meaningful response that we can render in the face of such off-the-cuff racism?
Past history has shown that there is no one good answer. Individuals and organizations with the power to be heard should speak out against the rhetoric, lest this type of discourse be irreparably normalized. Continued civil demonstration –in the strain of the massive organizing happening around the inauguration of an all too similar Donald Trump– is essential to remind both LePage, his allies, and the progressive leaders in office tasked with pushing back against the his agenda that the citizens of this state are watching and ready to hold accountable those who will participate in this sort of behavior.
In the long run, however, these actions will only bear fruit if two important things occur.
First, there must be a sustained and concerted effort to retake control of an affirmative, inclusive, and authentic narrative that challenges the LePagean (and now Trumpian) worldview of division, mistrust, and exclusion. This must be done even in the face of a continual stream of new outrages that are sure to continue for the remainder of the Governor’s final term.
Finally, and most importantly, we must come to terms with the fact the Governor LePage, and the radically conservative power structure that he represents, will not bow to the outrage or righteous indignation of those who oppose him, which would require him to view those with whom he disagrees as legitimate or worthy of his consideration. He has made it clear that he does not. These fights will not be won without challenges to that power structure itself, through concrete electoral victories at all levels of government –federal, state, and local– that will force change. Because despite LePage’s imaginary view of the past, and to quote the civil rights leader that we celebrated this week that he seems to have forgotten, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Photo via Andi Parkinson.
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