Dear Governor Lepage,
When I was young I invited an African American friend to Thanksgiving Dinner. I was a young white girl. We worked for the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy knocking on doors for nuclear arms control and peace in Central America. We were young idealists working for a better world. My friend was not able go home to Chicago for the holiday, so I invited him along to dinner. I did not think that my family would mind. I had always thought that because we belonged to a liberal Catholic tradition, because we lived north of Boston, we lived in a majority hispanic neighborhood, we voted Democrat, that my family were good people who were not racist and that it would be fine.
When he first arrived, everyone was polite. We all stood together to say grace. The meal was buffet style because there were so many of us. While my friend was waiting for gravy my 14 year old cousin cracked a racist joke. My uncle, a man in his forties, was standing right next to his son and did not apologize, did not correct my cousin. Instead, he laughed. My friend said nothing. Only later did he tell me it happened. After my friend left these enlightened people decided to release their discomfort with a good round of racist jokes, some about black people, some about Polish people, and, to their credit as equal opportunity offenders, a few blonde jokes.
This is what I took away from it, my family thinks that all folks should have equal access under the law but they could not reconcile their discomfort with their bias based on the stereotypes they refused to disbelieve. Or maybe I am just making excuses for them. They were just racists. They treated my friend as though his feelings did not matter. They treated him as less than. They did not judge him by his character, intelligence, or humor. He was working for peace. He is a very smart man. He has a great sense of humor. They took all the awful things they had heard, believed, assumed about black men and applied it to my friend. That's racism.
I did not say anything to my family then. This is my shame. I was in my early twenties and pretty naïve. I was at an age when family dogmas were crumbling. I had lost my faith in the Catholic church, I saw sexism in the power structure of a subway ride, and I realized my family could be racist on a holiday founded on gratitude. It would be the last Thanksgiving dinner I would share with those members of my family. Everyone has that one uncle who thinks he can get away with being a jerk. Because he usually does.
Smart phones let us see what has always been. Young men are being shot in the streets by police. Institutional bias is so blatant that citizens of the United States are being exploited to fund the legal system that impoverishes and locks them up. We get state legislatures who pass laws limiting hard fought for voting access. We, white people, are confronted with our privilege and it makes us uncomfortable. Or it should.
We need leaders who lead.
Instead, we get Trump and his wholesale solution to immigration issues which rings with the historic terror of Germany 80 years ago. We get a Congress and Senate who has obstructed the first African American President at every turn, so he can not claim a success, to the detriment of the country. We get some media, who perpetuates biases with every turn of the news cycle. And we get you, a governor who should be a governor for all the people in the great State of Maine who panders to the base impulses of those who seek to divide.
Again, we need leaders who lead. Not Uncles who say anything that comes to mind regardless of who hears them, or Uncles who spew hate with the broad stroke of fear and discord.
Your apology to the people of Maine rings hollow. You did not apologize for your racially charged remarks. You did not apologize for the scandalous recording to a legislator. You did not apologize for the obscene language the children of Maine might have heard. You did not apologize for the threat of violence to another person. You did not apologize for the wholesale labeling of people of color as the enemy. You apologized for getting caught which is really no apology at all.
As a voter of the state of Maine, I would like to say your apology is not accepted.