Revisiting Racial Perceptions In West Virginia

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Anna Sale
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In the latest edition of our series, "Uncomfortable Truths: Confronting Racism in America," we hear from Anna Sale, host of the WNYC Studios podcast: Death, Sex & Money. As someone who's used to approaching uneasy topics with her guests, she wanted to put herself out there this time, and revisit a moment from her adolescence.

Anna sat down with her high school prom date, Ammar Ahmed, a Pakistani-American and a practicing Muslim. While growing up in Charleston, West Virginia, Anna says she never really understood his lifestyle and values. She remembers giving Ammar a "package" of vice when he turned 18, which included cigars and a lesbian porn magazine. At the time, Anna remember thinking it was hilarious. Now, she admits it seems tone deaf, disrespectful, and culturally insensitive.

She had lots of questions for Ammar, like what it was like to grow up as a person of color in a predominantly white city.

"I really think of it as kind of the good old days," Ammar says. "Like the good old days where race didn't seem to matter as much, and so when I think about it, I had instances in which my parent was called a name, leaving in parking lots like saying, 'Go back to your country' or something like that. But those are really far and few between. I just really didn't think about race that much. And I'm not actually happy to say that it didn't cross my consciousness that much, like not as much as it seems to be today so prevalent."

Anna and Ammar revisit the early days of their friendship in West Virginia, how Ammar's faith and cultural heritage were viewed post-9/11, and how their perceptions of race and identity have changed over the years.