A Bookstore, A Lost Customer, An Open Letter

By now, if you live in the 314 area code at least, you’ve probably already seen this blog post by Left Bank Books co-owner Jarek Steele. With hundreds of shares on Twitter and thousands more on Facebook, it easily surpasses Scribbler’s modest conception of “viral.”

In case you missed it, Jarek’s post is an eloquent response to a customer’s anonymous note informing the store that it has lost his/her business. The customer was offended by a window display at Left Bank commemorating the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson. The display is pictured below.

(N.B.: I was in the store last week when a woman came in off the street and asked in a disgusted tone “what those signs are.” I like to think that I was present at the moment that the now-famous anonymous letter was conceived, but I guess we will never really know.)

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The nature of white privilege — and the related question of how to be an ally to the growing civil rights movement in America in 2015 — are notoriously thorny and contentious issues to approach. For my money, Jarek Steele (with an assist from his partner in business and life, Kris Kleindienst) does this with insight, thoughtfulness, and humility. It’s hard to select a favorite quote from this excellent post, but here’s a crucial passage:

We are privileged to be able to apply for a job, go to college, drive, shop, run through the park, own a firearm, barbecue, apply for a driver’s license, throw a party, swim and be angry in public without representing all white people when we do it.  We don’t have to be the BEST athlete, the RICHEST musician, the MOST POWERFUL leader in the free world, the SMARTEST student in the class to justify our place in sports, music, politics and school.

We live ordinary lives and occasionally some of us do extraordinary things, and our lives matter and our right to our dignity is hard coded into our social pact. The pedigree of all of those things is present and unspoken.

As my partner, Kris said – White privilege is really permission to be ordinary.

These are privileges might’ve refused if we had been asked, privileges we don’t feel like we have, resent having, or resent having to defend ourselves because of.  But those privileges are still ours.  We’re stuck with them.

What I wish I could convey – white person to white person – is that Black Lives Matter does not mean White People are Bad.  It never did.  Saying someone matters does not mean that nobody else matters.  It just says to someone who feels invisible, “I see you and I value you.”

If you haven’t yet, please take a few minutes to read the whole thing and reflect–wherever that reflection might leave you. I already had many reasons to feel proud of being a Left Bank Books customer, but their courage and integrity in this difficult period for the city (and the nation) is truly inspiring. I may even have to buy a few more books than I usually would this month to show my support. We all have to make sacrifices.

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About eplundgren

Adult Services Provider and coordinator of the STL Scribblers group at Central Library in St. Louis, MO.
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