Ferguson

14 Aug
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This is my home.

Well, that is, in an extended sort of way. I grew up in St. Louis, on the other side of town. Or rather the other “quarter” of town, because that is always how St. Louis has been divvied up, based on its socioeconomic populations. There’s West County, the safe, predominantly upper-middle and upper class white suburbia of St. Louis. Then South County, the older part of town populated by the lower-middle class echelon of African Americans and elderly white folks – unless you hit the “West End,” the posh upper class carved-out part of downtown. Then East St. Louis, the portion of my city responsible for putting us at #1 on the US’s Most Dangerous Cities list some years back. And finally, NoCo. North County. Ferguson.

Ferguson was essentially another SoCo. A mix of lower-middle class folks that in St. Louis constituted the “average African American,” “white trash,” and “old fogies.” My paternal grandmother lived there for most of her life. For me, it was a place to visit. Not a place to live. But still, it was a place that while I was in high school my mother would have only required me to call her when I got there and when I was leaving, not every five minutes, as would have been the case with downtown or East St. Louis.

Ferguson was not supposed to be that much of a time bomb.

I have never particularly loved my city. In fact, come the close of high school, I did every damn thing I could to get myself out of it. The Midwest, it’s such a closed-in place. The same sights, same ideas, same issues. All just sitting there. Caged in the bound middle of the country. Stewing. I ran away to the West Coast, where people colorful and vibrant in every sense of the words filled the streets.

The Midwest has always frightened me. It is a place of putting up white picket fences to hide the blood pooling in our yards from the wounds we all carry. It is a place where racial tension continues to draw and quarter our city, literally, and yet nobody will talk about it.

It’s a place where a wrong (i.e. “liberal”) word can get you hit by you father and a wrong movement can get you shot by a stranger.

It’s a place where everyone dresses according to the rules of their sector. Different branches of the same store will carry different types of clothing, depending on whether they’re catering to the prep kids of West County or the blinged-out teenagers of SoCo.

It’s a place where trusting the police force is a crapshoot. It’s all one big algorithm, hinging on variables like skin color and county location and whether or not you happened to be driving a particularly nice car. My grandfather was once head of security for much of downtown; it was always his mission to diffuse any issues with the least amount of conflict necessary. He wanted to calm people, not create statements. It was people he worked to keep safe, over buildings or signs or ideology.

Apparently not so, these days.

My city resounds with the cry of “I am big and you are little. I am right, and you are wrong.” It is a presumption that has always terrified me the most about that Arch-bound city. Walk under that Arch, and you must subscribe to a certain level of conformity. Break from that conformity, even just gathering to say that you don’t agree with the way something is going down, and – well, I guess we’re seeing now how that plays out.

I am right, and you are wrong.

Stay on your side of this line, and I’ll not say you’ve threatened mine.

My city is divided into four quarters. Apparently now we’re killing to keep people in them.

I’m sorry, Ferguson. I didn’t ever think we’d treat you this badly. The whole point of calling something a “quarter” is to indicate it’s needed to make up part of a whole.

Despite all its posturing, my city has not been whole for quite a while now.

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2 Responses to “Ferguson”

  1. clare @ fitting it all in August 15, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    you’re a wonderful writer. I’m from Webster and this is fairly accurate, though I don’t share your same desire to leave the midwest. I love my home.

  2. Mike August 19, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    I remember the divisions in St. Louis and I haven’t lived there since the 1960s. When I came from California to go to grad school at Washington University I was very disturbed by the city; after all, St Louis was my first exposure to an eastern city and growing up in San Diego didn’t prepare me for Pruitt Igoe. They also rolled up the sidewalks early back then and coming from Los Angeles where I did my laundry and had sausage & eggs at 3 in the morning, having few places to go to after 9 was terribly confining. But after several months and many new friends, the entire St. Louis area opened up and my wife & I spent a couple of years enjoying the city and the county. I remember Grant’s Farm and nights going to watch the Blues in their inaugural seasons in that old arena filled with all those white faces.

    Say, does St. Louis still have the Veiled Prophet parade and ball? Nothing racist about that, right?

    Subsequently I have lived in New York and even (Gack!) New Jersey. Good times, bad times, in between times. Now in South Carolina I look back on my days in the midwest with the warm feeling of “been there, done that, and don’t want to do it again.”

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