Not average assault

Diverse city
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  September 20, 2006

It’s been four years since I landed here in Maine and during that time, my life has taken many twists and turns. No matter what, though, there are certain behaviors and attitudes (particularly along the lines of self-preservation) that are ingrained in me as a result of growing up in Chicago. Recently, I have found myself wondering about what life might look like for a black girl growing up in Maine (not surprising, since I have a baby daughter).

Unfortunately, a possible answer presented itself as a result of a recent crime up in Hancock County this month. A young, pregnant, African-American woman by the name of Sarah Norris was assaulted by a white man who apparently decided that it wasn’t enough to verbally assault her, so he reached into her car and kicked her in her pregnant belly. Thankfully, Ms. Norris and her child appear to be fine. But as an African-American woman who was pregnant just a little over a year ago, chills ran down my spine.

Then I started asking, “How come?” How come this man was able to reach into her car? How come Ms. Norris did not peel out of the parking lot when she realized this man was calling her racial epithets?

Well, some of my questions were answered when I happen to catch a interview with Ms. Norris on the WCSH Channel 6 news one night. Turns out she was born and raised up in Hancock County and apparently had racial slurs directed at her as a child growing up, but it was never as serious as this.

I admit I am paraphrasing, but that was the gist. And it made me think about how so often people of color who are born and raised here in Maine seem different to me. Let me make it perfectly clear that I don’t expect all people of color, African-Americans or otherwise, to all behave the same. That would be ridiculous. Yet, I am amazed at how often I hear about black Mainers enduring things like being called “colored” or “nigger” without saying so much as a word about it, simply accepting it as the way that some people are.

I cannot imagine that. Simply brushing off constant little assaults to me seems like an invitation for people to launch larger assaults at me and mine later. Honestly, when it’s time for my daughter to go to school, if anyone calls her outside of her name, much less tries to lay hands on her, they will deal with me.

In some ways, living here is a constant stressor to me as a person of color. It’s a lovely state, but I often dream of leaving it. I have met many wonderful people, but also too many who say they embrace difference but really don’t give me a place at the table unless I am willing to assimilate and be just like them and something other than who I really am.

I am sure all of this will encourage someone to send me one of those “Why don’t you just leave” e-mails that I get at least once or twice a year as a result of writing this column. Well, there are personal and family reasons that I need to be here, for one thing. But more than that, as an American whose ancestors helped build this country (and for a long time doing so while slaves), I figure I have the right to live anywhere I damn well choose.

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