Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lewiston: A Case Study in How Ignorance Leads to Hate

Re: "Lewiston Mayor asked to resign after comments," Portland Press Herald, 10/02/2012.

Unfortunately, I fear Lewiston Mayor Robert MacDonald's racist views are not exclusive to him. Having worked in the Lewiston-Auburn area, I have experienced firsthand the pervasive attitudes of racism, sexism and homophobia. (This is certainly not to suggest that everyone in Lewiston-Auburn is racist/sexist/homophobic, etc. But there does seem to be a greater degree of acceptance of such intolerant views in the area than in the southern half of the state.)

This is what happens in economically deprived cities like Lewiston-Auburn. Like Biddeford, "L.A." was once a thriving mill-town. But when the factories all closed due to outsourcing, residents in the twin cities found they had no other work opportunities.

When I taught at Central Maine Community College in Auburn, many of my students were middle-aged displaced workers who, once the mills closed, found they had no other occupational skills to fall back on. These individuals were frequently angry and bitter, sometimes even refusing to participate in various homework assignments. I can vividly recall one such student telling me, right in front of the rest of the class, "You suck as a teacher!" I calmly suggested the student leave the class if he felt that way, reminding him that nobody was forcing him to be there, but he refused to do so.

Needless to say, working with such hostile individuals is no easy task. Many of them work through vocational rehabilitation programs that require them to enroll at community college, and it is quite evident they do not want to be there. I found such students to be antagonistic, closed-minded and virulently anti-intellectual.

Yet, at the same time, I sympathize with them. These are the people society and the globalized economy have swept under the rug. They have been denied--either through upbringing, poverty, lack of opportunity, or circumstance--the intellectual, emotional, psychological and moral tools to become accepting, compassionate members of society. As a result, they lash out at those they perceive to be "The Other." Members of the Somali community make easy scapegoats for white, lower-class, uneducated Americans who lack more constructive ways of dealing with their anger.

Sad to say, but I do not think this is the case of one "bad apple." If anything, Mayor MacDonald's ignorant, hateful comments further highlight the urgent need for Maine to invest in quality jobs and education.

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