The problem isn’t Gov. LePage’s mental state, but his underlying racism

The problem isn’t Gov. LePage’s mental state, but his underlying racism

Last Friday, we reached the regretful point at which the holder of the highest office in the State of Maine defined people of color and Hispanics as “the enemy.” Increasingly over the last few election cycles, it has become evident that there is an emerging climate of intolerance among the electorate and the elected. The racialized contempt once privately discussed around dinner tables has yet again entered the public conversation, politicized by disingenuous politicians.

“And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color, or people of Hispanic origin.” -Governor Paul LePage

Somewhere along the line the political rhetoric in this country degenerated so much that George Wallace’s 1963 Inaugural Address seems like less of a historical relic and more like a playbook for many of today’s lawmakers.

It is very easy to explain away LePage’s racist conduct by pointing to allegations of substance abuse or a perceived psychological and emotional deficiency. But in truth, to do so would totally miss the point.

The racially charged atmosphere we find ourselves in today grew out of years implicit racism written into state and federal policy, nodded to within election speeches, and pandered to by politicians desperate for votes – all exacerbated by the silence of passive allies. While LePage’s tactless, dangerous words are no doubt an embarrassment for our state, they should not come as a surprise.

A quick glance at the comments on any social media post about race should be sufficient to explain why LePage is empowered to say the things he has. What’s also abundantly evident within those comments is a partisan divide.

People before politics

To sell racism wholesale as a partisan issue would be to misunderstand the problem. Yes, there are prominent correlations between the parties and how they address race relations. And yes, those patterns are impossible to ignore in a great variety of ways. But if we really want to solve this issue – if we really want to eradicate this disease from our social and political circles – we have to make it clear that ending racism a human rights issue.

By using misinformation to affirm people’s racial fears, LePage has put people of color in harm’s way. He has publicly reduced people of color into a dangerous caricature who impregnates young white women, sells drugs to vulnerable Mainers, and should be shot.

LePage’s bizarre line of reasoning last Friday did not deem Democratic or Republican people of color as the enemy (though that wouldn’t come as a shock). He said they all were the enemy. His abhorrent comments have laid the groundwork for racial discrimination, profiling, and violence in communities all over our state.

It is up to us

After reviewing the governor’s insular outbursts, many people have said things to the effect of “he’s not my governor,” “he doesn’t speak for me,” and “not in my state.” But the sobering reality is that he is your governor, he does speak for you, and he is doing this in your state having won 48% of the vote in 2014.

The environment in which racism has been able to fester is all of our responsibility. Just as within any relationship, we all have stake in the success or demise of racism as residents of this state. Lawmakers, citizens, Democrats, Republicans, and independents all have a duty to cast this ugly, counterproductive rhetoric back to the shadows, lest we relive the tragedies of Emmett Till or Tamir Rice right here at home.

About author

Teddy Burrage
Teddy Burrage 8 posts

Teddy Burrage is a Portland native and local activist. He was formerly a congressional intern and organizer with the Portland Racial Justice Congress. Teddy hopes contribute to positive change in Maine by promoting social justice and civic engagement.

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