18 January, 2010

City of Loathing

I'm just a scrawny cracker, and as such I don't exactly have much gravitas when it comes to commentary on things such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But I have something to say anyway.

I grew up in an area of the country where racism is everyday and accepted. African-Americans lived on Grand Blvd., Benton Park, Boonslick, Blanchette and in East St. Louis. Koreans lived down Manchester Blvd., Serbians lived through the worse ends of Kingshighway, Italians lived on The Hill, Irish lived in Dogtown, French lived in Soulard, Jewish people lived in Tower Grove and University City while Hispanics were practically invisible. Generic white people lived anywhere they damn well pleased, but were especially adamant in Florissant, Chesterfield, Hazelwood, Maryland Heights, Forest Park, and the Central West End. Saint Louis is a city of several million people that has been standing for more than 200y, and these divisions remain, perpetuated by infrastructure and class. The neighborhoods around the dying industrial zones just west of downtown are crumbling and so are the schools within them, and this just sets the stage for a cyclic repetition of the same social injustice. Meanwhile the office towers of Clayton feed the vibrant school discticts of Forest Park and the Central West End as well as luxury shopping villas like the Galleria.

But in all of this, it was the Page Avenue Extension project that most clearly illustrated the dystopic undercurrent of casual racism in the city. This project built another bridge west across the Missouri River, providing a direct line of transit from Page Avenue, which runs from downtown St. Louis all the way through to Maryland Heights, out to suburban St. Peters now. The largely white denizens of St. Peters nearly shat themselves in consternation, and the reason I kept overhearing was that now "black people could move in" and apparently would ruin everything. This highway project shaved about 30min of driving time off of getting from St. Peters to downtown, and I found it absolutely ridiculous to suppose that 30min by car would have effectively stopped African-Americans who wanted to move in from doing so. But that's what people were nonetheless afraid of.

And what disturbed me most about the whole thing was that the same people who had problems with the highway project were those who frequently also had tactical armories in the basements of their homes. That venal and irrational hatred, coupled with such easy access to powerful firearms, never sat well with me. This is the same city that sees the homes of interracial couples defaced with defamatory graffiti and witnessed the firebombing of the only Muslim mosque in the city with nary a murmur after 9/11. With Obama being elected, I would like to believe that racism has gone away, but I'm not so naive as that. Racism persists not because powerful people wish to keep oppressed minorities explicity repressed, but rather because those that have "made it" are desperately afraid of having to share their slice of pie with a strange group they perceive as not being of themselves.

Well, I cannot morally identify with those who cower in their suburban homes with semi-automatic assault rifles and hollow-tipped bullets in their basements for fear of simple progress. I reject their fear, I reject their hatred, and I condemn them for their prideful ignorance.

I left St. Louis in 2004. It had already left me much earlier.

*I can understand hunting guns and have no problems with them, but there is a massive difference between a single-shot hunting rifle and a semi-automatic tactical assault rifle loaded with bullets designed to inflict maximal harm.

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