This original post to facebook on July 26 caught my attention. I know the mom who posted it and have stood with Sass and her daughter kiddo on the bridge to Lewiston during their monthly Showing Up For Racial Justice, central Maine vigil.
I re-posted the photo with these comments:
Love the body language in this conversation where a high school student crossed the street from a vigil for racial justice to talk with a counter protester. The man's sign reads: "There is no racial tension in Lewiston. Don't start any." My question: Can a white person know enough to make such a claim?
This reminded me of the controversy at Lewiston High School a couple of years ago when the principal took down a poster that said Black Lives Matter, plus the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others killed by police in other cities.
|"Lewiston students try to raise their voices, but protest interrupted" by Edward D. Murphy in the Portland Press Herald|
"This 2014 file photo shows Senior Kalgaal Issa, junior Chandler Clothier, junior Iman Abdalla and senior Muna Mohamed, who were among the Lewiston High School students who were asked to take down a protest poster inside the school in December 2014. John Patriquin/Staff Photographer"
I re-read the Portland Press Herald's coverage of that incident and found what had jogged my memory: the superintendent of schools, Bill Webster, claimed there were no "racial problems" at Lewiston High School.
A former student left this comment on the online version of the article:
This is white privilege in a nutshell: if a white person doesn't perceive racial problems, they don't have to.
Nor, apparently, do they need to consult the people who might actually know from experience about racial problems in a school or city.
I know from experience that people will claim that another Maine high school where I teach has no racism because "everyone is white." This is not and never has been true. And there are plenty of incidents of overt racism. One student of color with an Arabic name saw bathroom scrawls such as "Kill the n-word (insert name of student here)."
Another non-white student told a friend that he was called the n-word every day at school. Friend: "Why don't you punch them?" Student: "Because I would be punching someone every five minutes, and I would get in trouble."
I overheard this conversation while eavesdropping during a field trip to a local posh college with visibly more students of color. Did that setting increase my student's comfort level enough to speak about it to a friend? Unknown.
And racism aimed at native people in Maine? Don't get me started, it would take all day to report on just the incidents I know of since I moved back to the state in 1988. Here's a very recent example from the facebook post of Maulian Smith who leads the campaign to retire the last "Indian" mascot in a Maine high school:
The rhetorical question in my re-post of Laykenn's conversation led to a long string of comments exchanged by a former student of mine, Rafik Kazikhanov, who has been the target of xenophobia many times himself, and a woman claiming there is racism in Lewiston -- against white people!
Michelle Luce wrote, "Somalians in Lewiston literally attack random white children, teens and adults walking down the street for no reason...the racial tension in Lewiston isn't between cops and black people. It's between Somalians who quite frankly act like animals and innocent white people. Cops aren't a part of it and it's not the black people of Lewiston fearing for their safety on a daily basis."
Her comment drew this response:
So Michelle is frightened. She feels this is an acceptable reason to claim that black people are not afraid. And that is white privilege in a nutshell.
|My photo of Laykenn and mom at the vigil on May 23, 2016|
|My photo of vigil organized by SURJ, central Maine in May, 2016. |
Banner by the Artists' Rapid Response Team (ARRT!) of the Maine Union of Visual Artists.