Have you ever visited or lived in a new city and had a local resident warn you of parts of the city to avoid? I have. When I first moved to St. Louis over four years ago, I was told to stay as far away from East St. Louis as possible and to try not to find myself too far North of the Delmar Loop or the Fox Theatre.
I was told I wouldn’t be safe, there is a higher crime rate, I would stick out as someone who didn’t belong in those areas. Sure. Crime statistics and racial demographics are different. Then there’s the other reflex I experience growing up in the U.S. as a female. I can’t go anywhere at night alone. I am vulnerable. Weak. Anywhere I go, especially after dusk, I am a walking target for harassment and thievery.
So how can I explore areas of the city I call home when I feel the weight of preconceived notions, the cautionary tales, the slew of casually spoken statistics, the frailty of being a woman? I just do it.
The other day I accidentally ended up driving through parts of North St. Louis. You know, the other side of Delmar (we all know what the Delmar Divide is by now, right?). I can’t believe there were so many parks, mini shopping malls, pockets of wealth tucked away neatly among tattered store fronts and sidewalks. And yes, dark skin everywhere. Beautiful, dark skin. Sitting on porches, talking in groups, wrinkled and youthful. What a culture to be a part of. Such rich community. It is not my own.
I find myself fighting off prejudice thoughts, judgements, self-righteousness and inherent, yet sometimes blatantly racist thoughts. Did my step quicken? Did I look back at that man I just passed? Did I pull my purse into my chest? Did my heartbeat thud harder? Did I feel justified? Stop it, Linde.
Expand your lived experiences. Expose yourself to more. Expand. Expand. Expand.
It’s too easy for us to remain in comfortable spaces. To succumb to homophily under the pretense that because it is socially normal we are allowed this level of
complacency and control ignorance. What a blissful life we have. To be able to choose what neighborhoods we work, live, play, and drive through. To surround ourselves with the blight of wealth and privilege. What a small world choose for ourselves.
So, my ultimate goal is to not only enter these spaces that we let live in the periphery of our lives as a statistic or demographic, but to invest in them. Learn about the community development projects and coalitions active in those areas, find a restaurant or shop to buy something from, drive through it on my way home.
And in my mind I will actively work to dismantle the years of consistently and strategically placed rhetoric that continues to manifest itself in the systemic racism that I contributed to. And I will say “Stop it, Linde. Expand.” And loosen the grip on my purse.