I’m tired of all these assumptions about diversity in Maine

It was the weirdest thing.

I was reading the comments on a BDN article about race demographics in the United States and Maine specifically. The article reported on Census data compiled by Time magazine that showed Maine’s demographics in 2013 were similar to the U.S.’s in 1940. It said it was a “problem,” much to commenters’ dismay, that Maine is “not keeping up with our increasingly diversifying nation.”

As for the piece itself, I was a little disappointed. There was no way so small an article could encompass the entirety of the cited report and its possible implications or lack thereof for Maine. (The report purports to have found that diversity spurs economic development, and homogeneous populations slow it down.) The abstract of the actual report left me thinking, once again, that humanity would be well served to cut the number of working lawyers and economists by half.

And yes, I have shared that sentiment with lawyers whose company I enjoy, and not all of them have disagreed. I don’t know any economists, so I don’t know where they stand on the merits of an over-proliferation of their field of study.

To suggest that report has critical, practical applications for economic development in Maine today is to suggest that a bunch of clerics discussing how many angels fit on the head of a pin has critical, practical applications for spiritual growth.

Also, comparing Mainers to citizens in the rest of the United States is like comparing lobster to Spam, no offense to everyone I adore living on the other side of the Kittery bridge. I haven’t been in every state — I think I’m up to 28 or 29 — and I know each region has its culture, but Mainers stand alone.

Mainers are a unique people; it’s a unique state; and living here is a unique lifestyle, kind of an acquired taste. It’s not for everyone of any color. And Mainers have done their fair share of mixing cultures and are quite proud of it. Francos and Russians and Native peoples and the descendants of early settlers. It’s just not mocha mixing.

But back to the weird part. So I was reading the comments — the count was at 288 and I’m not sure how many I read, but it was more than half — and I found at least some small part of me agreeing with at least some small part of most of the comments. Except of course, the most racist ones, like the few that tried to link race and crime.

Those few commenters should take a gander at the Sex Offender Registry or in the cells in our jails and prison. Maine has no problem with its supply of white criminals.

Other than that, I found the comments at least provocative, and I found myself understanding the sentiments behind most of them. Maybe it’s because I am mixed-race; maybe it’s because I’m getting older; maybe it’s because I just love Mainers, who may not be diverse in color but definitely are in thought.

I agreed with the people who said diversity is good. Go sit in a black barber shop, and tell me you don’t laugh at least once and learn a little something, too. But diversity does come with baggage, so I understood that sentiment, as well.

There are reasons I quite consciously chose to raise my boys here, and a big one is minimal race baggage. Most of the time in my 40+ years of experience in Maine, it’s a non-issue, and I wanted that for my children.

The original report also supports this sentiment. It advocates high but moderate diversity in a population, warning that:

if the degree of diversity is too large, an increase in diversity raises the flow of ideas while increasing the prevalence of anarchy in society, acutely disrupting the transmission of society-specific human capital. The rate at which new ideas are implemented and productivity is advanced in the economy is therefore diminished.

I agreed with everyone who said Maine’s lagging economy is a bigger problem than diversity and the primary problem for attracting a diverse citizenry. The report could be interpreted to suggest our lack of diversity is the reason for our lagging economy. That part of the report strikes me as a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” kind of discussion, which bears little relevance for running a chicken farm today.

It doesn’t matter if Maine’s economy might have theoretically fared better if it had a more diverse population in the past.

Mainers need economic revitalization now, and, without it, we have no hope for attracting the diverse population that will spur further economic growth. Whether Maine is an acquired taste or not, given a thriving economy and our state’s inherent natural beauty, we would be unable to stem the flow of folks of all colors wanting to call our state home. The hard part would be getting them to check their baggage at the tollbooth. Diversity, yes; baggage, no.

Then there was the thumbnail picture of a scene from from the 1939 movie “Gone with the Wind” that accompanied the article on the BDN homepage. It depicted a female slave serving her white mistress.

I so enjoy working with the wonderful people at Bangor Daily News. Perhaps one of the greatest testaments to the caliber of the organization is the extent to which they let me respectfully disagree at times. This would be one of those times, even though I know the picture would not have been chosen with ill intent. For me as a mixed person, the offense is nuanced and complicated.

The black side of me is tired of being treated like I have to feel like I was once a slave. I wasn’t. My ancestors were, and goodness knows I can’t escape the baggage from all the crap that’s happened since, but I have never been owned and never will be. Even if some bizarre turn of events created a construct that could sell my body as a commodity, I still wouldn’t be owned. My essential self has never been, nor ever will be for sale.

The white side of me is sick of white guilt. I’m tired of hearing about how “we” owned and oppressed people. “We” didn’t. Our ancestors did, and goodness knows we’re up to our eyeballs in trying to clean up all the crap that has happened since, but “we” have never and will never own people. Talking about what “we” didn’t do as if “we” did, does not move us toward what “we” need to do now to uplift the lives of all peoples.

Many thanks to the commenters who offered up an interesting, if not challenging at times, conversation. As for the demographic map, the report, and what they are supposed to be saying about Mainers: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.