“Wake Up Everybody”

In 8th grade, the teacher assigned our seats alphabetically, so my desk partner that year was Tawana O’Reilly. We hit it off immediately, with her bright smile and gregarious manner. She was the only dark-skinned person in the mostly white suburban class and I really enjoyed her company. We often went to the same parties and everyone envied our opposite-sex friendship. There were roller skating parties, the annual school car wash fundraiser—that was a mess—and even an occasional trip to the mall on a Saturday. One May afternoon, we agreed to meet Janet Watson and Cindy Bell next to Bamberger’s at the Cherry Hill Mall. We loved checking out all the new merchandise at Spencer Gifts and I was definitely looking to buy an E.L.O. poster for my bedroom. I made my purchase and whisked out into the mall, thrilled to have finally found something I really liked. Janet, Cindy, and I realized, after a few minutes, that Tawana was nowhere to be found. We scanned the mall and finally found Tawana back at the counter at Spencer Gifts being hassled by one of the employees. They accused her of stealing. Well, she had the tiniest of purses, and, after they checked it, they realized she had nothing, so they let her go. We sat under the fake palm tree near the Chess King for a minute and Tawana started to cry. It was at this moment I realized my white privilege.