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The Oppression of People Born and Raised in Maine

Tremendous progress has been made in our clarity about, and the unity we have achieved against, the oppression of women, the oppression of young people, racism (in all its many forms), and the various oppressions based on differences of age, language, nation, and so on. Many of these oppressions contain "sub-oppressions." Hostilities between the inhabitants of major nations are quite well-known, but within any particular nation, any careful examination often reveals many oppressions of national minorities, the results of conquest by invading groups which subjugated the original inhabitants.

We have not discussed very much the sub-oppressions or sub-sub-sub-oppressions which are based on the inevitable differences in speech, custom, and attitude developed in conditions of relative isolation from other groups. I think these sub-oppressions are an important barrier to the unity we must necessarily seek in ending all oppressions.

I was born and raised in the state of Maine. This is the northeastern-most state of the United States. It has a relatively long history compared to many of the other forty-nine states in the U. S. and has had until recently a largely rural economy.

The following are some beginning thoughts towards a Draft Policy for the Liberation of People Born and Raised in Maine.

For people born and raised in Maine, the oppression was internalized and reinforced repeatedly at an early age and is therefore tightly interwoven with our chronic distresses. Whether we are male or female, English-speaking, French-speaking, Native American, working class, middle class, owning class, or whatever, some element of the oppression of Mainers is tightly woven into our chronic distresses, whether we are aware of it or not.

For people who were not born and raised here but who have come to live here, the situation is a little different. Although the oppression of Mainers is not so integral to their chronic distresses, they, too, have been affected by the oppression.

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE OPPRESSION OF PEOPLE BORN AND RAISED IN MAINE

  1. The Oppression of People Born and Raised in Maine is rooted in economic exploitation and is a part of a system of world-wide class oppression.

     

  2. The history of Maine parallels the history of most colonized areas. Colonialism-the domination and control of an area, its people, and its resources by an outside power-has been a part of class oppression world-wide for a few hundred years.

     

  3. Colonialism usually involves racism. Racism is also one of the "sub-oppressions of capitalism." Colonialism began in Maine with the oppression of the indigenous Native people, although the immigrants from Europe had been and were still oppressed by the class system in their countries of origin. When these immigrants settled in what is now Maine, they took on the role of oppressors and colonists. They acted as agents of oppression for the European class societies.

     

  4. Most of what has been taught as "U.S. History" in schools is not at all accurate, particularly about the colonization of the North American continent. For example, it does not give an accurate picture of the life of the original inhabitants and discusses their history as though they, the Native people, no longer exist.

     

  5. The "history" taught in schools has also had a strong English-speaking bias, since, of the two colonizing empires, it was the English which mostly defeated the French. The culture rooted in England continues to dominate the region.

     

  6. Many people don't know that much of present-day Maine was once part of the nation of Acadie and is still considered so by many Acadians. And many don't realize that the Acadian culture is still alive. Though Maine is widely-known for its potatoes, few people are aware that they have been grown primarily by Acadians.

     

  7. There is a second distinctly French culture in Maine whose origins are the group of French-speaking immigrants from Quebec.

     

  8. The labor of Acadians and Quebecois has contributed greatly to Maine's economy and in fact to that of much of the northeast United States. Yet this group is largely absent in the visible, public culture of the region. When mentioned, the Acadian and Quebecois cultures are typically the object of derision. The large French-speaking populations of towns like Sanford/Springvale, Lewiston/Auburn, Waterville/Winslow, and Biddeford/Saco are rarely prominent in Maine literature despite being the backbone of Maine's rural economy. Why are these towns mentioned in pairs? Often the French-speaking working-class people who supplied the labor were on one side of the river, while the English-speaking owners and managers removed themselves to the other side. Often particular oppressions have arisen based on which of those towns one lived in.

     

  9. The roots of the oppression of Maine are economic. The original object was to exploit the natural and geophysical resources of the region and increasingly, in recent years, to exploit the labor.

     

  10. As the standard of living (and, through struggle, wages) improved in Maine, the owning class moved its industries, particularly manufacturing, to other less developed parts of the world, seeking cheaper labor and greater profits.

     

  11. One facet of the economic oppression of Maine is based on a relatively recent industry-tourism. There are now attempts to "sell" the Maine "image"ñ"The Way Life Should Be"; "Life in the Slow Lane"; representations of moose, "quaintness," and lobster fishermen.

     

  12. This narrow picture serves no purpose but profit. It makes it difficult for people born and raised in Maine to appreciate ourselves and each other fully because, by and large, according to this image, most of us don't exist. It makes it difficult for us to organize ourselves because it is difficult to reach and keep an accurate picture of who we really are and what Maine is really like.

     

  13. For those of us with Native heritage there is the oppressive adoption by the white culture of a few isolated parts of Native culture. These are misrepresented, misused, and sold without the consent of or any benefit to the Native people. Care should be taken within other liberation movements to not become contaminated with this kind of oppression. I have in mind the use of "sweat lodge" ceremonies, drumming, and other "Native American rituals" used in men's liberation movements. For those of us who have been forced to assimilate, these misrepresentations of our culture make it difficult to sort out and reclaim the parts of our culture that have real importance to us.

     

  14. The "Maine accent" is used misleadingly. It, too, is part of a "profitable" image of Maine which can be marketed and sold. In fact, there are many Maine accents, and anyone who has traveled around the state and really paid attention would know this. In general there is no useful purpose in putting much attention on the accent with which a person speaks English (or any other language). This may seem confusing to people who profess their "love of the accent." To call attention to a particular accent is to embarrass the people who speak that way, to make their children not want to speak with the accent, and in fact to drive the accent out of circulation. This would defeat one's purpose if celebrating the accent was one's real motivation. Like much of what we have been conditioned to find "special," "cute," or attractive, this notion of a "Maine accent" is a good thing to give up.

    Many of us who were born and raised in Maine have given up our language due to language oppression, or changed our accent. This has been a real hurt for us though we may not, until now, have had the space to notice it. Those of us whose accent was not identified as a "Maine accent" may have gotten the impression that we didn't belong.

     

  15. The rational attitude toward any person not born and raised here by any person who was born and raised here would be one of welcome. The rational attitude for people not born and raised here would be to treat Maine lovingly as their new home while learning all they could about Maine and its people. Thoughtful people would be considerate of the cultures which have existed here prior to their arrival. They would learn about the oppression of people living in Maine, would realize that they also have now become the object of this oppression, and would work to eliminate it (and, of course, all other oppressions). They would be proud of their heritages and share them openly and thoughtfully with people here. Undoubtedly, their contributions would only add to the lives of people born and raised here and improve the situation for all.

     

  16. It is rational for all people born and raised in Maine to take steps against all oppressions directed at us, including this particular one. Certainly, at some point, we will want to seek consensus with other people born and raised in Maine on a policy statement. Such a policy statement would recommend a course of action in which any person born and raised here, or not, could play a part. It would have to include the eventual elimination of economic exploitation world wide, since any instance of economic oppression that we ignored would eventually take root, spread its operation by contagion, and come back to haunt us. It would include the elimination of classism and all of the other oppressions supportive of classism, such as racism, the oppression of young people, anti-Semitism, etc., since the existence of any of these would serve to divide, weaken, and hurt us.

    There are some patterns which tend to be typical of people born and raised in Maine. One is a pattern of accommodation, of being quiet, self-effacing, or submissive in the face of outside oppression. We tend to doubt ourselves and let the other person's opinion dominate. We are inclined toward modesty and self-effacement when we are invited to be visible. A response to difficulty is often to get irritated and resign ourselves to "putting up with it."

    In an equally patterned way we may decide, "Okay, if he insists it's the carburetor, I'll replace it, but I know damn well he just needs new spark plugs. He'll either be back next week or go somewhere else-good riddance!" "Going along with" the oppression is something that all people have been deeply conditioned to do. It is basic to the oppression of being a worker that we have had to "put up with" oppressive jobs. It is basic to any region dependent on outside ownership of its wealth to have to "put up with" mistreatment in order to be included in the economy at all. It is basic to the service industries of tourism to have to be submissive to the wealthy tourists' rudeness and unawareness because in order to "get by" your family counts on the meager stipend which you earn as a maid.

    If we are to end this oppression we must take a more active role. We must learn to be visible. We must learn to speak up. We must learn to trust our own thinking. We must learn to be polite but firm against a dominating pattern. We must learn to show our love of ourselves, each other, and our culture openly and not enjoy it only in private where we feel we can escape embarrassment and ridicule. We must take over public events where "Maine culture" is being represented and insist that it be presented accurately and inclusively.

     

  17. One aspect of our oppression is that we are most often described or written about, not by ourselves, but by outsiders. (Hence the need for us to make ourselves visible.) There is great distortion and unawareness involved in this. Our character is taken to be something it is not. A common response we have to this is defensiveness. "If they say Mainers are cranky, I'll be even more cranky-nobody can tell me what to do." Another common response is to be accommodating and assume that the other person's view is true-"They have traveled all over the world. They must know what people are like."

    Let's comment on some of our supposed attributes:

    "Mainers are cold people." On the true side, we have been subject to much humiliation at the hands of dominating and economically powerful outsiders. We have had to learn to "keep things in" and not show how we feel. On the false side, we hold a deep love in our hearts and tend to be intensely loyal even to people whom we are hurt by or "can't stand." We tend towards generosity with material things and with our physical energies. (This is common amongst most people who are poor.) The person who you thought didn't give a damn about you might drop an apple pie on your doorstep in time of trouble.

    "Mainers are unfriendly." On the true side, we are like any people who have suffered abuse and humiliation. We tend to be a little wary of new people and not reveal ourselves until we know what we are dealing with. The ways we tend to show our readiness to be friends are often not recognized or appreciated. A lot of people hear about the stereotypes before they actually meet us and use these stereotypes about us as an excuse to hold back when in fact it's their own loneliness or shyness. Our patterns are not aimed at the other person. And our patterns are hard on us, too. We often have a harder time being close to each other than we do to an outsider. Internalized oppression often takes the form of rigid isolation and class structures within small towns. Rumors and gossip tend to be rife. Shunning and holding grudges is common. Misbehavior is often reserved for and directed at those we know best. We may be much more open to a new face, although the person who has just arrived might not realize that.

    On the false side, Mainers are not unfriendly. Maine has a strong attitude of "live and let live." Because of small town life we have learned to "get along with everybody." We tend towards open-mindedness, towards being accommodating, towards welcoming diversity (though we may fear it), and towards seeing people from the outside as "a breath of fresh air," particularly if they are not shy about showing themselves (the hardest thing for us to do).

    "Mainers are ignorant and unaware." On the true side, the oppression has denied us opportunities for travel and education. The mistreatment we have received and the way we have internalized it have made us disinclined to go away or try things we fear might humiliate us, and to be fearful or resentful of something new.

    On the false side, if you conclude that we are ignorant then you are condemning most of the world's rural and poor population as ignorant, despite the fact that these cultures have survived under the most difficult conditions for thousands of years. Many, many books could and should be written about what these cultures know about the earth and how to survive on it and with each other. That this knowledge does not seem profitable to the rulers in a capitalist society does not render it invalid. It is precious knowledge. By contrast, there is knowledge, such as how to identify a fine wine, which is treated as valuable and very special in this society, but which has trivial survival value.

The knowledge of what it takes to live close to a small number of people is important. How to deal with people or a place and its problems without walking away, looking away, or giving up is important. The knowledge that every person matters, that everyone belongs and must be included and thought about (whether you like them or not) is important. This knowledge is rich in Maine culture when it is not blighted by outside oppression. (Higher education or "getting a better job" often mean leaving the state. This tends to undermine our culture and its strengths.)

Whatever our strengths or weaknesses, it is important that we work to improve based on our own desires and our own choice to be more human in every way. We should never be motivated by shame, humiliation, or the feeling that we are "less than."

To all you readers, I challenge you to start thinking about the oppression which has become attached to residing in your particular locality, whether it's a country, a province or region, an economy, a city, or a neighborhood. To achieve the unity among us that we will need for our complete liberation, we will eventually have to clean up all the "little" oppressions which have become attached to the big ones. Please start thinking about counseling on and communicating to the rest of us the details of being a resident of Bethlehem, or the southern-most suburb of Tokyo, or Alaska, or being a native of the South Island, or Cuernavaca.

Dan Nickerson
Freeport, Maine, USA


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00