Original sin of white supremacy haunts us still

Here is the moment we are in.

More than 100,000 Americans are dead with a new and deadly virus that continues to spread.

Forty million Americans are unemployed.

A new Depression may be upon us.

Our nation is torn asunder by systemic racism, police brutality and the protests they have ignited. Another black man is dead, under the knee of a police officer. George Floyd’s name is added to a long list black people killed because of the color of their skin.

Demonstrators in Bangor stand across from police officers on Monday to protest George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis. (Natalie Williams | BDN)

President Donald Trump is inept, hateful and feeds the flames of unrest and division.

He pantomimes faith while unleashing government violence on peaceful protestors so he can take a picture. He abuses his authority and corrupts those around him, pardoning soldiers accused of war crimes and threatening to shoot American citizens.

And he’s coming to Maine. To a small, conservative town that is likely to find itself under a national gaze and the strain of protestors, counter-protestors and media. I’m concerned for my state and its people.

Our country can no longer sustain a system with such inequality and injustice baked into its bones. Black lives matter. But we don’t act like it.

Systemic racism is the clear straight line through the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade and that connects those deaths to the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color.

It’s an injustice so thoroughly American that is has been written into our laws and Constitution and disguised through a noble, white telling of our own history.

This year as Maine celebrates its bicentennial, in our shared mythology we brag that we entered the union as a free state, a rejection of the abomination of slavery.

Like the Three-Fifths Compromise before it that decreed that slaves were less than fully human, the Missouri Compromise was a pact with the devil that gave Maine statehood along with Missouri as a way to maintain the balance of power between free states and slave states.

It was the political failure to end slavery that ultimately led to the Civil War. And it is the legacy of slavery, white supremacy and systemic racism that has brought us to this place today. Our country has not atoned for its original sin.

In Maine, a free state, the Confederate battle flag flies freely today sending a clear message that the Boys from Maine may have stood firm on Little Round Top and saved the Union, but some of their kin are keen to embrace the segregationist fury the flag’s resurrection represents.

Racism did not unleash COVID-19. The virus knows no color and attacks people of all races and creeds. It is the ongoing impact of racism – including health care inequalities, fear and stigma – that has made the disproportionate impact worse for communities of color.

This column is filled with declarative statements. They are a lot easier to write than they are to live, and the direct impact of racism and police violence are not part of my daily life. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Last week, my son was watching a construction crew work on a street in our neighborhood. A man he didn’t know approached him in a way that made him feel threatened. He took off on his bike and the man chased him.

The construction crew called the police. Portland City Councilor Nick Mavodones, who happened to be walking by, intervened. The police arrived quickly.

The man who chased my son is white, he’s known to police and potentially dangerous. I do not know what would have happened without the fast actions by the crew from Neuco, the responding police officers and Mavodones. To me, they are heroes.

That event is typical of every interaction I have had with the police since moving to Portland nearly 20 years ago. I have taught my son that he can trust the police and that they will help him if he’s in trouble.

Not every parent can teach that same lesson. And that’s wrong.

So what do we do?

We start by stepping back, listening and opening our eyes to injustice that might not touch us directly and that might make us uncomfortable when we see them. We hold ourselves, our friends and our government accountable. We support people and organizations that empower people of color. We work every day at being anti-racist, knowing that some days we will fall short.

And we love one another and find the common humanity that binds us all each to the other.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.