Please note, I know this is twice as long as my normal blog entry, but I think it’s more than twice as important. I hope you’ll take the time to read it. I’m sure there are mistakes. I’d rather post it now and edit it better later.
About two weeks back, I wrote in this space about the issues I was having justifying trying to live a life that is anti-racist, not just against racism, and balancing that with spreading information about pornography addiction. I worried one would not always be copacetic with the other. You can read that blog HERE if you didn’t get a chance. It was something I have still been wrestling with and until I had my memory jogged very recently, it wasn’t clear what I should do. It is now.
In late 2008, I began the process of building the first issue of the magazine where I would serve as editor and publisher. Those first few months, it was really just me, the director of sales who was one of my brother’s best friends and the designer who also worked at the weekly newspaper where I was editor and publisher.
The first issue was to come out in April 2009, which gave us about six months to get things ready. I got a newspaper writer to contribute a major story and hired two freelancers to write some smaller pieces while I took the main story and the feature Q&A. I wanted to make sure they were high quality because if we swung and missed, there might not be a second issue, especially if we weren’t able to convince the community’s businesses that advertising with us was a good investment.
Thankfully, my fears disappeared quickly. We sold $9,990 worth of ads in the first issue, $14,000 in the second, $18,500 in the third and from that point forward, we were never under $20K, often reaching or surpassing $30K. The magazine was a success up until those last few months five years later when my addictions got the best of me and I lost the great people who were there in the beginning.
I don’t tell a lot of stories from that era of my life. I know the time and devotion I put into that magazine came at a hefty price to my relationships with family and friends (I’ve not spoken to that director sales once since he left in mid-2013) and my own physical and mental health. My pornography addiction and alcoholism reached critical levels at this point in my life. Despite having some crazy adventures and times that were genuinely fun, my overall feeling of that time is not positive. While it happened though, at least for the first four years, it was a great time.
There was only one thing that happened again and again that really bothered me and I didn’t handle myself the way I should have.
A Cultural Shift
About 15 years before the magazine began, there was a tremendous influx of Somali immigrants into the area I live. This happened in many other cities and towns across America as hundreds of thousands of people fled a genocide happening in Somalia. The first 10 years here were rocky as the Somali community leaned on social services more than the two cities that make up the region I live expected. You can’t have 10,000 people flood an area of 70,000 people with more than half needing social services immediately and not have a big effect on the bottom line.
We actually made national news when one of the mayors sent a letter to the elders of the Somalian community asking them to not invite family and friends who were settling into other parts of America, or those who were back home in Somalia to join them here. I knew this guy and while I can’t say if he was actually racist or not, I know the letter was intended to show a picture that our property tax rates were rising too high because of the need to support this community. He just did a very poor job explaining this position and unfortunately, many of the proud racists held up this letter as an example of “these people” needing to get out of our community. They knew nothing about the Somalis or their culture, but that didn’t stop them from spreading rumors like the government was giving them free cars or that they lived in apartments with goats. The racists of the community simply did not like the fact that our super homogenous demographics now had a large minority who were not born here and that they took up residence and opened up shops in the downtown area. This was the hustle and bustle and heart of the region in the 1920s through the mid-70s. Despite the fact the downtown was abandoned for 25 years, these old-timers remembered when it was hopping and somehow saw the Somalis as desecrating their history by setting up their lives there. I think it also stung that instead of becoming 100% Americanized their first weekend here, most of the immigrants held onto their traditions. And of course, the sudden opening of a mosque didn’t help calm things for those Christians in the area who were religiously intolerant of others.
Over the next 15 years, things settled down. Many of the older white people, and older Somalis, died off, so tolerance and customs grew slightly closer. While there was a lot of issues integrating Somali children into our school system early on – chief among them that there were many in their teens who had never been to a real school, nor spoke English – by the time the magazine started, there were now teenagers of Somali descent who were born here and spoke better English than a lot of the white people.
After renting a small space in an office building, when the magazine really took off in our second year, we relocated our office to a recently renovated storefront in the home of what had been dubbed “Little Somalia” in the downtown. It was only two blocks of Somali stores and restaurants with a few non-Somali establishments like ours mixed in, but if you said “Little Somalia” people knew what part you were talking about. We recognized that we were going to be a minority in the neighborhood, but we also thought that it sent a message that many needed to get.
I went on the major sales calls with our sales director. When the second biggest hospital in Maine or the largest real estate company within 50 miles were dropping $20,000 in advertising with my company for the year, I found it was always good to make an appearance and personally thank them.
Meeting our Racist Customers
As success came, and our staff grew, we made every effort to reflect our entire community and that included our Somali community. We would profile their restaurants, other businesses they owned and noteworthy member of their community – because they were noteworthy members of our entire community. We believed that they only way to push the cities forward was to do so with a sense of inclusion. Every member of our community should be represented.
Once in a while I would service an account for a smaller company. When things really got rolling and we became a bit of a well-oiled machine, I spent as much time with sales as I did with content.
I don’t remember when it exactly happened, but probably 10-12 issues into the magazine, we ran a cover story about the traditions of the Somali community to help continue to bridge the culture gap. The front cover photo was a beautiful Somali woman wearing the traditional Somali garb including headscarf. Not all Somali women were continuing with that tradition, but it was one of those things we explained in the article, nonetheless.
Over the next several months, as I was out doing sales, I heard from many of the smaller business owners how we shouldn’t have put her on the cover. I heard that we shouldn’t write about their restaurants because “those of us who are really from here don’t eat at those places” and that we didn’t talk about all the crime “those people” brought to the area (despite the fact statistics couldn’t bear out that belief.)
I heard from our sales manager and my assistant editor that they had been met with similar responses. I felt bad that despite the Somali community making up around 15% of our population, we covered them with far less than 15% of our stories. That said, Somali-owned businesses made up less than 3% of our advertising base and less than 2% of our subscriber base. Sure, they were part of our community, but they were not helping our business stay afloat. The sad reality was, many of our advertisers and readers who were keeping us afloat were racist.
We talked about this as a staff a few times, with everybody disgusted this kind of racism was still in our community. Ultimately, I think it was decided that while we would never agree with someone who slandered Somali people, we would never lecture them on what we knew to be the truth if they spoke incorrect facts, nor would we engage in a philosophical discussion of why they were welcomed and why racism was wrong.
Maybe we didn’t come to a group decision on this. Maybe it was just me. I don’t really remember 10 or 11 years later. I was afraid to alienate anybody who was sending money in our direction because while we did OK, we were never rolling in it, and I wasn’t great at managing our expenses.
Taking the position we did nagged at me for a while, but it wasn’t until my recent pledge to myself to not only be against racism, but to be anti-racist that this memory came flooding back. Back then, I rationalized that not being racist was enough. I didn’t want to hurt our bottom line, so as long as we were not part of the problem, it was OK if we weren’t part of the solution in face-to-face exchanges. I rationalized as long as the Somali community got some coverage, we were probably helping, right? Right? Maybe?
The reality was, we weren’t part of the solution, so we were part of the problem. Just like it is now, the racism we were met with should not have been tolerated. The Somali community didn’t have advocates, didn’t have any local government representation, nor any real influence in the larger community. They were not going to have the opportunity to confront these racist situations that we were faced with because they’d never have a one-on-one conversation with these people. And what did we do? We dropped the ball. I dropped the ball.
Time to Change
No more dropping the ball. That’s done. I’m a better person now. I’m a healthy person now and I want this world to be left in better condition, with better people than when I got here.
Pornography addiction education and awareness is hugely important in my life. It feels like my calling and I am all-in on trying to teach everybody about it and help those who suffer with it, and their loved ones who suffer in different ways alongside them. I would never turn my back on anybody who needed my help.
That said, if somebody I was helping asked me something offensive like, “You don’t help those (N-words) with this, do you?” or some other racial slur, I would tell this person forcefully that they were never to say that kind of thing in front of me, that having that kind of attitude was racist and wrong, and that they were ignorant. Hearing it a second time, they’d be gone.
It would be the same if that person started to tell me that systematic racism doesn’t exist within police forces and the court system, even if it’s unintentional. I’m not looking to pillory a boogeyman, I’m looking to educate. We have enough statistics – ironically provided by police departments and the courts – to prove institutional racism. Is it intentional? I would like to think in most cases not, but it is still there and it needs to be addressed. I’m not looking for the cop or the judge to blame, I’m looking for how we fix this.
But, if that person I’m helping continued to tell me that it didn’t exist and they weren’t willing to listen to reason and facts, preferring to fall back on their ignorance and hate, I’d be done with them. They clearly have a bigger problem than pornography addiction.
Early today, a discussion between myself and a longtime follower was escalating on the comments of their page. I believe they can’t recognize their racism and largely look to the conservative talking heads for their speaking points. I asked for clarification on some of the things they said, and asked for documentation and statistics to back up their position, but I doubt much is going to be coming at me. They are wrong.
This isn’t an issue of appreciating someone else’s religion or even political views. Racism is not a political view, it’s just wrong. If 85% of black people say something is racist, you don’t get to tell them that they’re wrong and you’re right. You’re wrong!
I didn’t block this person, and while I doubt they’re going to respond with anything to defend their position aside from more of what Tucker Carlson said last night, if one more word racist word is spoken, I’ll retort and then be done with it and block them.
Ironically, as I was editing this, the person wrote back. Do you think they provided a single statistic? Nope. They’d talked to minorities in their life, so they knew the real score. I made the smart move and responded with a sentence or two that simply said they had no statistics and much of what they said could be interpreted as racist and I hope they one day would understand why. I’m not writing paragraph after paragraph to this person any longer.
I’m anti-racist, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to beat my head against a wall trying to explain to someone why they have a broken brain and dark heart. I’m going to explain it to them a few times and then I’m moving on. I will not continue to engage with ignorant fools. It’s what I need to do for my mental health.
A Paragraph With More Profanity Than You’ve Seen From Me
If you feel like I’m describing you as one of the racists, I guess I’d request you move along, out of my life. If you can logically defend your racism with statistics and back up your facts, I’m all ears, but if this is because your daddy didn’t like the black neighbor, you’re a fucking moron and I just don’t have room for fucking morons in my life. I’m going to stand up to them two or three times, but then be done with it. If you’re one of these fucking morons, save me the time and unfollow me now. If you have racist views and want to have a logical conversation, I’m your man. If you’re not racist, then start speaking up because not being racist isn’t enough anymore. It’s time that we are anti-racist and we call these fucking morons out.