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Is Governor LePage Racist—Or Are You And I?

By January 11, 2016 0

It’s 2016 – it’s the future. Anything can happen. Anything!

Yes, anything. Even political and social scandal in the sleepy forests of Maine.

This past Thursday, already-controversial Maine Governor Paul LePage (he’s currently facing impeachment threats for supposed abuse of power) was holding a press conference addressing the state’s issues with the dealing and selling of heroine. He said, “These types of guys, they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroine, they go back home.”

It’s true – a more careful approach would have been to stop there. State that the heroine dealers are bad guys and be done with it. But LePage is a government leader, a politican, and he knows there are even worse repercussions to drug dealers visiting his state. And so LePage continues, “…half the time, they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a really sad thing because then we have another issue to deal with down the road.”

Now, I could see feminists getting angry at this comment, maybe. I could see welfare or DCF advocates being angry that he called circumstances like this “issues to deal with,” since such programs are set up to help people, not deal with them. But no, no, let’s pull out that race word in there – let’s pull out the word “white,” and focus on that.

And now, he’s a racist.

I have to be honest: I’m a young white girl, and this comment does not offend me. I watched this news report with a friend, another young white girl, and she was not offended. Maybe somewhere there’s a young, white girl in Maine, whose trashy, heroine-dealing boyfriend knocked her up and left her desolate for NYC who is offended – but, let’s be honest here, she should be – and she’s the only one who should be.

And the media did it one better: after letting this “scandal” blow to proportions it doesn’t deserve, the newscaster on the Eyewitness News report that I was watching then noted that Gov. LePage is a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, and Christie has been contacted for comment and has declined to do so, and thus the message is that Christie is now “condoning this racist behavior.” (Yeah, because that guy needs something else on his plate, right?)

I almost threw a remote at the television.

The media has apparently forgotten (or does not know?) that race is a social construct. It only exists because we talk about it, because long ago, our asshole ancestors decided that skin color matters. And we condemn them every day, and we pride ourselves on the (slow) progress we have made, and yet the media perpetuates any and every possible racist conflict that could even be remotely newsworthy.

It is so true: there are racists in the world. It is also true that people are slaves to their prejudices, and whether consciously or unconsciously, it drives them to make horrific decisions, like shooting a helpless, unarmed, scared, defenseless teenaged boy – oh, who’s also black. It is true that politicians should be more cautious, and show more trepidation in their speech, as they are, after all, public figures.

But, and I’ll paraphrase LePage himself here, because he iterated it so perfectly: “I’m sorry I’m not perfect, but I’m glad I’m not perfect, because if I was perfect, you know what I would be? A journalist.”

*Insert epic, angry, frustrated, “So, there!” politician face here*

LePage is not a saint. I don’t know the guy and clearly his track record is flawed if Maine is so dissatisfied with him as a governor. He could even actually be a racist, for all I know, but based on this comment – this one comment – I just don’t see it. Mentioning race is not the same thing as being racist. Reserve the title of “racist” for the people who wouldn’t vote for Obama because he’s black. Reserve the title of racist for people like the store cashier this woman encountered, who served her fair-skinned sister with infinitely more politeness than she, the darker-skinned of the two, received.

What if – follow me for a moment here – we all, who are indeed slaves to the constructs and prejudices we keep back in the recesses of our socially-manipulated brains, and knowingly or unknowingly judge the people we encounter on a daily basis – what if we all didn’t turn on the TV every day to hear the words, “…black man robbed a bank,” “white, middle-aged man strangled his wife,” “tan-skinned man shot and killed boy on sidewalk…”

What if the media started deleting race from the details? Now, of course, when it comes to helping to chase down a suspect or warning the public of the threat, of course race would come into play for identification, but I’m not pulling that card here. What if race stopped being a “thing?”

Don’t you dare say it’s not possible; don’t you dare say it’s not true. A few generations from now, we could all just be, if only we made that giant shift to not be offended by every Billy, Joe, and Bob we hear on the news. If the media stopped antagonizing the issue, imagine your future kids growing up not even knowing what black or brown or white meant – imagine that they just knew we were all different, unique, varied.

I can say this all because I’m a victim of sheltered, socially-constructed fear of “being racist,” or “not PC.” I grew up in a diverse city and was a quiet, shy, horrified, sheltered girl in high school. The halls were full of confident black kids and I was a walking case of Scared-White-Girl Syndrome my entire freshman year. Once, I was talking to a friend, who happened to be black, and I tried to tell her a story about some guy in school, and I realized that for whatever reason, I felt the need to mention that the guy was black, but I didn’t want to offend her. So instead, my 14-year-old self paused suddenly in the story and yes, literally, whispered, “…and then this black guy…”

And that friend stopped me, and stared at me and asked, “What? Why are you whispering, I can’t even here you, what did you say?” And I blushed and in a slightly louder whisper, tried to make the word “black” both more and less audible at the same time, and she laughed in my face.

“Jess, you can say, BLACK PEOPLE,” she said loudly. My blush took over and I didn’t know what to do. “Black is not a BAD word,” she said, still laughing.

The moment both enlightened me and bruised me for life. Sometimes I feel like I can’t refer to someone as “white” either; the words taste bad in my mouth: black, white, dark, brown…

Because they’re not real. Because race is a social construct, and I know this, and anyone who’s had to pass a Sociology class knows this, but the media is insistent that we forget it, that we forge ahead with the burden of judgment we all carry for one another – and for what? So they can sell papers? Retain viewers? Start a Twitter war? Make your skin crawl?

I’ll say it again: Gov. LePage is no saint. He made a silly mistake; he could have spoken better. But if you’re wondering if what you just read has any validity at all, then ponder me this:

Imagine what would have happened if he’d replaced the word “white” with “black?”