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Thoughts on Bigotry in an Industry Founded on Universal Acceptance

Trigger warning: This article features racially charged language. We are obviously including it not to celebrate or condone it, but rather to expose and condemn. If you want to clean your closet, you must first turn on the light.

“You wanna talk demographics? Half the industry is made up of sand n*****s!”

This is an actual quote from an industry meeting I once attended.

As I sat there in the conference room, I literally couldn’t believe my ears. Apparently, though, it was just another Monday for the company and the employees there, who burst out with explosive laughter as their VP paused for a breath. Whether their verbal approval stemmed from their own bigotry or was just a blatant display of sycophancy, I really couldn’t say—and I’m not sure that it matters anyway.

As the conversation flowed, so did the stream of hate-filled tropes, slurs and stereotypes. No group, save white men, escaped his vitriol. His colleague didn’t hesitate to join in either, adding plenty of colorful language of his own, along with a healthy dollup of misogyny to cover all the bases.

I’m not a religious person, but even I know what the Good Book means when it says, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If these guys were spewing this kind of filth from their face-holes, they had to be rotten to the core. I still regret that I didn’t get up and leave right then and there. To my defense, I made a big show of rolling my eyes and asked where they stored the time machine they had used to travel there from the 1950s, but I stayed. I chose to continue to deal with them. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work out. It didn’t take long for that deal to go further South than their mindsets. Lesson learned, a day late and a dollar short, as they say.

From my 13 years of experience in the industry, I’m sad to say that this wasn’t an isolated incident. Through my dealings here, I’ve witnessed more examples of outright bigotry than I have fingers and toes to count them on. The instances I’m describing go far beyond the idle chatter of loose cannons who failed to adapt to the norms foisted on us by PC culture. The rhetoric sounded as if it was pulled straight out of the white supremacist’s playbook.

There was the shop owner from Missouri I met at in Vegas in the summer of 2013, who volunteered his thoughts on people of Middle Eastern descent.

“They come in my store, I tell’em to get the fuck out,” he told me, with no regard for who may have overheard. “They got their own stores. They can shop there.”

A few years later, at a show in Atlantic City, I encountered the previous guy’s ideological twin. His beef, however, was with African Americans. Same ignorance, slightly different target.

“When I was in 6th grade,” he began, “my teacher had us write a paper about our dreams. I wrote that my dream was for all the blacks to get shipped back to Africa.” I stood there gaping, waiting for him to follow up with “just kidding,” or maybe, “that was sarcasm”—anything to diffuse the awkward tension in the air, but he never did. I froze. I was working someone else’s booth as a sales rep. Was it my place to tell this guy where to stick it? I wasn’t quick enough for that snap decision.

“Well, you’re sure not afraid to say what’s on your mind. Good luck with that,” I told him as I awkwardly backed away.

I’m not the only one to bear witness to this. I’ve now talked to numerous industry colleagues who have similar stories. The situation begs the question: how did we get here?

When the first head shops began dotting the landscape, they were far more than just a stop-off for party favors. They were intended, in no uncertain terms, to be a haven for those mainstream society had rejected; the long-hairs, the hippies, the outcasts, etc. Racism and bigotry are ugly, no matter the landscape in which they take root. But there is something especially disturbing about it showing up in a space built on the ideal of universal acceptance. We’re better than this.

I will swear on a stack of HeadQuest issues that my sentiments here are not some partisan nod, nor are they the ramblings of a progressive trying to tout the sanctimony of his “wokeness.” We’ve said it in these pages before, but I’ll say it again; decency has no party affiliation. I write this, ashamed of my silence, disappointed in my complacency in the face of ignorance. I now swear on that same stack of magazines that from this day forward, I won’t back down when confronted with backwoods stupidity. I will stand up for what’s right.

My call to action to you, the reader is two-fold. First, hold me to that. Second, join me. Call out bigotry when you see it. Don’t accept the blatant ignorance of others just to keep the revenue flowing. Let’s bring this industry back to what it was supposed to be all along.  

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