By Charlie Parker
What follows is the text of a speech that was given at the MDI March and Rally in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter on Sunday.
I wanted to start off by thanking everyone who came here today to support the BLM movement. I would also like to address the reason why many of you are here, the unlawful murder of George Floyd, yet another black life lost to police brutality.
I would like to give a few disclaimers before I begin: The intention of my speech is not to create feelings of guilt, but reveal some of the hidden truths regarding race in the community. If you feel upset or angry after I finish my speech, I suggest you take those negative feelings and transform them into action. Secondly, I do use racial slurs in the context of my experiences.
Lastly, I would like to clearly state, I am not speaking out against the Bar Harbor Police Department. I’m not aware of any accounts of the BHPD wrongfully abusing or murdering anyone in recent years. However, I do not want to disregard or ignore the reason for this protest and the BLM movement as a whole. There is a problem with police brutality, specifically targeted towards African Americans, in this country.
As a young black man, I do not fear for my life living in this community, and I thank the local law enforcement and local citizens for making that possible. Growing up on the outskirts of Atlanta, I have felt fear that my life could potentially be taken from me due to the color of my skin. When there was a KKK rally at Stone Mountain Park in 2016, about five miles from my old house, I feared that I could be killed because of my race.
On Mount Desert Island, I do not feel that fear. However, what I do feel here is discomfort.
I would like to use this platform to speak out against the ignorance that resides within our community. There is a large amount of ignorance and racial insensitivity that has found a home here due to the lack of minorities.
My friend Eliza Ramos, a half-Puerto Rican, half-white young woman, has shared about the many times some of her peers told her “she can’t ‘act’ Hispanic and ‘act’ white,” that she must “choose a side.”
This restrains how she presents herself and displays her character. This makes her feel that she must fit a specific role or stereotype while the people around her suppress identity.
Rachel Carignan, a young Jewish woman, has described multiple incidents of where an anti-Semitic “game” was being played while attending school. This game consisted of her peers attempting to gain “points” by attaching a swastika pin, that was made by a student at the high school, to her backpack.
She told me that although some of her teachers witnessed these occasions, they were hesitant to get involved. The teachers ultimately decided it was easier to avoid any awkward situation or conflict that could be created as a result of these instances. They hoped if it was ignored, it would pass and be resolved.
While living here, I have experienced numerous belittling, humiliating “jokes” because of my race. When I was on the football team, the [“N” word] was thrown around and teammates would make jokes about me being black every day.
I had a teammate, Baylor Landsman, who would apologize to me on behalf of those people, but neither of us would speak up in front of everyone because of the turmoil it would cause to the team chemistry. The football locker room is the primary reason why I will never play another season of football at the high school again.
While spending time with friends, I’ve heard peers and teachers referred to as [“N” word] because my friends didn’t like them or they struggled in the teacher’s class. This was always followed by an excuse, “My bad, Charlie” or, “It just slips out sometimes,” in the place of a genuine apology.
I’ve had someone I’ve been close to my whole life explain to me and a carful of people that because of their First Amendment right and a lack of respect for me, they had the right to call me [“N” word]. And as hurtful as those words might have been, I do not place all of the blame on that person. I also blame the community and the environment they’ve grown up in. MDI, as nurturing as it is, is unaware of the hurt that ignorant and thoughtless comments can cause. Where racist microaggressions are symptoms of a larger problem, a racist system with minimal consequences.
I speak on behalf of my friends, with their consent, because I am tired of allowing this to happen while I sit idle. I’m tired of seeing them struggle with their racial identity because they feel outnumbered and are scared to speak up.
I no longer want to feel so uncomfortable that I remain silent and allow ignorance to win. I no longer want to alter the way I speak, receive backhanded compliments, feel on display, or refrain from sharing my opinions so that the white people around me can feel “comfortable.”
I would like the majority to become more aware of your words and actions and how they cause harm to people in your community. I do not ask for your pity and condolences; I ask for your respect as a human being, and action committed to change above all else.
The way I see it, there are two paths for everyone leaving here today. One, where the white people here pat themselves on the back for attending this rally. After you leave, you continue to post on your Facebook and Instagram stories for the next week, and forget most of this information within the month, until another defenseless black person is murdered by the police.
The other option is to go home and do some deep introspection. Recognize the part you play in this problem and take responsibility for your and your friends’ actions. Commit to changing your behavior regardless of how difficult the process is.
Charlie Parker is a rising junior at Mount Desert Island High School. He was one of the organizers of Sunday’s MDI March and Rally in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter.