Over the weekend ATTN ran a story about my experiences with racism growing up in North St. Louis County in Florissant, Mo., not far from Ferguson. Check it out.
Being black in St. Louis, just like being black in America, meant putting up with a certain degree of indignities, but sometimes it got pretty exhausting. From how black people received diminishing city services to how the white families who lived in the North suburbs immediately fled from the white collar and working class blacks moving there. My parents’ neighborhood was mostly white when they first moved to it in the 1970s. By the time I started elementary school, it was an all-black neighborhood with an all-black elementary school that was part of a larger, mostly white school district.
Our school was often treated as a “problem” school within the district even though it was fairly benign. Often, in St. Louis, anything that was “all black” was labeled as bad, even if it was in the suburbs and consisted of households with two, married parents who had good jobs. That was my neighborhood, and our elementary school’s student population came from those families. Regardless, people would tell me I was from “the hood,” even though the lawns were manicured and the crime was negligible. We were told we were different. That kids fighting at my school weren’t like kids who fought at other schools – our fighting was somehow worse. Suspensions happened often, and you quickly got the message that if you were seen as a “problem,” you wouldn’t get help. You’d be gradually pushed out of the school. Our teaching staff was mostly white, and while for the most part the teachers were good, we had more than a few racially odd moments – like when our white music teacher trying to clumsily bond with us through posters of Ice-T and the film “Colors” or when my third grade teacher telling us all we should be grateful we were brought here as slaves because people were starving in Africa. The teacher ended up apologizing to all of us after my mother spoke to her.