That’s right…I am a Black Girl in Maine

11 Sep

Its been a strange day. Today was the last day of girl child attending the program she has been in since she was 13 months old. When she started at the center, over 3 years ago I was teaching part-time and after having spent the first 13 months at home being a very attached parent, to say I was nervous about putting her in daycare was an understatement. Yet very quickly the lovely staff at the center became like extended members of our family, for months they held her while she fell asleep, dealt with cloth diapers, and never once seemed put off with my overbearing ways.

Needless to say in recent weeks it was one of the hardest decisions we made when we had to face the reality that our finances could no longer support girl child staying in their wonderful preschool program. Actually last year we couldn’t afford it but sacrified everything to keep her there in hopes that our work situations would pick up, instead after landing my position last fall, things got worse. A month ago it hit me that we could not continue to live so close to the bone. Yet for the past several weeks, I kept hoping somehow things would work out, that someone would contact either I or the Spousal Unit for a contract position but it didn’t happen.

So we awoke this morning once again reminding girl child that today was her last day, we sent notes to her closet buddies and hope that they take us up on our offer to have some playdates. Truly a sad moment though we may be able to volunteer a few times a month and girl child will be able to go and play with her friends. What is unique about this center is that for being located in Maine which is a really white state, there were other children of color there. In fact her class was about 40% non-white and her closet friend is also biracial. Due to the make up of the school, I have been insulated from the reality of how white Maine is and how that might impact girl child but tonight well…we got the wake up call.

After saying our good-byes this afternoon, we had to rush off to the open house at the new and affordable preschool she will be attending. The new preschool is actually affiliated with the daycare/preschool she has been attending since they are both part of the YMCA but the daycare is a full-time program that runs full days whereas the preschool is only a few hours a week and they are in separate locations. Demographically the folks who send their kids to the full-time program either work or are in school whereas the new program is generally kids who have never been in a program.

So we (that would be me, girl child and Spousal Unit) roll up to the open house, walk in and well lets just say it was um…interesting. Every kid and corresponding parental unit was white, ok its Maine, that’s not the end of the world I say to myself.

Well as I noticed parents glancing at us and not making eye contact I started to get a tad uncomfortable but what really has me writing a rare second post in a day is the fact that girl child being the outgoing character that she is walked over to another girl and started playing, the little girl looked tentative but the child’s Mama looked bothered. She actually at one point grabbed her kid and when I started talking to her looked like she really did not want to respond to me.

Thankfully girl child was oblivious and the woman did eventually allow her child to play with mine, but that scene has me disturbed to my core. As my child went to wander and play some more, I noticed the looks of the kids and parents and it took everything for me to not cry…the Spousal Unit saw the look on my face, the one that generally means I am about to lose my cool and get gutter. Thankfully I did not, instead I brushed it off and put on my best damn snooty voice and held my head high but tonight as I write this the tears fall. They fall as I remember every miserable fucking year I spent as the only Black kid in the class, that was hard enough but at least I went home and saw Black folks.

I cry tonight wondering about our future and how long we will be here, truth is unloading this house would take an act of God so leaving is not an option. It’s funny because tonight I am reminded that Maine is a really white place yet whiteness has so many levels. I generally operate in that space here where I am surrounded by more liberal open types who embrace diversity which while at times as its drawbacks, it generally means folks who if they have beef with me, it’s because I am an asshole and not because I am Black. On the flip side are those who have less exposure to folks from different backgrounds and like tonight it shows.

So I have no idea what the future holds though girl child was oblivious which is a blessing and wants to go back and I have cautiously agreed to try it next week while we explore our options. But tonight I am reminded that I am a Black Girl in Maine raising a Black girl and at times it’s a lonely road.

15 Responses to “That’s right…I am a Black Girl in Maine”

  1. dearmoleskine September 11, 2009 at 10:24 pm #

    Yo’
    Big Brotha AlmighTY, reporting live from Wiscompton, seasons greetings and salutations to all the fam back H_O_M_E. Keep your head up, re-read Fred Doug, and buy Icey Ice a Malcolm shirt. In the mean time, rent out the BIG WHITE HOUSE to 5 of those families down the street, and relocate to the Chi-Land. Jeff and I will start a writing firm.

    Love,
    Big Brutha Thunda

  2. Sweetteach September 11, 2009 at 10:37 pm #

    Good lord it’s worse than I feared Shay. That is a really bad first impression-and usually people are on better behavior when they first meet folks. My heart hearts for you and for Isis. This is such a formative age for racial identity development and the unspoken and subtle issues are just as damaging as the in your face ones. When you were dealing with this, you at least had language and the cognitive ability to process it to some degree. I’m angry that you are forced to consider this place because of a crappy economy and that ME is such a White state in the 1st place…
    I think you are right to give it a little time but you should ultimately trust your gut around what’s best for I.
    Big hugs.

  3. blackgirlinmaine September 11, 2009 at 10:55 pm #

    Well there may be some options to explore but right now not the easiest to pursue. I used to joke about homeschooling but this is one reason that I would seriously consider going that path…I do not want her growing up in schools being made to feel lesser about herself in anyway. Homeschooling is not perfect and we would still be in Maine but the ability to seek open and like minded folks would make it more palatable.

    Thanks for the thoughts, in light of the millions losing their homes or being forced to go without food and healthcare, part of me almost feels petty about being so emotional about this. Yet its a big issue to me, perhaps because I know that kids do process the unspoken and with race its a huge deal.

    Big Bruh, wish we could rent out the big house but alas we are here for a bit. Though I may have you pick us a Malcolm shirt for your sis.

  4. suburbanlife September 13, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    This is heartbreaking. Children really look for cues as to how behave in most circumstances, and it’s obvious from your report here that the kids in this daycare merely mirrored attitudes expressed earlier by their parents.
    I agree with your concern for your little girl, given that you live in a state where whites predominate. It would be almost impossible to shield her from undesirable attitudes regarding race differences. On the other hand, home schooling has its pitfalls – one being isolating children from existing and unavoidable realities of life. That you have to face making a decision based on such few options and within tight economic constraints is so unfair, and my heart goes out to you. I hope you find a more desirabl solutione, one which eases some of your concerns and gives your child a situation where she finds stimulation, comfort and social support. G

  5. Danielle September 13, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

    Yes you are a Black Girl in Maine girl. I can honestly say my kid would home with me. I just don’t have time for all that mess. Kids repeat what they hear their parents say and how they act. You’re probably going to have to find another because if your like me a seed has been planted about the daycare so you’ll suspect everything about the place. Being broke is hard enough now you have you have to worry about childcare. Nah, there are other daycares. And if you have too, you can teach her at home better than the daycare would. As long as she can see some of her friends she’ll be good. There are tons of parents who home school, find those parents so you can meet up with their kids for playdates during the day and such. Maine is a nice place to live and to raise kids but you will never forget that you’re black and if you there will many, many opportunities for you to be reminded. Now that being said have you applied for daycare vouchers? I know you only have one child but your income might be low enough now to get it. I have three kids and mine is dame near scrapping at the bottom of the barrel. It’s worth a try, then you can put your daughter almost anywhere as long as it quality assured by Maine.
    There are many days Shay, when I look at all these white people, good and bad, surrounding me and wonder why am I in Maine? I am broke as a joke, every man I meet don’t have no rhythm and they are not the warmthest people. But there’s something about here that I love so I’ll be here for a while.

  6. blackgirlinmaine September 13, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

    Danielle, you summed up perfectly why I continue to live here despite the pleas from family to get the fuck out of dodge. There is a calmness here that I love, maybe its because I was a city kid but I love being close to the ocean and woods. If only I could move some folks of color here.

    Actually I have 2 kids for tax purposes and while my income has dropped, I still exist in theory on the fringe of the middle class so no daycare help. I feel for you though as far as the men situation, I joke with the hubby all the time that he never has to worry about me straying. I been here 7 years and in that time I have yet to see 7 attractive men of any color. I have a sista friend here whose been here over 10 years who despite only wanting to date men of color finally broke down and ended up dating white men and is now happily engaged to a cool white guy.

    By the way Danielle, if you are ever in Portland let me know, I would love to meet up with you over a drink (coffee, tea or even the alcholic variety 😉 )

    I am thankful though that my job is flexible that if need be the girl can come to work with me but at 4 her energy is still high so we need a preschool or a lot of playdates.

    Suburbanlife, the pitfalls of homeschooling you mentioned are some of the things that have me on the fence. Since most of my reasons for even considering it have to do with being Black and not wanting her spirit crushed before she is able to handle it. Though Maine is actually a cool place to homeschool from what I can tell and many folks I know who homeschool here tend to be a lot more progressive and open.

  7. suburbanlife September 13, 2009 at 4:15 pm #

    If you are able to connect with like minded home-schoolers, have a group of children and adults to mix with who you trust to have their own and your child’s best interest at heart, you cannot possibly go wrong. Besides which, from your own experiences and abilities you can not only influence your own child, but others in a home-schooling group, and so add to the experiential possibilities of home shooling. We have so little ability to control our lives, that any opprotunity where you can exert influence and control toward the optimal is all good. No wonder so many parents wish to home school. i worked for many years in the public school system, and was constantly amazed by the cold, dismissive and close-minded attitudes demonstrated by many kids, not only kids, but teachers. Some childern do not do well in the hurly-burly, survive all comers atmosphere of the public schools. I think it is better to provide a model of respect and acceptance of differences and capacities – things which are possible to do with well meaning and conscientious home schooling parents. Check out the home-schooling groups in your area, and step into a situation which you find the best fit for your family. I wish you success. You are one thinking woman, the kind of woman I’d be fortunate to be able to call a friend. I’m a dark Hungarian, by the way, and Middle Eastern people frequently stop me to talk to in their language. I like it!!! G

  8. Kit (Keep It Trill) September 14, 2009 at 6:36 pm #

    Ouch. I share your pain, truly, having been through it with my oldest when we lived in a minority-deficient neighborhood for several years. It’s heartbreaking. Good luck.

  9. The Sphinx September 15, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    LoL @ “Girl child” and “Spousal Unit”. Love it!
    I’ve been in a similar situation here in Michigan, where it’s just me, and my white counterparts (well, I was fortunate to have another black girl who was extra cool). And the white people here are (self-proclaimed) liberals too.
    The same liberals that voted for the proposal (i think it was 2 or 4) that prohibited affirmative action.
    It’s the “liberals” you need to watch out for, because you never know where they’re REALLY coming from, whereas, with the others, they tell you straight up what it is.

  10. field Negro September 15, 2009 at 7:18 pm #

    Damn that’s a sad story. But thanks for posting it. We needed to hear it. Stay strong up there in Maine. And remember, you are not alone here in A-merry-ca.

    Peace.

  11. Joe Brown September 15, 2009 at 10:39 pm #

    I have been in computer systems for 33 years in the New York City (Wall Street). Because of my advanced age, I moved from doing technical work to doing sales and consulting about 6 years ago. My company often sent me to offices of prospective customers, and up until last year most of them were financials. I remember time and time again going to these nice, expensive offices and seeing all these mostly young people sitting in front of computers, working the market.
    I can say that in those 5 years, I saw no black faces whatever. Blacks were in reception, maybe computer support, or in other non-visible positions. They were never in positions of power, control or decision making. You don’t need to go to a “white” state to see america.

  12. Javier September 15, 2009 at 11:25 pm #

    SistainME:

    That’s a painful story to read. I remember the first time I was confronted with my “differentness.” I was 12 and my mother wanted to put me in a summer sports camp. I was reluctant as I was a shy kid around new people and had no exp outside my church and the private school I went to.
    Anyway. So every Thurs the camp went swimming at the state pool (MA thing). So I see one of the camp counselors who was this large neanderthal looking high school kid nicknamed Tank sitting on a picnic table with a group of kids flocked around him. I don’t know why but I wandered over. Instantly I felt every single eye on me. I was paralyzed. That’s when Tank called me a nigger and told me to get outta here. I complied and walked away and felt small and lonely. I made it though and so will Isis. You won’t be able to shield her forever as I know you are well aware. All you can do is let her know how much you love her and just how special she truly is. That helps to counteract any negativity she may encounter in the future.
    I like that you’re thinking of homeschooling. Wifey and I are thinking about it as well. A very good friend of mine is originally from York, ME. She was homeschooled until high school. She is a very well-adjusted, intelligent product of her parents love and attention and happens to be a great writer as well.
    Wifey and I have discussed relocating. Maine is on the list for some of the reasons you love it. It is a beautiful place.
    My first adult love was black chic from NJ. Her freshman year she was roomed with a girl from ME. This poor child was so clueless she would go up to my girl with her eyes wide and ask if she could touch her braids! Many a time did I have to hold my girl back! LOL
    That poor girl had never seen black folk before she came down here for school. Sad that that exists in this day but it goes to show you there is no such thing as a post-racial America and Obama didn’t change a thing.
    It begins with your daughter, you, myself showing what a true black or Hispanic is like. That we aren’t really different from them.

    Humanity is born. Culture is given. Tolerance is learned.

    God bless.

  13. Krystal September 18, 2009 at 3:44 pm #

    Funny, that’s one of the reasons why my family moved from Vermont when I was eleven. My mom was concerned about whether or not I’d find dates and what not. Moving to NC didn’t really improve my romantic life, but it probably would have been social hell for me if we lived in VT during my teenage years.

  14. Renada October 7, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    Oh Shay, this broke my heart. I don’t know how you did it, you were strong in that situation, and your daughter will gain strength from you too. I am so naive at times, I’m either totally oblivious to situations, or I take it too far–I see myself taking my little girl’s hand and getting the hell outta there, never looking back. I really hope it works out in the end. I read your blog and I have been warned about ME, but I feel drawn there too, the same way I feel about moving to Duluth, MN. There’s a calmness that I long for and see in those places, a feeling that I will be taken based on my merit and character, not my skin color, but then I snapped back to the reality of a black woman trying to raise my black child and this place doesn’t exist for us..at least not 24/7.

  15. **BrownEyedBeauty** October 17, 2009 at 12:15 pm #

    I’m sorry *hugs*

    I know you will be able to find a solution. Maine is a beautiful state and there is so much to love about it…please don’t be discouraged by that painful incident.

    Racism is everywhere. I grew up in one of the most “diverse” cities in the US and I’ve been subjected to hatred since childhood. It doesn’t matter where you are, because racism runs very deeply all over the world and especially in this country.

    I hope you will stay in Maine. It is overwhelmingly white, but you will meet many people who will love you and your daughter. The woman who pulled her little girl away from I was simply ignorant. That kind of behavior can be very hurtful to a child’s self-image, i.e., making her feel inferior.

    I’ve been trying to convince my husband to move to Maine. I’m biracial and he’s white. I fell in love with Maine when I visited on my honeymoon this year. I agree, it is gorgeous. The tranquility is out of this world. I’m jealous of you being able to live there. 🙂

    We passed through Skowhegan and stopped in a bookstore. Some women stared at me and I felt a bit awkward, but it was no big deal. No one said or did anything to make me feel uncomfortable. A woman in the bathroom at Tim Horton’s stared at me too, but not in a bad way. I believe she was intrigued by my Southern accent.

    I hope to make Maine my home someday. I hope your daughter will find acceptance, love, friendships and happiness. Remember to always let her know how much you love her…that will eliminate the sting of any further encounters she may have.

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