Skip to content

An open letter to my Governor, Paul LePage

January 17, 2011

Dear Governor LePage,

Official family portrait from the Lepage website

The reason that your unfortunate  recent comments about choosing not to attend several local NAACP Martin Luther King Day events caused such a stir in me was because of what you and I have in common. We are both white people from Maine who are transracially adoptive parents. (I adopted my son at birth, while yours joined your family as a teenager.) My son Sam is brown-skinned too, just like Devon.  My son is at the beginning of his public school career, and yours is a graduate student.  When I look at Devon’s confident posture, perfect line up, and easy smile in your recent family picture on the edge of a Maine lake, I imagined my own son eighteen years from now.

I tried to imagine the two of them talking about their shared experience of being adopted* into a white family. Talking about coming into manhood in one of the whitest states in the country. What wisdom would your son have to share with mine about how to navigate high school as a young Black man, surrounded by white kids everywhere? Kids who might say things like, “Wow it just got awfully dark in here,” when they walk into in a room?

My son will never hear me announce to the media that because of the gift of him being in my life, I no longer have to be held accountable for my own racism.  Speaking from my own experience, the very existence of Sam in my life, has committed me, and my extended family and friends, to a constant questioning of our own assumed ideas about race, and about people of a different race. Because of Sam, I live in a state of constant self evaluation around my own unexamined whiteness or White Mind. (I am using the definition White Mind as the unconscious patterns of thought and behavior resulting from socialization as a white American from this article by Annie O’Brien.) Assumptions I can make, because I am white-like most likely having colleagues the same color as me, a bank teller willing to take my word for it, or the doctor treating me to be the same color as I am.  My son Sam has never been seen by a brown skinned doctor, had a brown skinned teacher and has only recently seen a Disney movie with a heroine that is the same color as him.

I seek out others who can help me unpack all of that, and mirror how my assumptions might impact my parenting. I do this when  I am willing to do so, which is not often enough.

Because of Sam, I look to other people of color, in leadership roles, such as the NAACP to provide opportunities for me, and my family to, in your words, make things better for all Mainers. Because of his color, my son is part of a group of Mainers who are so easily marginalized, overlooked, and even pathologized because of assumptions people who don’t know better make.

Like many transracially adoptive parents in Maine and beyond, I look to you, Governor,  to elevate the understanding of non adoptive families around how fortunate we are to have these children in our lives, and that it is not the other way around. Sammy provides me the opportunity to embrace with humility just how little I know about the experience of being a person of color. Sammy does not provide me with an excuse to forgo any invitation I am given to learn a little more about what that might look like in Maine, or anywhere for that matter.

I wish you and your entire family well on this day that we all come together in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. arguably the most magnanimous man in U.S. history.  A man who choose his position of leadership to create togetherness, not separation,  love not hate.

Sincerely,

Mama C and the Boys

*although Devon has apparently not been formally adopted by the LePages , the fact that the governor speaks of their family bond in this way, is what I am addressing here.

A special nod of thanks to both Denene Miller and my father (a Mainer) for their encouragement and feedback in my crafting of this letter.

Advertisements
25 Comments leave one →
  1. Molly permalink
    January 17, 2011 6:06 pm

    This is perfectly crafted and perfectly said. I second it, whole heartedly!
    Those of us who have your family in our hearts and minds are better people because of it, and for SO many reasons but today, especially because if your insights on parenting your children if color in this oh-so-white state of Maine!

  2. January 17, 2011 7:12 pm

    I am in absolutely awe of you—your spirit, your thoughtfulness, your self-reflection, your honesty, your intellect. This letter is stunning in its ability to make plain why WE ALL should be concerned and offended by LePage’s statements and actions, and why it’s important that WE ALL speak up and let him know that it was a huge NO BUENO to, as the statesman of Maine, tell his constituency to kiss his butt. Last I checked, the governor of a state represents ALL people of the state, and MLK was a great AMERICAN who changed our world in many ways, both tangible and incalculable.

    Thank you for writing this from such a fresh perspective. I think you’re amazing and your babies are SO lucky to have you as a mom.

    • January 17, 2011 8:37 pm

      Denene, I explained to Sam, how you helped me to find my voice, and craft this important letter. We talked about how Dr. King had to communicate what was right, even when it felt hard at times, and took a lot of time! Sam said if you were famous then it was OK that I was working so hard for you! He has his priorities. Thank you again for all of your support and encouragement:it moved a mountain over here.

  3. January 18, 2011 1:32 am

    Hey, Mama C! Great stuff.

    One piece of good news is, someone got through with sense and reason, and our governor has now agreed to meet with the NAACP and I hear even showed up at the Waterville MLK breakfast this morning.

    Meanwhile, lots of us gathered in Portland today for discussions and a march, many prompted by outrage at our governor’s remarks. A silver lining.

    One of the best ideas that came from our small-group discussion: Every one of us should immediately JOIN the NAACP to show that it doesn’t represent special interests, but all of our interests. (This can happen everywhere, not just in Maine.)

    • January 18, 2011 1:43 am

      Yes Annie–all good things coming out of this, as is so often the case. As my friend Sage said tonight, we need to keep holding the “we” and resist the temptation to leap to the “us” and “them”. I am so glad you were at the march, and are sharing out all of this with us. Thank you, and for you help with the piece too.

  4. Kate Brogan permalink
    January 18, 2011 4:06 am

    THANK YOU for this. When the Governor made his comments on Friday morning, after my initial reaction to the attack on the NAACP wore off, it’s been the story of this young man that I can’t get out of my mind. I keep wondering if he realized, at 16 or 17, that he was signing up to be this family’s get-out-of-jail free card on all things race-related – did he know that was part of the bargain? And when the Governor’s office released really personal details of his life story over the weekend and said that they’d make him available to the press, I just wanted to cry for him. I fear we’re in for a long four years.

  5. shannoncl permalink
    January 19, 2011 4:23 am

    I’m been stewing on this for days now and I’m thrown in so many directions I can’t spit straight. But here’s a quick ‘how do ya do’- That photo. The one here. The very same one sent to my home multiple times over the election season? That photo had a caption naming the people in the photo and his brown skinned son was labled as a ‘family friend’. I’m so pissed off for so many reasons. Seriously.

    The other biggie for me is- “Go talk to my son”, with his elite-est and entitled tone and body language. Puh leeze. You be the adult – who puts something like that on one of their kids??

  6. January 19, 2011 3:32 pm

    Catherine,
    This is just fantastic. Could I cross-post to Love Isn’t Enough? This is such a good model for how to be an ally, imho.

    all best,
    Julia

  7. Michele Metzler permalink
    January 19, 2011 4:16 pm

    Hi MamaC-

    I was just sent to this post by a friend–THANK YOU for writing such an eloquent letter. I am also in Maine, and we are in the process of adopting from Ethiopia. Could I post a link to this post on my FB page?

    Thanks!
    Michele Metzler

  8. January 19, 2011 11:42 pm

    Thank you for articulating perfectly what I could not.

    • January 20, 2011 1:31 am

      I was so happy to hear from you here, and off line. I am touched and please to hear from you here, and with such affirmation.

  9. Julia permalink
    January 20, 2011 12:39 am

    A facebook friend shared a link to this post. Absolutely brilliant.

  10. Tom Jones permalink
    January 20, 2011 1:18 am

    cYour response was so perfectly stated. My wife and I have 5 beautifal daughters Emily born in 1967, Laura ( Black/White ) who came home to us ae 2 weeks/ in 1969 Allison ( Back ) who came home at age 6 mos in 1971 and Dorothy and Lucie Black/Vietnamese sisters who came home in 1974 just before the fall of Vietnam. We have always believed that our family reflected what the world really should be. Having 5 teenage daughters at the same time was a trip. Race was never a great problem. Your kids know you love them and that they are valued. They can handle more than you ever believed possible. They become your teachers in the end. You will always have fools who will say hateful things to your kids. When Allison came to me crying at age 10 and said the Grandma down the street said ” go home you little nigger ” I had to stifle my rage and tell her that she should feel sorry for that woman because she was unhappy and really hated herself to speak like that to anyone. It never came up again. Allison and Lucie actually graduated from Mt Ararat in Topsham when we lived in Maine. When Lucie graduated from Tufts shewent on to U of Texas Law school. Some White students told her that she had ” stolen” a white students spot because of affirmative action. Lucie was Deans List at Tufts with a double major and she just shrugged it off. We ars so pleased that infants of color are no longer hard to place . Allisons’ 16 year old daughter Rinnie recently showed a friend a picture of herself with our grandson Nick , the friend asked who’s the white kid and Rinnie said my cousin . She says she loves to tell people about her family. After all these years we have never regretted our way of completing our family. Our girls always tell us they wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m sorry I Strayed so far off point . You have the perfect approach . Your kids will hopefully achive Dr Kings dream.

    • January 20, 2011 1:33 am

      Thank you sir. I hope you are right! Your words honor my work, and your story is so powerful to hear. Thank you.

  11. January 20, 2011 4:54 am

    Thank you. Beautifully written, important, simple and true. I appreciate you not being silent.

    I believe it was Shannon who led me here.

  12. January 20, 2011 4:55 am

    I just realized it was Sue that sent me here!

  13. January 21, 2011 5:45 pm

    Wow. That’s crazy. A beauftiful letter though. It’s so true about white privilege. People like you are me are almost invisible. We can float through any situation without fear of prejudice or presumption. We are always trusted. I think about this all the time.

  14. January 26, 2011 5:18 pm

    What a wonderful letter. Thank you for being such an active ally and advocate for us adult transracial adoptees.

    • January 27, 2011 12:08 am

      An honor to have your kudos here! Thank you for saying so. You can take pleasure in knowing you were a guide for my voice on this one.

  15. signatures1 permalink
    January 26, 2011 7:04 pm

    I watched the video of the interview and he ends by saying, If they(NAACP) want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them.” How sad!

    He just doesn’t get it. There were several times he kept referring to his son, implying the presence of his son made it alright for him to say whatever he felt like saying. There is so much he said that was offensive but the fact that he was oblivious to the fact that what he was saying was offensive is disheartening.
    Then to use his son as a shield was just wrong. You are the father, you should be protecting you child of color from people who talk like this not calling on him to defend you.

    The breakfast after the fact, was a p r showing more than his genuine understanding of what he said and why it was offensive.

  16. Jessward permalink
    January 31, 2011 3:34 pm

    Mama C,
    Thank you so much for writing and sharing this letter. I too was outraged at our elected Governor’s comments, a Governor whom I did not vote for and with whom I do not share many view’s, but that is another story. The way in which you addressed this subject was very tactful and articulate so thank you for speaking for many of us who may find it hard to address Mr. Lepage with such tact. Also, thank you especially for speaking for our children who deserve to be protected from racism that exists from those in power who are too oblivious to acknowledge it.
    Jessica Ward

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: