Image from Brown Cow Bakeshop Facebook Page
CEO of Brown Cow Bakeshop
Highlights: During our conversation over the phone, Soreeta talks about what it was like growing up in predominantly white areas of Oklahoma City, and how her family's race revealed the limited thinking of those around her. Soreeta faced similar challenges working in the Oil & Gas field as the only Black person at her company. She now works for herself as the owner of Brown Cow Bakeshop in Oklahoma City.
JULY 18, 2020
Anna: How long have you had your business, Brown Cow Bakeshop?
Soreeta: I'm a home-based business, and I've actually been in business since I graduated school in 2012. I've kinda remained unknown until now. I didn't want to work for anyone else. I had a taste of corporate America and it was just too much. I worked in Oil & Gas and was forced to resign from my company. This was during a time where, this is where stuff is still kinda segregated. Even in the workplace. I worked in Oil & Gas and was forced to resign from my company. I was the only Black person on my floor. This was when Obama was first elected. So, it was just an awkward situation. Especially when, in Oil & Gas, it's very Republican based, good ole boy type system, and here I am like, little ole Black me, I'm the only Black person on the floor. And then we get our first Black president and it's just like, the company like shut down. Nobody was talking, everybody was quiet. It was the strangest thing to me. Once I was forced to resign from my company, I decided maybe I should just try to work for myself.
Anna: How do you try to incorporate your identity into your business?
Soreeta: My personality translates into my food if that makes sense. I have been told that I'm a kitchen witch so, I don't know, I keep calling it weird, but it's not weird. It's just a gift that I have from God...
A lot of people, when they order from me, they don't know I'm Black until they pick up their order. Which is kinda funny to me because basically, you don't know that I'm Black, but you see my food first and then you find out that I'm Black. And once you find out that I can create these things, you're like "oh my gosh, I didn't know Black people could do this." It's the craziest thing to me.
Anna: How long have you lived in this area?
Soreeta: My whole entire life besides freshman year of college.
Anna: You mentioned not knowing much about Deep Deuce before that conversation with your mother. Was the area not a part of your life growing up?
Soreeta: No, my parents raised us in predominantly White neighborhoods and schools just so we could see, "these are the opportunities you can have." Me and my sister have a unique experience growing up that way. Having your parents, you know, raise you in all White neighborhoods and go to predominantly White schools.
Anna: Did they express why you couldn't get those same opportunities in non-White schools?
Soreeta: No, they didn't really explain it. I think it's just how they grew up and the things that they saw because they were around and can remember being sprayed by water hoses, you know, White-only establishments in Oklahoma. You know, you always want better for your kids, so I think they didn't want to have to deal with any of that.
Anna: What did it feel like to grow up in a predominantly White school? Was there any aspect of it that didn’t feel normal?
Soreeta: We went from an all-Black catholic school to public school. Me and my sister, basically we were the first set of Black twins that some of our friends had ever met. Which was kinda interesting because, you know, it's normal for us. So that was interesting, but it was just normal for us. We did have the occasional....one time we were walking home from school and a car pulled up beside us and told us, "N***as, go home." We were kinda scared because we were in the fifth grade. We didn't know what to do so we just ran home, we had never been in that situation before.
We never had really any issues except experiencing Black-on-Black racism because we went to predominantly White schools. So, like, the language, people would say, "oh my gosh, you guys are trying to be White, you guys talk White." We were like "but we're not...that's how we speak."
Anna: What makes Oklahoma City stand out from other cities to you?
Soreeta: I think people don't realize how culturally diverse Oklahoma City really is. Even though it's been, I don't wanna say it's been segregated, but it kinda has been. But I mean, it's very diverse. Especially growing up on the Northside, and when I met my husband, he's White. When I met my husband, he lived on the Southside, right across from Capitol Hill high school, kinda like in a predominantly Hispanic area. Which was kinda like, very different for me.
Anna: Why do you think segregation is still so prevalent here?
Soreeta: I think a lot of that, to me, it comes from the fear of the unknown. Just like, "oh my gosh, I don't know what it would be like to live next to a Black person." You know, but it's funny to me, growing up, me and my sister, we were like the first Black home that a lot of people had been to. Which was still weird to me. They would come into my house like, "oh, it's normal." What did you think it was going to be?
I don't want to say I was born with my eyes wide open, we just have always been exposed to things growing up, like different cultures. So, my eyes were always open and I'm always paying attention. And it just amazes me that people are not paying attention.
Anna: That's an interesting idea, what is considered normal or not. I think it goes back to the bubble people experience by seeing the world through the lens of the community around them. In my bubble, these are the things that are normal and everything outside of it is not normal. When, in reality, we're all growing up in the same city.
Soreeta: Exactly, everybody's going through the same thing. We're all the same people, all have the same problems, it's just our skin color's different.
Anna: Last year, the Contemporary Art museum had an exhibit, Oklahoma is Black, from artist, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. The exhibit expresses a recognition that a lot of people don't see the Black community or acknowledge that it exists, and not everyone in America even knows there's Black people in Oklahoma and Black farmers and Black cowboys. Have you seen examples of cultural erasure in the city?
Soreeta: Not in the city, but I've seen it with my experiences. Growing up in predominantly White neighborhoods, and all of the racial tension that has come up all the sudden, it's like, I have people reaching out to me like, "oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. I didn't know you had to go through that." That's crazy to me too. I'm like, where have you guys been? Not that this is all I know, but racial tension has always been around, it just has been. It just blows my mind that the people that I grew up with, they were completely oblivious to it. Me and my sisters have these discussions all the time. I wonder if some of the people that we grew up with just thought we're White, even though we're brown, they just associated us with being White and didn't really take into consideration that we we're actually Black.
Anna: What do you think causes someone to think that way?
Soreeta: I don't know. It's mind-blowing to me. We're obviously brown, so I don't know how you think otherwise. I see the jump now, people are like, “what can I do to support Black businesses? What can I do to help?” One, educate yourself and educate your kids that brown people are not bad. And just supporting more Black-owned businesses.
Anna: In your experience, do people around you ever talk about Deep Deuce?
Soreeta: It's never really talked about unless someone's like, "Hey, I'm gonna go eat at the Wedge in Deep Deuce." The history is not really talked about. Nobody really talks about it. I don't know why. My mother moved from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, and now it's like, oh people didn't know about the race riots in Tulsa, and I'm like, how do you guys not know about this? Because it's not taught in our history books. That's the explanation. Sometimes you have to seek outside your history books.
The craziest part, for me, about the whole Deep Deuce area, is that that's where my parents used to hang out as teenagers. That was their local hangout spot. It's crazy. I didn't know any of the history of Deep Deuce until the gentrification, the revitalization of that area. Until my mom was like, "oh yah, you know as teenagers..." You know where the area is? You know there's Douglas High School on the other side of the highway. That was like the only Black high school in Oklahoma City during those times. Which is crazy to me. My parents lived by Douglas High School, so my parents, so they would just, you know, walk or drive to the Deep Deuce and that was their hangout spot.
Anna: Have you ever witnessed the Black business community not be welcomed in areas like Deep Deuce or heard any stories about it?
Soreeta: Not me personally, but Tanya, who owns Culture Coffee, she and her husband own Bistro 46. Bistro 46 is on the Eastside of town. Now she has the coffee shop off [6th] and Stonewall, and they're re-gentrifying that area. She and I had these conversations because it goes both ways. A lot of times, Black people don't want to go eat in White establishments and vice versa. She's trying to work to make everyone welcome in her coffee shop. She's trying to work so that Black people come in because there's not really any coffee shops in the Eastside. They're right by the health science center. So, you have doctors coming in. She wants to make it a well-rounded place and bring everyone together because you know, people have their opinions on coming in and revitalizing areas and not including the people that actually live in the neighborhood.
Anna: What do they need to do to include people in the neighborhood? What would be a more correct way to "revitalize" the area?
Soreeta: I think they should have more town halls. Say you were going to bring your corporation into the Eastside. Give the people in the neighborhood the opportunity to have the jobs first, you know. Let it be like a partnership instead of "I'm coming in and taking over and this is what we're doing." That pushes people away sometimes, but if more people talked about it, like "hey, this is what we want to bring into your neighborhood, let's talk about it." Ask people what they think.
Anna: Are you able to speak on the effects of gentrification in the Eastside?
Soreeta: The only issue I know about over there is there's no grocery store. Black people gotta eat! That's what bugs me about that area. They made the streets nice, thank you. I had a whole issue when the MAPS project first started, and it all sounded good and dandy. And we have the Scissortail Park, and it just didn't...to me, like, why don't we just clean up the Eastside and make the Eastside nice first? Because it's by the Capitol. Instead of building all around it, you know what I mean? They should have started with the people of the Eastside first and fix that area up and kinda spread it out. It's like it's in reverse in a weird kind of a way. I think, like you said, Black people are just not thought of. Now you're just pushing Black people out into other areas. There's more Black people in Edmond and Mustang and Yukon. When I was in high school, it wasn't like that.
Anna: Have you heard anything about the Homeland grocery store that will soon be built near the Eastside? I've had someone express to me that it is being built to prepare for the current and upcoming wave of new people coming into the area. And not to remedy the lack of access to food in the current neighborhood.
Soreeta: I hadn't heard that. Not to knock Homeland, but Homeland's prices are expensive.
Anna: How have you witnessed Oklahoma City grow, as well as stay stagnant when it comes to community life, preservation of history, things like that?
Soreeta: I mean, I've noticed a slow progression. From when I was a kid to now. Things are definitely changing.
Anna: How would you describe the younger generation of the Black community in the city?
Soreeta: I think the younger generation, they're more aware and they're being more vocal than previous generations that have preceded them. I have some friends, their kids are like mini activists, and I'm like, "you go, girl" [laughs]. I'm diggin this generation of kids, they are being more outspoken and stand up for what's right and what's wrong.
Anna: What attributes to this change?
Soreeta: I don't know. It's refreshing. Social media has definitely changed the views of the world.
Anna: It gives more access, and puts things in your face, making it harder to ignore.
Soreeta: That's true. It's bringing more awareness of the Karens acting crazy. Karens have been acting up since the dawn of time. They're just now being caught on camera and shown to millions of people.
Anna: It's so strange how we have two different groups of people protesting. Predominantly White groups are protesting, "I can't breathe" because of masks—
Soreeta: —Hhmm, how ironic is that?
Anna: Right! And then you have a group of people protesting police brutality, also using the phrase "I can't breathe." Does the comparison of those two goals bring into question how we define oppression in this country?
Soreeta: Yah, I see it every day on Facebook with like the people who I have grown up with. It's crazy to me. Yet again...It's like, "I can't breathe, I'm claustrophobic." I'm like, that's kinda ironic. Well you can't really breathe when you've got a knee on your neck either, but it's okay...they're not fazed by that.
Anna: Why do you think people don't see that irony? That what they blow up to be so important is not comparable to what people of color and the Black community are protesting about? Basic human rights are being violated, systematic oppression, all of these really huge things. Why is there still such a disconnect?
Soreeta: Because people refuse to believe that White privilege exists. It exists! You complain, "I can't breathe with this mask on." My son can't wear a hoodie now when he goes places. I fear for his life. If he gets pulled over, I fear for his life. My daughter got pulled over in The Village two months ago. She has a baby and her license is in the diaper bag so she's fearing for her life. Just by speeding. So, she's like, "I'm unarmed, I have to reach over. To the diaper bag. Because my ID is in the diaper bag."
Anna: Have you had any similar experiences with the police in your life?
Soreeta: Not with the police, but I was told on multiple occasions to go back where I came from, which was ironic because my parents are American. Where am I supposed to go back to? The consensus is the same with all of the Black people I know. We shouldn't live in fear. It's just weird feeling like people don't think you belong here when you're like, "I do belong here, just like you." We don't share the same fears every day. Most of my friends don't fear for their kids and they're just like, "I can't imagine what that's like." Have a little compassion.
Anna: There's such a pattern with all of this language that's used about the idea that White spaces and communities are normal and the standard and if you don't fit into that category, then you don't belong here. It's very contradictory of Oklahoma's long history of having so many Black-created townships and communities with thriving economies. What does it mean to you for a location to be a whitewashed space?
Soreeta: It's an embarrassment. All of this stuff is just weird to me!
Anna: What needs to be done to achieve historic preservation and urban change in a less harmful way?
Soreeta: You study the history of that area. If you look at Lincoln Terrace, those places. All of those places have been preserved. Why don't you look at the history of all of those old neighborhoods? Don't tear them down, just build them back up to the way they were.
Anna: What beyond the objects of an area are important in preserving these places?
Soreeta: We don't have a Black history museum! I think they should do more murals down in that area, you know, like, "this is our work!" Something visual. Art around the area.
Anna: What does a community need to survive and thrive?
Soreeta: Good leadership.
Anna: Thank you for answering my questions, have a great day!