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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/27/15

St. Louis Bookstore's Amazing Response to Losing a Customer Over Black Lives Matter Storefront Signs

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Message David Harris-Gershon

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Left Bank Books, an independent bookstore in St. Louis, recently replaced its storefront display of novels and memoirs with parallel banks of "Black Lives Matter" signs.

Windowfront of Book Store supporting Blacklivesmatter
Windowfront of Book Store supporting Blacklivesmatter
(Image by Jarek Steel)
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The display, created to honor the anniversary of Michael Brown's death, made co-owner Jarek Steele nervous -- nervous about the protests shaking St. Louis, nervous about losing customers, nervous about not giving the great books they sell the prominent attention they need and deserve.

Well, it turns out one of his fears was realized, for the display inspired a customer to anonymously write and object to the bookstore "stoking flames of enmity" before declaring the end of his or her patronage.

Here is the letter in full:

letter from customer
letter from customer
(Image by Jarek Steele)
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My heart aches -

your signs in the window stoking flames of enmity between races. We are to promote peace - how can you do the opposite?

Love your store but will never ever buy another book there. I will tell those I know as well.

Amazon is my new book store. Why are you so insistent on promoting division? Why?

C.W.E. Resident

Upon receiving this letter, and unable to write a personal response given its anonymity, Steele decided to post an open response on his blog. It is honest, piercing and worth reading in full. Here it is, in part, with original emphases maintained:

I'm a 42 year-old white transgender man. My family's white. Most of my friends are white. I married two white people and gave birth to a white son. I come from a long line of white people, most of whom had white kids, white friends, white spouses and lived in the middle of America in and around a small town whose largest structure is a metal cross erected along one of the two interstates that bisect it.

Race wasn't much of a topic of discussion in my life, in that town, in that family -- mostly because there were so many white people around us, and it would be easy (and comfortable) if we used that lack of awareness of racial politics to say we weren't racist. After all, I didn't beat anyone up because of their race. My dad didn't forbid me or my sisters from dating Black people. We all went to church and promised to love one another as God loved us. We were kind to our neighbors (most of the time) and worked hard. Worked all the time. Worked and wondered if it would be enough. Worked even though we knew it probably wasn't enough. We didn't set out to hurt anyone.

We're nice people, and when you're a nice person, it surprises and hurts when you think you've walked a good path and then you're confronted with evidence that you've injured someone. You feel that your character has been attacked, and when you feel attacked, the natural thing to do is defend yourself. You point to all of the evidence that you are a good person. A peaceful person.

You use your arguments to defeat this attack.

You have black friends, black family members, black co-workers, black heroes. You don't need to be told about racism or white privilege. In fact, you might think this whole movement just stirs the pot and creates more trouble than it solves. It makes people angry and falls on deaf ears. Why, you may ask, do we insist upon bringing it up time and again?

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David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.
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