What kind of governor spends their spare time cutting and pasting crime stories into a scrapbook? With all the challenges Maine is facing, including declining jobs in our traditional industries, deep poverty in large swaths of rural Maine, a growing drug problem and gridlock and inefficiency in government, how can the governor possibly find the time to paste articles into a three-ring binder?

Why not a binder on new companies growing in Maine? Or communities that are working together to lift themselves up? How about new ideas that can propel Maine forward? Why crime and race?

If you saw the head of your company doing that, in the private sector, you’d wonder if the pressure was getting to him or if the company was going to survive.

But Gov. Paul LePage hasn’t simply engaged in a bizarre hobby. He’s also been out there talking about the findings of this amazing pastime, in ways that are both inaccurate and incendiary. He recently announced to the world that his scrapbook revealed that 90 percent of the drug problem in Maine is caused by black and Hispanic people from away.

When the scrapbook was finally released, the number was closer to 40 percent, but even that isn’t supported by any federal or state data. Not that the skin color of a drug dealer has anything to do with fixing the drug problem. It’s a needless distraction. But it does tell us a lot about LePage and his priorities.

LePage got awfully mad, naturally, when people criticized his “facts.” He resented the very idea that anyone would call him a racist. Fair enough. What should we call an individual who singles out people by race as the carriers of disease, in the case of African immigrants, and the perpetrators of crime? How should we describe the motivations of someone who inflates the role of race in the face of all evidence, including their own?


The conversation about race in America is heating up again, thanks in part to people like LePage and Donald Trump, and because a new generation of blacks and Hispanics is in the streets. The civil rights movement of Martin Luther King made overt racism both illegal and unacceptable. But it did not eliminate racism, as many have hoped. It simply drove it deeper underground.

This new generation of civil rights activists isn’t combating overt and obvious racism. It’s asking us to examine the many biases that hide deep inside us all. The kind of bias that allows people to be outwardly against racism and still inwardly prejudiced. Bias that produces prisons that do not in any way reflect the racial makeup of the country, less money for inner city schools, fewer job interviews for people of color and the modern segregation of inner-city and suburban areas.

Implicit bias isn’t limited to race, of course. It also produces lower pay for women, slower promotions for short or overweight people and the reluctance of many to live anywhere near poor people.

If you wonder if you have any implicit biases, give yourself a little quiz. Imagine that you saw two expensive sports cars, late one night, in the same upscale neighborhood. One had two black men in it and the other two white men. Would you be more inclined to steer clear of the car with black men in it, or to assume the car was stolen?

Implicit bias doesn’t make us bad people. Racism is an expression of an ancient survival code in human beings that traces back to our time in the trees of Africa. It is rooted in the fear of others who are not from our clan or tribe. That fear has been sustained in our genetic code through a million years of territorial combat, competition for mates and tribal feuds.

Appeals to those elemental fears have been a mainstay of demagogues and tyrants throughout human history. It is the glue of far-flung empires. It fueled the rise of Nazi Germany. Today, it’s at the core of the appeal of Donald Trump, as he assails not only Mexicans and Muslims but all “others,” including even women who aren’t subservient and thin beauty queens.

Is Paul LePage a racist when he says that immigrants from Africa are carrying disease? Or when he wildly inflates the role of blacks and Hispanics in crime? If those actions aren’t racist, what is?

I don’t fault LePage for being prejudiced or biased, if those are the words he prefers. We’re all prejudiced and biased. I fault him for being unwilling to recognize it, and do something about it.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at [email protected]

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