A state commission created to address “structural racism” in Maine prohibited Mainers of “dominant racial groups” from speaking or asking questions during a July 23 public meeting at the Agora Grand Event Center in Lewiston.
Ariel Ricci, the executive director of the Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous & Tribal Populations (PCRITP), initially denied that the commission imposed a race-based requirement for talking during the hours-long public meeting.
Then the Maine Wire informed Ricci, who appears to be white and uses she/they pronouns, that we had a recording of her imposing it.
“Our goal here really is to center marginalized voices, and so we ask that those who may be, um, be from dominant racial groups to [inaudible]. We’re glad that you’re here as allies, very much so. Uh, but we ask that you participate in, uh, these conversations in a listening capacity only to understand how, as allies, you can help dismantle racist disparities that exist in our systems,” said Ricci.
Ricci’s directive that only people with certain skin colors were allowed to talk came during a “listening session” hosted by the PCRITP.
When asked whether she told white people not to speak at the meeting, Ricci denied it.
“[T]hat is not an accurate description of any requests made, from my recollection,” Ricci said.
When informed the Maine Wire had a recording of her asking white people not to speak and provided with a transcript of remarks, Ricci did not respond to questions about her denial.
Ricci also did not respond to questions about how the race-based speech prohibition would be enforced and what races she considers “dominant.”
The commission also attempted to ban audio and video recording at the public meeting.
An audio recording obtained by the Maine Wire captured commission staffer Angela Okafor informing a meeting attendee that taking pictures, recording video, and audio recording of the public meeting was not allowed.
That’s a violation of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.
Maine’s Freedom of Access Act allows for anyone to record government proceedings, including public meetings of the PCRITP.
Contacted about PCRITP violating Maine’s government transparency law, Public Access Ombudsman Brenda Kielty said she spoke with Ricci about the rights of Mainers to record government activity.
“Ms. Ricci assured me that she would speak to Commission staff to clarify the requirements of the law,” Kielty said in an email.
The “Permanent” Commission
The State Legislature created the PCRITP in 2019.
The commission’s nominal purpose is to study racial disparities in Maine and make recommendations to lawmakers and state officials. It is chaired by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) and Ambassador Maulian Dana of the Penobscot Nation.
In its first report, the claimed that race was “created by Europeans (whites)” as a way of “establishing and maintaining privilege and power.”
The commission also said the high incarceration rate for black Mainers in comparison to white Mainers was evidence of structural racism in the state, as was the higher likelihood of black Mainers catching COVID-19.
That report has been deleted from the State’s website, but an archived version is still available online.
In its first report, the commission endorsed legislation to massively expand municipal welfare, increase the death tax, and create new programs aimed at providing services to migrants and the homeless.
The commission also recommended advancing racial equity by decriminalizing drug use, convicting fewer people of crimes, and disallowing prospective employers from performing criminal background checks on candidates.
In an appendix to the report, the commission clarifies the difference between its understanding of “equality” and “equity”:
“Equity refers to the fair treatment of all people, taking into account individual needs and differences, such as gaps in opportunity. Equality refers to the same treatment of all people, with no accounting for individual needs or differences. The former often refers to the just and fair provision of resources to each individual; the latter denotes the provision of same resources to all people. Please note that equity should not be used interchangeably with equality or parity.”
The Commission offered the following definition of “structural racism”:
“The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics —historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal — that routinely advantage white people while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. Structural racism encompasses the entire system of white domination, diffused and infused in all aspects of society including its history, culture, politics, economics, and entire social fabric. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism. Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism — all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism.”
One of the key principles of the commission’s advocacy is that “race-neutral” policies should be avoided — that is, in order to ameliorate racism, lawmakers should pass laws that treat people differently depending on the color of their skin.
As the report states under a heading entitled “Guiding Principles for Addressing Structural Racism through Lawmaking“: “Disparate impacts require disparate solutions.”
That principle was recently condemned as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court within the context of race-based standards for college admissions.
Some legal scholars have speculated that the long-term consequences of that decision will extend into other areas of American corporate life and government.
Future meetings of the commission can be found on the PCRITP’s website.