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Editorial: We must stop racist bullies from silencing Black voices

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Editorial: We must stop racist bullies from silencing Black voices

Feb 09, 2024 | 5:31 am ET
By Lauren McCauley
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Editorial: We must stop racist bullies from silencing Black voices
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Members of the public take the knee to mark the first anniversary of Georg Floyd’s death on May 25, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The truth can be prophetic. 

Earlier this month, one of our contributors, Shay Stewart-Bouley, wrote a column about a recent incident of racism in South Portland. Mohammed Albehadli, the former DEI coordinator for the city schools, received a threatening email from a known white supremacist and decided to leave the state in order to protect his family’s safety.

In the piece, Shay — a Black woman who for decades has been a public figure in Maine, facilitating workshops on race, serving in public office, writing columns and running her own media outlet — shared that she knows “all too well the type of racist vitriol that is commonplace for either elected officials of color or people of color in DEI positions.”

Expressing support for Albehadli’s decision to leave, Shay says it’s the responsibility of organizations who seek out people of color for leadership roles to provide “real support and protection” and for white allies to “put a little more skin in the game.” 

It’s a great column that really challenges us to be better. And then like clockwork, the racist mob turned on Shay.

Passivity cannot be the way to support diversity and inclusion

As she shared online and on Black Girl in Maine, Ryan Murdough, the New Hampshire founder of the New England White Network who wrote the threatening email to Albehadli, sent Shay an email and posted about her on Gab, the chosen social networking site of white supremacists. Since then, the general inbox of the Boston-based nonprofit where she is executive director has been bombarded with absolutely vile messages.

It’s hard to read but people need to know that this happens — in our state, in our towns — especially if you are a person of color who dares to enter the public sphere.

Not only did it happen to Albehadli and Shay, but also Portland City Councilor Victoria Pelletier, and Safiya Khalid, the first Somali-American elected to the Lewiston City Council, who was open about all the threats she experienced during her campaign in 2019, and likely many more.

Because what this all comes back to is fear of a future where a person isn’t assumed to be superior, or handed all of the power and privilege, because of their race or gender. They want to oppress and intimidate people into going back into a state of submission. That fear is at the heart of so many of the conflicts we see today — from voter suppression efforts, to the rollback of affirmative action, to demands to close the Southern border.

We whole-heartedly condemn these efforts to bully and intimidate anyone, but particularly a person who has given so much to educate Maine and the wider community about race and racism — at her own personal risk. We will continue to report on racial disparities and outcomes, efforts to marginalize or harm people of color, and the possible solutions for making a better (more equitable, less racist) world. And we will always provide a platform for marginalized voices — when they want one — or support them when they want to lie low, when the psychic toll of those ignorant, hateful words is just too much. 

And if this makes you feel bad, like you want to do something about it, you can support Shay’s outlet, Black Girl in Maine, where she frequently writes about race and other tough subjects despite the threats of violence.