When two men decided to join a Black Lives Matter protest on June 1 in Farmington, Maine, and chant “f*** black lives” over the crowd I was disgusted, but also, strangely glad. I feel that many in my area were surprised by this act of absolute ignorance because rural Mainers, while recognizing the lack of diversity in our state, feel separated from the events of Minneapolis, Ferguson, or Brunswick (Georgia) because “that stuff just doesn’t happen here.” This mindset that racism is not an issue in Maine largely stems not only from the fact that we are not diverse, but also the privacy that our rural landscape provides. It is fairly easy to go long periods of time and not have an interaction with a person of color, and it is also incredibly easy for acts of ignorance to go without witnesses or correction. Meanwhile, those of us Mainers who are people of color must deal with the ignorance that their community members are capable of at a disturbingly high frequency.
I have lived in Kingfield my entire life. My father and I are the black community in my town. Therefore, I have always lived in a white neighborhood with white friends, and I’m even half white.
But it is clear I am not one of you. I was called “n*****” on many occasions in elementary school. I was on a walk with my girlfriend in Avon when a car stopped and asked where the nearest KKK meeting was. I have been told to “go back to where you came from” while running in Farmington, not to mention the racist comments I overheard while attending Mount Blue High School. And I must say I am not impervious to these acts of ignorance.
Just a few days ago, on a run outside Kingfield, a car slowed down and began to pull over just a hundred feet ahead. I quickly detoured onto an ATV path that luckily was between me and them. I realize that the person likely pulled over for a harmless reason probably unrelated to me, but we’ve learned that jogging while black ( Ahmaud Arbery), reaching for your wallet while black ( Philando Castile), walking home from the store while black ( Trayvon Martin), and existing while black ( Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many more) is sometimes enough for someone to find a way to validate taking a life. At the very least, the fact that I felt I needed to alter my run based on a subconscious fear I have of my own community members should be enough to indicate that there is racial tension here.
I also want those reading this to realize that these two people at the protest are not an anomaly. One person who displays their ignorance signifies 10, 50, and probably more people who feel the same but remain in the woodwork and framing of this figurative house. And while rotten wood is silent, a home built with rotten wood is not as strong as one that is not.
Again, I wish I did not hear of this incident in Farmington, but I hope this helps Maine residents realize that racism is not something that occurs in pockets but is deeply ingrained in our culture — even in the “peaceful” woods of Maine. Do not feel as though Maine is immune to this generational hatred; know that just because you cannot see it does not mean that it is not there. Know that my experiences are shared by many minorities in our state, many of whom have experienced far worse than I have. Know that these protests in rural Maine are not sideshows to the events in the major cities and are not falling on deaf ears. Know that I appreciate you, who are finding the love in your heart and time in your day to fight against something that has been plaguing our society for so long.
I also want to take this opportunity to say that this is my experience. I do not wish, or attempt, to speak for all people of color in the state. Therefore, I hope that we, as a state, continue to create an environment where more people of color feel that they can share their experiences and also be heard.
So please, stay active, stay alert, stay safe, and help us become the state and the nation we should be for everyone who calls them home.
Isaiah Reid is a student at the University of Maine at Farmington.