By now we’ve all heard or read the latest comment from Maine’s governor. While speaking in Bridgton about Maine’s drug problem he referred to drug traffickers this way:
“These are guys with the name Dee Money, Smoothie, Shifty. They come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue that we got to deal with down the road.”
Gov. Paul LePage’s statement is troubling for many reasons, not the least of which are the cavalier way in which he uses racist language without fear of repercussion and his willingness to tell lies to promote his agenda.
The governor’s statement above contained three lies that are, unfortunately, widely believed to be true.
Lie No. 1 is that drug dealers are black men from away. LePage suggested that Maine’s drug problem is being driven by black people from away rather than by inadequate drug treatment resources here in Maine.
But that’s not true. Research tells us that black people are actually less likely to sell drugs than white people. What is true is that black people are far more likely to be arrested for using and selling drugs than white people who commit the same offenses.
Ironically, the same night LePage was accusing D-Money and Shifty, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency arrested three people for trafficking heroin — all of whom were white Mainers (named, as The Washington Post pointed out, James, Jody and Donna).
LePage’s misleading narrative about black men peddling drugs and threatening white safety is nothing new. Remember last year’s budget veto letter, in which he cut and pasted in the mug shots of four alleged drug dealers — three of whom were black men from out of state — along with a stock image of a crying white baby?
LePage’s imagery would have been far more representative of the true picture had he used the mug shots of four white Mainers. But that wouldn’t have had the desired effect — stoking fear and further dividing the people of Maine.
Lie No. 2 is that “white girls” and “Maine women” are synonymous. In a press conference Friday, a few days after he made the comment, LePage wrote off what he said as a slip of the tongue. According to him, when he said “white girls,” he meant “Maine women.”
The governor’s conflation of “Maine” and “white” is disturbing. It should go without saying that not all Maine women are white. The history of Maine includes numerous contributions of nonwhite people, include native people who were here before any white women. Black people have lived here as long as white people, and more black people will move to Maine and help our state flourish.
Lie No. 3 is that black men pose an explicit, sexual threat to white women. That is a dangerous idea with a painful past in this country that cannot be ignored. The governor cannot conjure images of black men from away coming here and having sex with white women without implicating the history of such comments.
From the end of the Civil War up through the middle of the 20th century, lies about black men seducing or raping white women were the primary justification for lynching. Take the 1955 lynching of 14-year old Emmett Till for supposedly flirting with a white woman (and thousands of other lynchings justified the same way). Or, just last year, the murder of nine praying black people by Dylann Roof because, he said “they” are raping “our” women.
Whether he meant to or not, by alluding to shadowy black men “impregnating young, white girls,” LePage perpetuated lies and stereotypes reminiscent of the ones used to justify those horrific acts.
LePage says his comment was a simple mistake for which he won’t apologize. But he can’t keep brushing off every “slip of the tongue” as if it doesn’t matter. Racist statements from the leader of our state do matter. And we all have an obligation to stand up and speak out against them.
Alison Beyea is executive director of the ACLU of Maine.