The audacity of racism

Mohammed Albehadli was the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) coordinator for the South Portland School Department when he received a racist email in December 2023 from Ryan Murdough, the New Hampshire founder of the New England White Network. The email has been described as threatening and, according to published reports, South Portland schools Superintendent Timothy Matheney described the letter as the “most vile email message I have seen in my 35 years in education.”

Albehadli, who came to the United States from Iraq a decade ago, resigned his position and has since left the state of Maine, saying that he feared for his safety and the safety of his family. 

The story initially received scant attention but in recent weeks, it has started to receive national attention. I wrote about it in a recent piece for the Maine Morning News, which was published several days ago. 

Which is how I found myself receiving an email from Murdough—the same one who was the author of the email that drove Albehadli from his job and the state. Not only did Ryan send me an email but he posted about me on Gab—the social networking app that serves as a haven for maladjusted white people who wish to dream of all things white supremacist. 

Obviously, having started my career writing on race back in 2003, this isn’t my first rodeo with the racist riffraff types which, if Murdough had taken a few minutes to Google me, he would have known. Or maybe he did and just doesn’t get that he’s not going to move me. While I don’t enjoy people of his ilk reaching out to me, it’s an occupational hazard. Especially during Black History Month, when these people seem to get their panties in a bunch because “Oh no! The Blacks dare to want their full humanity.” 

After I read through what Murdough posted about me, I decided to dig a bit more deeply into who he was, since it’s always nice to know a bit more about someone who’s made themselves your enemy. It seems that his favorite hobby is harassing Black and brown people in New England, as well as lawmakers. Murdough’s activities are to the level that he is listed on the Anti-Defamation League’s site. According to the ADL, he has been involved in a number of white supremacist groups, many of which are now defunct. He has also tried his hand at running for public office, unsuccessfully. 

For Black and brown people who dare to be visible in speaking out against racism or oppression, the very real truth is that we will be sought out by these cretins. And while well-meaning allies will say that we should ignore them, I disagree. I think these people should get the attention they so richly seek. For starters, why should it be our private struggle to carry the weight of these people invading our psyches and attempting to stoke fear? It only creates an isolation that makes people retreat for fear of their safety. 

Albehadli choosing to leave his position in South Portland and the state of Maine is a loss, not only for the South Portland schools, but our larger community. It is also a reminder that while many of us are focusing on structural issues, there is still a clear and present threat embedded in our communities. While these people may not burn crosses in the yard as their racist predecessors did not long ago, they know how to stoke the flames of hate and fear in digital spaces. While I am not privy to what was written to Albehadli, I know that words matter. I know last February, a Black woman in Portland, Maine—a city councilor—dared to speak out against local white nationalists and was harassed almost to her breaking point. She has also stated that she is not sure she will continue in public service once her term expires. Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country; we need younger and more diverse people to be in leadership positions. 

In his message to me, Murdough said “Your precious ‘programming’ is being rejected by White people across the US. Your Twitter bio says that you are ‘exiled in Maine’. Feel free to leave whenever you want. I assure you that many White people in Maine don’t want you there and they certainly don’t need you.”

In his posting on Gab, he says: She says that the organization provides ‘programming’ in Boston and Maine. We all know what ‘programming’ really means. When people like her talk about ‘programming’, they are referring to the browbeating and brainwashing of White people, which is merely just anti-White racial abuse disguised as ‘equity’.

The funny thing is, Community Change Inc.—where I serve as executive director—was founded by white man in 1968, with a goal of working on the white problem with regard to racism. Our organization was founded five years before my birth, and until 10 years ago it had only been led by white men. The fact that so many of these racist white people fail to understand that there have always been white people in the trenches working for racial equality is a reminder of the failure to impart history accurately to all. When George W. Bush said “leave no child behind,” we instead increasingly left behind a lot of children and their parents. 

The modern white nationalist movement is based on white grievances which started in the Civil Rights era, were re-stoked by the Reagan administration and which Trump ramped up even more blatantly. Their grievances are really about the loss of identity and status as white people. This is particularly hard for white men, as they find themselves increasingly feeling like outsiders in a world that is no longer designed solely and exclusively for them. It is why they work so hard to indoctrinate young white men into their sad world of hate. 

Once upon a time, receiving an email from someone who founded a hate group would have made me anxious, but I have been in this work long enough to not feel fear. No, I feel more a sense of irritation and sadness. I can’t imagine being so threatened by societal progress and the work or words of people that I don’t know that I would try to intimate them. While I know that these people can have a propensity towards violence and that I can’t take anything for granted, as a mother and grandmother in her 50s I refuse to allow their unhappiness with change to ruin me or make me change course. If nothing else, perhaps it’s time to reschedule my trip to the gun range and, as the youngsters say, stay ready. 

As for leaving Maine, it was a white man and shared custody of our son that brought me here over 20 years ago, and I am not leaving until I am good and ready. To paraphrase from one of my favorite movies, The Wolf of Wall Street, “I’m not leaving; the show goes on. This is my home. They’re gonna need a fucking wrecking ball to take me out of here.”

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2 thoughts on “The audacity of racism”

  1. I am so sorry that a$$hole harrassed you. When I read about Mohammed Albehadli, I was so outraged that I sent him an email, apologizing to him for being the victim of someone who DOES NOT represent the majority of white people. The fact that he represents ANY white people is horrifying to me. I’m not sure at what point we decided that death threats, rape threats, or ANY threats against someone we disagree with is acceptable, but I’m doing whatever I can to ensure that all minority groups in Maine feel safe…Black, brown, female, LGBTQ, etc. Please know that you have support from so many of us in this community.

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