by Samuel James
by Samuel James

The winning side of history

In the grand scheme of things, humanity progresses toward harmony. Globally, we are living in the freest, most peaceful, most bountiful time in human history. This is not to say everything’s harmonious now, or even acceptable. There continue to be genuine monsters, enormously tragic back-steps, and moments of absolute horror, but humanity’s long-term trajectory goes in one direction. This means the winning side of history is the side that promotes harmony.

Which is why it’s so jarring to me when our governor says things like this:

“The traffickers — these aren’t people who take drugs. These are guys by the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty. These type of guys that come from Connecticut and New York. 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 the real sad thing, because then we have another issue that we have to deal with down the road.”

Those aren’t the words of someone on the winning side of history. Those are the words of a man who seems very seriously committed to the losing side. Now, I’m not going to dig too deeply into LePage’s comments here. I’ve already written extensively about this for the Bangor Daily News. So has Bollard editor Chris Busby, in his column for the BDN (“LePage’s racist remark is typical of the drug war,” Jan. 14). So have writers working for publications across the country and around the world.

But Mike Tipping’s Jan. 9 piece in the Portland Press Herald (“LePage’s apology is worse than his original racist remark”) mentioned something I really appreciated. It’s a wonderful quote from the As Maine Goes message board by Maine Rep. Lawrence Lockman, a Republican from Amherst: “When I see a twenty-something black guy decked out in bling grocery-shopping with a chubby white girl in Bangor, my educated guess is that he’s a drug dealer from New York, and she’s a native Mainer welfare queen.”

Now that is real commitment to the losing side of history. You’ve got your fat-shaming. You’ve got your poor-shaming. You’ve got a couple different types of racism and a false claim of education. All that in one sentence! It’s pretty incredible.

My favorite part is the “welfare queen” bit. In case you didn’t know, that was a coded, racist phrase Ronald Reagan used to demonize poor, black women. Wrongly applied Reaganisms are always a joy to see. (Sarah Palin provided one last month when she twisted The Gipper’s famous “peace through strength” phrase into “power through strength.”)

By the way, when my black father moved to Maine in the ’70s after marrying my “chubby white girl” mother, he definitely dressed in a way that people of that decade would consider “decked out in bling.” Many people like Lockman thought my father was a drug dealer due to his confounding ability to buy food with my mother. He actually was (and continues to be) a decorated military veteran. Good guess, though.

Which brings me back to Rep. Lockman’s “educated guess.” How did he get that education? Here are my educated guesses:

  • Lockman has met numerous black men who wear stylish accessories while grocery shopping with white women in Bangor, he asked the men about their employment and they candidly replied that they’re drug dealers up from New York.
  • Lockman buys drugs from black men in Bangor.
  • Lockman is actually their supplier.

LePage talks like that kid in school who, when asked why he didn’t do his homework, has a really long and weird excuse involving Martians. Lockman talks like that kid who backs him up because he was totally there and saw the whole thing.

We’re not in Rome being sacked by the goddamn Visigoths. Maine is not under siege by bejeweled black men from New York intent on turning us into junkies and defiling young white women, chubby or otherwise. We are a state that has a drug-addiction problem, and all the racism in the world isn’t going to solve it.

It doesn’t help that LePage’s ideas about addiction, as well as poverty and race, are more outdated than Reagan’s. His “solution” is to continue the unwinnable War on Drugs. The governor and people like Lockman will continue to blame others and vilify addicts. It is up to the rest of us to see through their racist distractions and fight for treatment over punishment.

We’re on the winning side of history, but we haven’t won yet.


Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He lives in Portland and can be reached at racismsportland@gmail.com.