From the Executive Director

This weekend, our nation pauses to honor the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to recommit ourselves to carrying on his legacy of addressing racism while working tirelessly to promote, preserve and protect civil rights. In our remembrances, we are especially mindful of his extraordinary civility and genius for using nonviolent words and actions to effect transformation.

Here in Maine, there will be a number of special events throughout the state to honor Dr. King’s memory and legacy, and the Maine Council of Churches urges everyone to attend at least one in your area (visit this page for a listing of many planned events around Maine).

Just a week before the MLK holiday, it was distressing to hear the insidious and toxic poison of racism tainting our governor’s comments about out-of-state drug dealers impregnating “young white girls” in Maine. As Alison Beyea, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maine, put it so eloquently in her January 11 Bangor Daily News editorial, that black men pose a sexual threat to white women is a dangerous and fallacious idea with a painful past in this country, used to justify countless lynchings of innocent black men (like 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955) and more recent violence like the mass shooting of nine African Americans in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston (the white gunman said he did it because “they” are “raping our women”). The governor’s explanation that when he said “white girls” he really meant “Maine women” is further evidence of underlying racism, since it implies that all Maine women are white—which also suggests that Maine’s women of color are invisible to the governor. Yet, as Beyea rightly points out, native people were here long before any white women, black women have been here as long as white women have, and the women of Maine today are wonderfully diverse.

It is awful when racism erupts like this and reminds us all that it is alive and well in our midst. When it does, those of us who are white (and I am) must honestly acknowledge that none of us is immune from the effects of white privilege, nor from the taint of our own unexamined racism.

And those of us who champion the principles of civil discourse (as the Maine Council of Churches most certainly does) must not ignore the fact that part of civility is admitting when we are mistaken, misguided, ignorant, insensitive, or just plain wrong.

So before I climb into the saddle of my high horse to look down with contempt on what the governor said, I must speak with humility about my own white privilege. And I must applaud the governor’s decision to step forward less than 24 hours after making his racist remarks to issue an apology. We might point out that the apology was not without its flaws (because flawed it was), but his willingness to try to apologize for what he knew was wrong is an essential step toward civil discourse—a step that I hope is the first of many more, since civility has been sorely lacking in our public life.

And so, with this vivid and painful reminder of the tenacity of racism in our very midst, please make every effort to attend one or more of the events happening across our state this weekend to honor the memory and legacy of Dr. King, and to recommit yourself to continuing the hard work of confronting racism in ourselves and others and of creating a world where Dr. King’s dream can become a reality.

–Rev. Jane Field,
Executive Director, Maine Council of Churches

Click here for a list of events being held around the state in celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday