The events over the past week beginning with the senseless murder of George Floyd have made clear the sheer enormity of the hate and racism that exists in this country, our political systems and the fabric of our society. Make no mistake, these protests against police brutality did not give rise to unrest, they’ve only exposed the extent of it to those of us who have the privilege of avoiding the racial injustice and bigotry that many of our neighbors experience daily.
For many white Americans, we must accept that the complicated and ugly history of racism in this country did not end with the achievements of the Civil Rights Era as we were taught to believe. Rather, that era secured the promise of equality without the guarantee. As people of color know all too well, words on a piece of paper claiming that you are safe and equal mean nothing if our power structures refuse to ensure your safety and acknowledge your equality.
As a middle-aged, working-class white man from rural Maine, I’ll be honest that the sheer weight of history and lack of interaction between communities of color and my own meant that for much of my life I was ignorant to the structural and pervasive racial inequity in this country. I imagine this isn’t an uncommon experience for most Mainers. Now is the time to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge our own complacency. I’ve seen white men be racists, white women be bigots and white children continue this tradition. At the same time, these are people who I know and love, respect and admire, people I know to be good and full of love despite this ability and willingness to harbor hate. But our country is at a crossroads. We have the power to decide what’s next. Will those of us who benefit from the privilege assigned to our race remain silent? Or, will we find the courage to speak out when the people we know and love harbor hate and perpetuate racist tropes and notions?
Even from the comfort of privilege, it is clear these protests are from a pain and anger that only generations of mistreatment could create. I do not pretend to know how the pain and anger of a 29-year-old Black American feels, but when I was 29 pain and anger led me to block the Canadian border in protest for six days. To those who didn’t share my pain and anger, it was easy to see me and my companions as wrong-headily engaging in criminal activity and absolve themselves of their complacency. Today, we must not make the same mistake and cast any judgment on protesters, who are giving a voice to the pain far older, far deeper and far more insidious than anything most of us could ever know.
As President of the Maine Senate, I recognize the unique position I’m in and the profound responsibility I have to work with my colleagues at the State House to broaden our understanding, acknowledge our own unconscious bias and privileged experiences, and most importantly, create change in Maine that is led by people of color. As a fifth-generation logger from a small, rural corner of the whitest state, I stand in solidarity with protesters all across Maine and the country demanding justice for George Floyd, for victims of police brutality and racial violence, and for those who live under systemic oppression that I do not.