In wake of the travesties that have unravelled in Ferguson, I wanted to make a post with photos I took during my time spent in Missouri (no photoshop, just cross-processed film). I went to St. Louis for a close friend’s wedding; it was my first time there, or anywhere in the real midwest. I grew up in New York and South Florida (near the Miami area), and spent my adult life in New York City and Los Angeles- all of these places are integrated and diverse. As we drove through the city, examining the famous arch, the Budweiser ponies, the parks and religious structures, I was under the influence of a strange realization: Everyone was white. Of course, St Louis is not a whites-only metropolis, it’s a major US city with a large black community. But where were they? The heaps of McMansions and upper-middle class neighborhoods were sprinkled with blonde, almost translucent WASPS in chain mall clothing.
The day after my friends’ beautiful wedding, her sister offered to show me more of the city they lived in. I looked forward to exploring the abandoned buildings, the historical monuments, and the real grit that permeated the towns; I was bored of Mr. Whitey’s Playground. During the first portion of cruising, I was shown sprawling, luxurious properties with deluxe landscaping. “Can we maybe go see some of the more industrial areas? Or some of the rougher neighborhoods? Less rich people?” I asked. My friends sister shot a look of disbelief my way. “Really? You want to go to the bad parts of town?” “Yeah, I’ve seen enough of these posh houses.” “Well, okay!” she said hesitantly. We wound around the roads and passed abandoned beauty shops, churches, and old commercial buildings. We started into a neighborhood where black families were sitting outside on front stoops or by the driveways. I could see the look of surprise, but pleasant surprise, on their faces as we we entered their territory. With my window down, I said hello. “So many people get shot around here. I can’t believe you wanted to come here,” my friend’s sister shook her head. The neighborhood was, as you may have guessed, entirely POC. With a similar look of uncertainty that my friend had given me, the families welcomed us to “their side of town”. Never in my thirty years have I witnessed straight up segregation. This was not the America I knew, but it was alarmingly clear that this is an America that still very much exists. In comparison to districts I’ve been to in Miami or The Bronx or Harlem or Brooklyn, I have to say, these parts felt incredibly mild in terms of safety precaution. I mean, it was broad daylight and it was literally families and neighbors hanging out together. I exchanged smiles. I “awwed” the children. I admired the charming architecture. I ran out of the car on numerous occasions to get the photo I wanted: I can tell you it was a far more interesting experience than that of comparing luxury properties. When we wrapped up our tour, my friend’s sister turned on the ignition and said, “I couldn’t pay my friends to step foot here.” I thought to myself, “WHAT YEAR IS THIS?”
I’m grateful for growing up in intersectional communities. I never really had to give the idea of white vs. black a second thought. My next door neighbors were a black family- our community was theirs. But stepping out onto the bigoted lawns of Middle America, where races are so graphically separate, it really jarred me. The events of Ferguson unfortunately made complete sense to me: I have been taught to be more surprised by justice than injustice.
You can donate to the Ferguson Library HERE