Portland, Maine’s New Americans

Much of this was tweeted @jamescradock — on my personal Twitter account.

It is ironic Portland, Maine is creating an Office of New Americans that will replace the city’s Refugee Services Office run by a daughter of the state of Maine’s first black representative.

Maine is the whitest state in the United States: 94.4% white.

I’ve lived in different parts of the United States. I would say, “I’ve lived in more racially diverse places in the United States,” but as Maine’s the whitest state any place is more diverse.

I’ve often thought Maine’s overwhelming whiteness does two things: It makes Mainers dumb about the state’s history, and it makes Mainers immature about diversity issues.

The state’s whiteness makes Mainers think black people were not in Maine until African refugees arrived in the 1990s.

Gerald Talbot, the first black representative in Maine’s legislature, was elected in 1972.

The Abyssinian Meeting House, the third oldest black church in the United States, was built in 1828.

A mixed-race community was removed by the state from Malaga Island in 1912.

Black people have been in Maine a long time, but it is not surprising with the state being 94.4% Mainers are dumb about the state’s history.

The ignorance does extend to Portland, where people can be quite smug about the city’s attitudes regarding diversity.

My son is biracial. He is four years-old. We were swimming at a pool in Liberal, enlightened Portland. I was told, “He swims just like an American!”

My son was born in Detroit.

The remark, which was not mean but which was dumb, was perfect in a way. A black person in Maine has got to be from far, far away.

I wonder how many Mainers consider Motown to be African, and not American, music. I suspect for no reason other than Maine is 94.4% white and Mainers do not know history it would be enough people to make any sensible person wince.

Now, I believe the intent behind the idea for Portland, Maine’s Office of New Americans is good. However, Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Council should look at the history of black people in Maine.

Portland, Maine is a Liberal, enlightened bubble in a rural state with provincial attitudes about things like diversity. A lot people acknowledge this.

Calling Portland a bubble is smug, it-can’t-happen-here talk. Regarding diversity, “it” means dumb thinking about race. In some cases, it means open racism.

By open racism, I’m thinking of the mixed-race family accosted in the Old Port by a group using the n-word.

By open racism, I’m thinking of the provocative frequent display of the Confederate flag flying from the bed of a pickup driving through downtown Portland.

I know Portland isn’t insulated from dumb thinking — about diversity, in particular. The city and ignorant and provincial attitudes of many of the city’s residents reflect attitudes in the state at-large.

I believe Portlanders want to make the city a more diverse, welcoming place for non-white people. The Office of New Americans is about refugees, sure, but — ultimately — it is about diversity.

Maine being 94.4% white makes Portlanders profoundly immature when acting to make the city a more diverse and welcoming place, and the immaturity manifests itself in clumsy solutions like the idea for the Office of New Americans.

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