Riding White through Black North St. Louis…
by Katherine HawkerSelf
Yesterday we went on a school field trip, and the bus ride was its own adventure. We were crammed three to a seat and the physical discomfort quickly met a spiritual one. The route taken was with the crow as we wound through historic St. Louis’ north side neighborhoods, the once majestic homes that now tell the story of America's war on the poor. And I am left with a boatload of emotions.
Many of these streets are ones that I've walked in protest and for me are filled with powerful memories. As we drove down Page Avenue and passed Walton, I found myself reliving August 19 and trying to share the story with a colleague. She was earnest but genuinely could neither comprehend nor believe. Sadness fills my soul both for the trauma inflicted on this neighborhood and for the rest of America's disbelief.
As we drove, the comments made by nice white ladies, many who I treasure, tore my heart. What we have in America is an economic embargo and (as a dear friend pointed out) what's been created (and is continuously reinforced) is disenfranchisement. What it looks like from a bus is apparently abandoned buildings, an occasionally clustering of disheveled elders, and a few children running between. Always there are children. And nice white ladies (like myself) want to offer words to contextualize and perhaps reduce the offense. As I process the conversations I begin to see that our attempt to do so is part of the way whiteness works, at least for me. I want to understand and explain, both functions, which offer some measure of control. I mean no harm, in fact quite the opposite, but the effect is nonetheless offensive. This is a growing edge for me.
Where my energy focused as the bus rolled along, and perhaps unhelpfully, was with the expression of fear by folks not acquainted with our city's north side streets. "Are we safe," asked a nervous (white) colleague? Meanwhile another (Black) colleague was giving a narrated tour of where she'd grown up. Safe is one of those words that is loaded and likely not helpful. My only fear on the north side is when I see police cars, the only danger I've faced on the streets known for violence is from the police. My experience is not a shared one, but it does point to the relative nature of words like safe.
At day's end, I began to consider my own internal leadings and motivations. I have no illusions about "helping" as I walk our city streets, but I do have a distinctly spiritual urging. Both in the pages of our sacred texts and in the lives of the saints, we find the paradoxical truth that to find we must lose and that the purest encounter with the sacred is found in the most vulnerable edges of creation. Simply put, I experience g-d on the city's north side. I don't go to give g-d, I walk to find g-d. And I am never left wanting.
As I step away from yesterday, I do so with profound respect for the mothers who daily make a way where society has purposefully offered only roadblocks. It is to these women that I turn for wisdom.
For all the rest, it is time to be still. #BlackLivesMatter #whitefolkwork
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