Mayor’s Racist Text Causes Pain in Maine Home to Refugees

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Mayor Texts Racial Tension

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — A mayor’s resignation amid turmoil that included the disclosure of a racist text message is renewing tensions in a Maine city that has grappled with diversity since the arrival of thousands of African immigrants.

Shane Bouchard acknowledged sometimes saying “stupid things” after a text message surfaced in which he likened elderly black people to “antique farm equipment.” He resigned Friday.

FILE – In this June 17, 2018, file photo, Jim Thompson, center, of Auburn, Maine, holds hands with Fowsia Musse, left, and Abdi Abdalla during a gathering to lessen rising ethnic tensions in Lewiston, Maine. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal via AP, File)

The text message comes in a year that has seen intense debate about how casual racism infects American politics — most recently and spectacularly seen in Virginia, where a photo from the governor’s yearbook page surfaced that shows one person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes.

It also laid bare racial difficulties that have garnered national attention for Lewiston before, but that are rare for Maine, the whitest state in the nation. Fleeing war and famine in their homeland, Somalis began settling in Lewiston two decades ago, and the city of 36,000 is now home to several thousand Somalis. Bouchard’s remark may have particularly stung because the Somali Bantu were farmers in their native land.

Fatuma Hussein of the Immigration Resource Center in Lewiston said there was nothing funny about making jokes about a vulnerable population, especially by someone in a position of power.

“There’s nothing laughable about that,” said Fatuma, who was born in Somalia. “We have to stop this.”

While most Lewiston residents accepted the Somali immigrants, the rapid arrival of thousands of newcomers — many of whom didn’t speak English, most of whom were Muslim — caused tensions in this former mill city, which was previously 95 percent white, like the rest of the state. The city, Maine’s second-largest, is now home to more than 5,000 Africans.

“When things like this happen, it sets you back,” said Kristen Cloutier, the acting mayor of this city built by French-speaking immigrants from Canada more than a century ago. “It’s painful for me because it’s painful for my community.”

There was no formal refugee resettlement program in Lewiston. Instead, newcomers who settled in Portland sought out Lewiston for more affordable housing. After the initial arrival of Somalis, other Africans fleeing turmoil have followed, figuring Maine’s harsh winters are a small …read more

Source:: Atlanta Black Star – News

      

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