Governor Janet Mills has created an Economic Recovery Committee in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This letter addresses an inequity in representation on the committtee. If you or your organization would like to sign the letter, please email: State Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, at [email protected]
Dear Governor Mills, Commissioner Johnson, and Chairs Broder and Lachance:
We are a group of organizations and individuals who work and live in Maine. We share a common goal of trying to make the state the best that it can be, for all people who live here. Together, we write to you to specifically request that a member of Maine’s indigenous African American community be appointed to the recently convened Economic Recovery Committee. While we are grateful for the representation of immigrant and Maine’s tribal populations on the committee, none of them can – or should – represent the experience of indigenous African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved and whose families have suffered under oppressive systems and policies for generations ever since.
COVID-19 has been devastating to all people in Maine, and in particular to the racial category of people described as Black/African American. Recent data shows that Black/African Americans in this state are 12.1 times more likely to test positive for the virus than white people. This is not surprising: Black/African Americans are more likely to work in “essential” and low-wage jobs that expose them to more people in more confined spaces. And, history allows us to confidently predict that people of color, especially Black/African Americans, will be the last to recover from the financial hardships wrought by the virus. That people of color – and in particular indigenous African Americans – bear disproportionate costs in times of crisis is due to historical and ongoing inequities in health care, housing, and education, among other areas. Black/African Americans in Maine, specifically, have some of the worst economic outcomes in the entire nation – experiencing poverty at higher rates than in any other state.
Given all the ways in which the slave trade benefitted Maine and fueled the modern economy we are now attempting to rebuild, it is critical that this population have a seat at the table in this discussion. Indigenous African Americans, who suffered first under a system of human bondage and then under generations of structural and institutionally racist economic policy, must not be left out of the decision-making process to address our current and future economic situation.
We have before us an opportunity to take steps that will extend far beyond this pandemic toward being a more just and equitable state. As we begin to emerge from this crisis and rebuild all of our systems, we have a chance to learn from the lessons of history and reimagine the state we want to be in the future. Every decision we make going forward should be based on whether it will extend security to more people or continue to exclude. Including an indigenous African American on the recovery committee is a crucial first step.
We are sincerely grateful to the Governor, Commissioner and all those involved with managing the pandemic in Maine for their extremely hard work and dedication to upholding the health, welfare and safety of all Mainers. We look forward to continuing this work together.
Thank you for your time and consideration.