St. Louis is America - by Brandon Wilkes
You have probably heard about the protests and the ongoing unrest that has erupted yet again in St. Louis. If you have not, then it is likely because you have, like many, grown so frustrated with racial issues in the U.S. that you have decided to drown it out or ignore it. Living here in St. Louis makes it hard to ignore, and more importantly, ignoring it is actually the problem.
When I moved to St. Louis from Cincinnati, Ohio I heard that there was a significant racial divide here based on statics and the racial demographics of the city. There is a street called Delmar that almost divides the city in half, North and South. This street has acted as a proverbial railroad track for the city, as 95% of the African American population of the city lives north of these “railroad tracks”. I know, it almost seems impossible, but once you live here you not only come to recognize it as being true, you can also visually see the historic effect of this “railroad track” divide.
South of Delmar, the city has continued to develop with businesses and new construction happening. You see early 20th century million dollar brick homes surrounding the historic Forest Park along with the History Museum, Science Center, Washington University and St. Louis Zoo. It is the place to live and be when you want to engage with what's new and great about the city. However, literally two city blocks north of this icon of wealth is the polar opposite. There is vacant lot after vacant lot and burnt out and abandoned homes. You can see the same large 20th century brick homes that decorate the neighborhood south of Delmar, only these homes are boarded up, abandoned and in disrepair. It is almost as though 75 years ago someone drew a line down Delmar Blvd and said all development money will go south of this line and nothing will happen north. The wealth, which at the time was 100% connected to race, will move south and leave the poor, which all but a few African Americans were at the time, will stay to the north. And so it has been done!
When I arrived, I found it hard to believe that no one, Black or White was talking about this blatant racial disparity. Is it as though the battle was fought, and people had decided it was better to ignore rather than deal with this issue. Which brings us to the protests that continue to happen in St. Louis today.
The shooting of Mike Brown and the acquittal of Jason Shockley has forced Black people in St. Louis out of silence. The unspoken agreement that was held before these events has been broken and now the protests are the icebreaker to the conversation that has to happen. And the protests and civil disruption will continue to happen until the conversations begin.
I think St. Louis is a microcosm of America. In almost every city there is a Delmar divide that has been created by historical inequality. And for a while everyone agreed to not talk about it because some progress had been made. But with the 2016 election of Donald Trump and his openly racist remarks and immoral behavior, the unspoken agreement has been broken and now the protests are breaking the ice for the upcoming conversations that need to happen. Just as NFL players protest during the national anthem or university students refuse to have people speak at their graduation, the protests will continue until the conversations begin. So let’s talk!
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