This week marks 58 years since Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, instantly rendering the brave young woman a hero and champion of the civil-rights movement. The following decades have seen steady improvement in race relations and equality, but as always, we still have further to go -- sometimes, especially, in the city of St. Louis.
We love our city, but sorry, St. Louis -- you are still pretty racist. And it isn't always black and white, either. Here are ten reasons why.
10. The Arch Unfortunately, our city's shining beacon is also a monument symbolizing the genocide of North America's original inhabitants -- the Native Americans. Thomas Jefferson was a great man indeed, yet I doubt that our Native American brothers and sisters would consider him their friend. Throughout St. Louis, and the state of Missouri as a whole, you'll notice sprinkled evidence of a forgotten past. This land was occupied and owned by a group of people who were displaced and murdered. While westward expansion opened up the floor for America to flourish as a country, it also set the tone for what many consider the attempted genocide of an entire group of people. The Arch is a symbol of American greatness, but very seldom do we take time to push pause and reflect upon the lives stolen from the original American people.
9. MetroLink Expansion There are some very basic things that a growing major American metropolis needs in order to become a a progressive city, and a stabilized and affordable public-transportation system is a must. A public-transportation system that services the entire metro area and opens up job opportunities in various communities is critical to the growth of our local economy. The fact that one cannot catch the MetroLink to St.Charles is just plain shady. It is also deliberately set up this way to keep a "certain element" from freely traveling to specific counties. A bus driver once told me the only reason a bus route was extended to West County Center was due to the fact that the mall was suffering economically at one point and needed inner-city teenagers and city dwellers to spend their money there in order to keep the mall afloat.
This also prevents that same certain element from living in these areas. If you don't have a car and you've lived in St. Louis your entire life, you're probably not going to attempt to move into an area that doesn't have access to the MetroLink. I'm sure the politicians in these areas blame their lack of Metro linkage on taxes and crime and everything else under the sun -- but the real reason seems to be more sinister.
8. Forest Park's Lack of Basketball Hoops A close friend of mine once worked for Forest Park Forever. It asked her how could they get more minorities to visit the park on a regular basis. She replied, "Well, you have a facility for every sport besides basketball. Maybe adding some hoops would help a little bit." Sure, it's not the end-all be-all to this problem, but it is a start. We're talking about one of the largest parks in the U.S., and there is not one single basketball hoop. There are places to play nearly every other popular sport. Think about it. Now, all black people don't play basketball -- personally, I suck at the sport. I skateboard in the park, but I find it odd that there's no chance of me and my friends meeting there for a pick-up game. It's illogical; or worse yet, it's intentional.
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7. Chop Suey, a.k.a. "Chinamen" I remember being a child and hearing one of the kids at my elementary school refer to the neighborhood chop-suey spot as the "Chinamen." This sounded insanely ignorant to me, even as a child. Chop-suey spots are on nearly every corner in St. Louis. They're cheap and filling. It's part of our culture on some level, because nowhere else in this country can you purchase a St. Paul Sandwich. And our version of crab Rangoon is so delicious that when I moved out of town for nearly four years, I went to the first chop-suey joint I saw when I returned.
But the fact that black people refer to these establishments with such a racist name is not excusable. People on the east side tend to refer to these places as the "rice house." This is a trillion times better than the aforementioned name. Unfortunately, this has basically become a generational slang term that will likely live forever in many city neighborhoods, specifically north-side ones. It's not right to refer to Asian people as "Chinamen." This is racist. I'm sorry, but it is, and many of us will read this and continue to do it. What if Sweetie Pie's was referred to as "Blackman's"? Makes zero sense, I know. That's what I'm trying to tell you.
6. The Delmar Divide This very subject has made national news and has been documented in several books and films. St. Louis has a way of being very passive aggressive with the art of racial and socioeconomic segregation. If you're driving along Delmar Boulevard, you encounter some of the most expensive homes in our town. In the same breath, you'll also encounter some of most impoverished living conditions in our city. Basically, the second you cross Skinker you're about to witness one of the weirdest dynamics to exist in any major American metropolis. Rich people, middle-income, lower-income and dirt-poor people living blocks apart from each other in what is basically the same neighborhood.
There is a noticeable difference in the living conditions and the crime rates. There are gated communities separating the rich people from the poor people. To anyone who's not from St. Louis, the sight is freakishly weird. One minute you're in a perfectly divine suburban neighborhood; walk one block up and you're in a war zone. Basically, there's a black side of Delmar and a well-to-do side, which is essentially the white side. Certain people from the black side rob and kill each other, but they wouldn't dare walk one block over to the white side and commit the same crimes. On Union Boulevard there are gated communities with police protection at the gates both day and night. Yet right down the street you can get shot in the face, call the cops and it'll take 45 minutes for them to arrive. The scene is actually quite frightening to out-of-towners who encounter the Delmar Divide for the very first time.
5. Washington University in the Loop Every summer I see the U. City police increase in their numbers when they patrol the Loop. There's a curfew set for kids under the age of eighteen because of the back-and-forth struggles between them and the police. These kids are more or less chased down and run out of the Loop at any opportunity. And from my observation, most of them appear to be black. I'm not saying they're angels, but all of them aren't thugs either.
Regardless, they are treated the same. On the flip side of the coin, Washington University students (most of whom appear to be white) are welcomed back every year. There are banners hanging from the trees and street lights celebrating their return. Most of them probably have no idea that in the summertime the Loop turns into a scene from a Freedom Riders documentary. I'm not even in high school, nor do I look like a high schooler, yet I've even been assaulted and stopped by a group of U. City police officers. I started hanging out in the Central West End because I'm an adult, and I don't have time to be stopped and questioned for absolutely nothing by a group of men with loaded pistols and bulletproof vests. That is a fight I can't win. I said hi to a friend of mine in the Cicero's parking lot once, and in the blink of an eye we were surrounded by police officers with guns drawn and aimed at us. There is no reason for this.
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4. Driving While Black in St. Louis County Yeah, this one doesn't really need a explanation. I once worked for the mayor as a canvasser. One day I was sent to his neighborhood to work and knock on doors with my partner. We were educating St. Louis voters about a particular proposition on the ballot when we had the cops called on us. We were only about four to five blocks away from Slay's own home.
Another time, I was walking home from the studio in north county, early in the morning, and the cops pulled me over while I was walking. How the hell do you pull a person over if they're on foot?
And last but not least, I've learned that my black ass doesn't have any business whatsoever being in west county past 8 p.m. I swear, if the cops flag me in any of those neighborhoods, I'm going to jail. That's all she wrote. There is no rebuttal. I can be innocent of all crimes, but it doesn't matter in these circumstances. I am guilty until proven innocent.
3. The Dress Codes at Certain Public Establishments These nonsense dress codes usually are spelled out in plain English: "No doo-rags, no fitted caps, no Air Jordans". Union Station at one point was notorious for this. Officials there even stopped Nelly and asked him to remove his doo-rag. This incident occurred at the height of his popularity.
Most people probably don't see how this is considered discriminatory behavior, and I'm sure many will say these dress code rules are designed to eliminate gang/criminal activity. The truth is, though, the rules are always off the mark. Union Station had a doo-rag ban, but it still sold Cardinals and Blues apparel. Doo-rags have nothing to do with gang activity. The colors red and blue, however, have everything to do with gang activity. I'm not saying we need to ban our hometown sports apparel, but I am saying to tighten up on your discrimination excuses and come up with something that's more concrete, logical and effective. The only thing worse than this is the "pop-up dress code" rule. The white guy in front of you in line at the Oz has on the same exact outfit. He's cleared and allowed to enter the club, yet when it's your turn the bouncer says your shirt is too long.
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2. Referring to Muslims as A-Rabs/Soldan Race Riots This problem is not unique to St. Louis. But the STL is the city that introduced this term to me. It's grown to the point now that people of Middle Eastern descent in the ghetto basically embrace this as a term of endearment. A friend of mine used to refer to all Muslims as Habiedes (pronounced ha-beed). I guess he knew some Arab dude whose name was pronounced this way, so he stuck to it. Some black people seem incapable of not saying the word A-Rab when referring to Muslim folks. It's not normal, and it's not right.
The race riots of Soldan High School during the late '90s between the blacks and Bosnians probably could've tied with this one right here. I had to flip a coin and decide which topic should be No. 9. Blacks and Bosnians have long had suspect race relations between each other in this city. The race riots at Soldan did their part to make sure certain wounds would never heal.
1. Being Any Race Besides Black or White in St. Louis We're ignorant to any racial group that isn't black or white. We don't understand their culture, and we don't care to learn about it, either. It's either black or white in St. Louis, point blank. And this transcends into everything else. Either you're winning or you're losing. There are no gray areas. If your racial identity consists of anything we don't understand, we quickly scramble and find a way to label you whatever we feel comfortable with. I travel to other cities, and people quite frankly don't give a damn about race as much as St. Louis does. We're stuck in the past in so many regards, and this issue is no different. We don't understand modernized race relations. Black and white dictates everything here. It is well past time that we better understand our own unfair discrimination, no matter the shape or color it takes, and strive to overcome it. It is time to do what is right.
Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis city. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His project The Hero Killer was released on January 21 and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For the Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get The Hero Killer here.
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