I don’t know what to say about what’s going on in St. Louis, but I’ve come to believe that saying nothing is worse than saying the wrong thing. So, let’s talk.
We can start with how easy it would be for me to keep silent. How easily I can shut myself off and make it “not about me.” I live less than 25 miles, and in the same county, as a place where police are standing around in riot gear, next to tanks.
If I wanted, I could choose to not let that have any effect on me. I see no difference in my neighborhood. These events might as well be happening 2500 miles away. I could choose to act as if I’m completely distanced from what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri.
If you’ve ever been puzzled by the term “white privilege” — that choice is it. My black neighbors don’t have the choice of ignoring what’s going on in our community, but I do. I can choose to believe that this isn’t about my community but about those “other” people.
I’m asking myself, and I ask others, to make a different choice. White privilege lets us choose — let’s choose to be brave and engaged. Choose to watch without flinching. Choose to ponder how these events would play out differently in our neighborhoods. Choose to imagine the lives of mothers and fathers walking their children to Vogt Elementary for the first day of school tomorrow and the teenagers headed to McCluer South-Berkeley High while trying to negotiate the same emotions that have enraged and befuddled the adults around them.
Our Diversity Book Club selection this month is “Ain’t But a Place”: An Anthology of African American Writings about St. Louis edited by Gerald Early. Early’s introduction includes this description of the larger white community in the St. Louis region:
often hostile, sometimes paternalistic, occasionally well-meaning, but unusually indifferent to its black minority
I’ve never lived in any other city, but I’ve heard from more-traveled folks the same thing. “Unusually indifferent” seems like something we can change, doesn’t it? It’s time.
During St. Louis on the Air yesterday, a locally-produced show on our public radio station, Alderman Scott Ogilvie wanted us to “take the whole region and give it a hug and squeeze it together a little more closely.” That’s an image that can tackle unusual indifference. How can you hug St. Louis today?