My sister, my mom and I flew to St. Louis, Missouri to check out a college she would be attending in the new year. When we picked up our rental car we were advised explicitly not to cross the bridge and head into the ‘bad’ side of the city. After a few days of exploring and sight-seeing on the safe side, my sister said: “let’s cross the bridge and check out the other side.” I was very reluctant. Driving through the streets on the west side we saw a lot of closed down businesses, bars on every window; partially burned out buildings and a mostly black population.
we were advised explicitly not to cross the bridge and head into the ‘bad’ side of the city
We saw a shopping centre and stopped for a few items at a grocery store. We walked towards the main entrance. Hanging out in the foyer of the store were 15-20 young black men in their teens and twenties lining the brick walls. They looked with what I would have categorized as challenging and unwelcome stares. They didn’t say a word though. And I struggled with whether to look in their faces and give them a smile or keep my eyes lowered to the ground. It was a strange experience to be the only three white people in this place and feel like we were in hostile territory.
In the store, we three women separated to find the items we needed. I was feeling awkward. What to do? I saw a black man who must have been in his sixties and started up a conversation with him. We talked about St. Louis and being a tourist there and the things we might want to include on our itinerary for the remainder of our visit. We walked up and down the aisles while he picked up his items. We stood in the same checkout line, me behind him, and kept on chatting. He insisted I must be a Canadian reporter doing a story on St. Louis. As we were finishing our shopping and walking out we said goodbye. Leaving the store was a completely different feeling for me than entering it. And was it my imagination or not but the same guys were loitering outside the store, and they seemed much warmer and more friendly.
It was something for me to ponder and to learn from.
Rose Dueck is a wife, mom, and very recently became a grandma. She enjoys teaching people to learn music and has recently started art lessons.