My dad grew up in Deer Isle. He always told stories that made island life in the 60s and 70s sound like an idyllic boyhood – digging clams, running around the island getting into various lighthearted scrapes and mischiefs, and raising a whole menagerie of pets, including but not limited to a pet skunk, a donkey named Frank (short for Frankincense) and a corgi named Flopsy who lost the use of his back legs in a car crash and for the rest of his days lived pretty happily with his rear end strapped to a skateboard. But the island had a dark side to it, and that’s why my dad joined the Air Force at the age of 17, as his ticket out of there.

We got a little glimpse of that darkness this weekend, when, on June 19th – Juneteenth, an important holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans – a noose was found hanging from a telephone wire in Deer Isle. A noose, pretty much the most gruesome symbol of racial violence that America has to offer. A noose, which represents the worst of America.

I do wonder how my dad would have reacted if he were still alive. He probably would have wanted to drive back up to the island to remove it himself; fortunately, a local arborist named Jason Lepper was able to remove it with a pole saw. (Thank you, Jason Lepper!)

The worst fight I ever had with my dad was about a Confederate flag. We were at a gas station in Buxton, our hometown, and a guy pulled up to the pump next to us in a pickup truck that was flying a huge stars-and-bars. (I was also driving a pickup, my brother’s old Chevy Silverado, which always made me feel bigger and braver than I actually am.) And I told that guy, “excuse me, sir, but truck you.” (Or something that sounds pretty close.) And Dad really lit into me. In fact, he said to me, “you’re just as bad as he is!”

And that really hurt me for a long time. Flying a symbol representing the violent subjugation of human beings for profit, and the attempted destruction of these United States of America, is as bad as using R-rated language? Really, Dad? But he was very much enamored of Michelle Obama’s slogan. “when they go low, we go high.” Well, I’m not a high-goer. I’ll get right down in the gutter and scrap.

There was also a house in Buxton we used to all call “the Confederate flag house.” I will give you exactly one guess as to why we gave it that nickname. I drove by it every time I had to go to Hannaford. I love Buxton but boy, the occupants of that house, making the choice to put a giant Confederate flag on their garage door. I did not like those guys at all.

Defenders of the Confederate flag often say it represents “heritage, not hate.” That might be true if you are actually descended from Southern Confederates, although I don’t know why you would feel the need to brag about it. (I’m descended from a Spanish colonial governor in the Philippines and you don’t see me flying a flag from the Spanish East Indies.) But this is Maine. We fought hardcore for the Union (Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, anyone?) Symbols like nooses and Confederate flags do not belong here or anywhere.

I suspect that some Mainers feel comfortable displaying the flag of the Confederacy because Maine is 95 percent white, and they think that fellow white people will give them a pass in the name of politeness – in the name of letting things slide. I never knocked on the door of the Confederate Flag House to say, “hey, neighbor….why?” I was never brave enough. But I want to be better. Braver.

Flags and nooses are meant to send a message to Mainers of color, particularly Black Mainers, a message of fear and hatred and exclusion. That’s not the message I want our state to send. That nonsense doesn’t fly ‘round these parts.

The Chevy Silverado and my dad are long gone, but I’m still here. And while freedom of speech and expression means that Mainers can display symbols of racism if they want to, it also means that the rest of us can (to use dad-approved terminology) give them heck about it.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

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