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Guest Post: Why It Takes More Than Changing Beliefs To End Racial Inequality

The following is a guest post by Clarissa Hayward:

“In Missouri, Race Complicates a Transfer to Better Schools.” That’s how the headline read last summer when the New York Times ran an article on the Missouri school transfer law that’s been in the news again these past few weeks.

Normandy Middle School school on Natural Bridge
Normandy Middle School school on Natural Bridge

State legislators have tried to amend the law, which allows students in disaccredited districts—this past year, Normandy, Riverview Gardens, and Kansas City—to transfer to public schools in accredited districts. Sending districts must pay tuition costs for the transfer, an expenditure that severely taxes these already-struggling systems. Last month the state Board of Education voted to lapse the Normandy District, which after a year of financing transfers, was near bankruptcy.

Of course, as the Times headline suggests, racial inequalities play an important role in the controversy. All three sending districts are majority African-American, as is St. Louis, which was at the center of the Turner v. Clayton case that first brought the transfer law to the State Supreme Court. Receiving districts are (as is Clayton) majority white.

Hence news coverage of the school transfer issues typically features comments from angry and anxious parents, white and black alike. Are white parents racists, one common worry is, who want to exclude transfer students because they’re African-American? In short, these stories suggest that race “complicates” the law because of what people believe, think, and say about race.

In a city with a long and storied history of racial segregation and racial inequality, the suggestion is that misguided ideas are the root of the problem. If only people would change their beliefs and their attitudes about race, the hope seems to be, racial justice will follow.

But it isn’t that easy. New beliefs alone cannot overcome practices that are deeply embedded in the institutions and the physical spaces in which St. Louisans live their daily lives.

I came to this conclusion while conducting research for my most recent book, How Americans Make Race. Let me explain with an example that is not from the last few weeks, but from the early part of the last century.

In the 1940s, dominant beliefs about race in this country changed radically. This was partly because scientists at the time came to reject the nineteenth century understanding of race as a biological fact. It was also because racial hierarchy came to seem repugnant to many white Americans, as they began to associate racism with Naziism.

But these new racial attitudes and beliefs didn’t obliterate racial inequality. They didn’t radically alter how we practice and live race in the United States. Why not?

Because when people construct identities—including racial identities—they don’t just use language and ideas. They also use institutions, like laws and rules and policies. And they use material forms, like the urban and suburban spaces that were built in and around St. Louis and other American metropolitan areas over the course of the twentieth century.

Here’s a concrete example of an institution that helped to construct race in St. Louis and other American cities: the underwriting guidelines created by the Federal Housing Administration starting in the 1930s. As many readers will recall, the FHA was established during the New Deal era—so in other words before mid-century changes in dominant racial beliefs—in order to help homebuyers by providing government-backed mortgages.

These underwriting standards were supposed to help the government identify which buyers and which properties would make good investments. But in fact, they did much more. They institutionalized pre-1940 racial beliefs by defining African-American buyers as an investment risk, and by identifying the exclusion of blacks from a neighborhood as a sign of its economic health and stability.

The historian Kenneth Jackson illustrates with an example from St. Louis. Government studies conducted by the Homeowners Loan Corporation in 1937 and 1940 gave the very highest ratings in the metro area to Ladue. Appraisers emphasized that Ladue was “highly restricted”—in other words, that racial deed restrictions prevented African-Americans and other minority groups from buying or owning houses there. They emphasized, in their words, that Ladue was not home to “a single foreigner or negro.”

The very few parts of St. Louis County that received the lowest ratings—signaling the highest investment risk, and prompting the FHA to avoid backing mortgages—were African-American.

In St. Louis city, the same racial patterns prevailed. Colin Gordon, in his masterful Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City, notes that the only two areas in St. Louis to receive the highest rating in 1940 were “a few blocks on the County border west of Forest Park and a horseshoe of homes in the City’s still lightly and recently developed… southwest corner—both of which enjoyed the protection of restrictive deed covenants far removed from the contested neighborhoods of north St. Louis.”

Between 1934 and 1960 the federal government pumped more than $550 million in state-backed mortgages into homes in St. Louis County, investing almost $800 per capita. It spent just $94 million, or about $125 per capita, in St. Louis city.

The example makes clear why a change in beliefs is never enough. Imagine a white St. Louisan in the 1950s. Imagine that this particular individual is persuaded by the moral and scientific critiques of old racial ideas, but that she also wants to buy a house and needs an FHA mortgage to do so.

This would-be home buyer has to act as if she believes the old racial stories if she wants to qualify for an FHA mortgage. If she wants a government-backed loan, in other words, she needs to buy in a racially exclusive white neighborhood. She needs to do so even if she does not prefer or endorse racial residential segregation.

Of course, after the civil rights victories of the late 1960s, the U.S. government no longer participates in or condones racial residential segregation. So what does this example have to do with St. Louis today?

The larger point is that real racial justice, today like in 1950,  requires more than new racial attitudes and new racial beliefs. It requires new institutions, and it requires new ways of organizing urban and suburban space.

Think of the many local jurisdictions that are at the heart of the school transfer case. These are institutions that have a tremendous power to shape racial inequality. They do at least as much work in maintaining racial hierarchy in metropolitan St. Louis as do racist ideas and racist attitudes.

That’s why many political experts recommend centralizing important aspects of urban governance, such as schooling, to the metropolitan or even to the regional level. Others emphasize changing tax policies or the way we organize local elections.

Some recommend changing the physical spaces of our cities and suburbs, for example by encouraging the construction of affordable housing alongside market-rate units.

These are hotly contested proposals, which may or may not work for St. Louis and the St. Louis suburbs. But they have the virtue of raising important questions about how best to organize our urban institutions and spaces.

These are the kinds of questions we must grapple with, since changing racial beliefs and attitudes, by itself, won’t change racial injustice.

Clarissa Hayward is a political scientist on the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis. Her most recent book, How Americans Make Race, is in stock at Subterranean Books on the Delmar Loop and can be purchased from the publisher, Left Bank Books, Powell’s, and other online booksellers. You can follow her on Twitter @ClarissaHayward.

 

Intern Learned How To Be A City Dweller

December 17, 2013 Featured, Guest 43 Comments

The following is a guest post from Brandon Sampson, my research intern this semester – SP:

Sidewalk on Laclede
Sidewalk on Laclede in front of Brandon’s apartment building

Cities reflect their builders and inhabitants. In a way cities are like living organisms, constantly growing, dying, and changing. This past semester working with Steve, I have started to learn how to be a city dweller. This might seem like a rather silly statement. If you live in an urban area, you live in an urban area. But one of the many things Steve has taught me is that, living within a city area is similar to being in a relationship with someone.

It takes:

  1. Commitment: We humans throughout our time on this planet have been shaped and helped shape the environments we have chosen to inhabit. For us to be in a healthy relationship with our chosen cities we have to take care of it. This means constructing environments that are conducive to human interaction and growth. City dwellers have to be committed to the urban space, so the city evolves in ways that help the community grow.
  2. Listening: The cities have a language of their own. A dweller has to pay attention to the language of the urban environment. Everyone once and awhile, an urbanite needs to stop, ask, and think “What is the city telling me?” If people pay attention, they can know if something is helping their communities grow or shrink. Perhaps it can be as simple as a street diet to allow more pedestrian-friendly walkways, or as big as examining the ways a city segregates populations from each other.
  3. Time: Cities can be as authentic as we want them to be. We can allow companies and government policies run how cities develop, or we urbanites can be active in the process and help guide policies in ways that are conducive to the surrounding community. Also it takes learning. Proper city development has become a lost art among Americans, as a century of bad city development has manipulated how we think a city should be. Steve throughout the semester has given me the chance to read books that reveal how we can learn from our mistakes and begin the steady and slow process of helping construct healthy environments.
  4. A little bit of love: All living things need a little bit of lovin’. Cities are no different. This means the physical city and those that live inside them. Remembering the little things, such as a sidewalk that needs repaving or a ramp that needs to be replaced. These little and big things help connect people together. Allowing diverse communities to coexist and work and play with each other is essential to a livable urban space.

But above all, the single most important lesson I’ve learned from interning with Steve about urban environments is how to see everything in the city as interconnected. He has done this by giving me the resources to learn and explore the policies, history, and process a city has to undergo to function and expand. And what is the most important part of this is interconnectness is that it is possible for anyone to learn the things I learned.

— Brandon Sampson

Brandon, a suburban Tulsa native, is an undergrad at Saint Louis University. He’ll be studying in Budapest in Spring 2014.

 

 

Culturing Familiarity: Regional Perception and the City of St. Louis

January 24, 2013 Downtown, Featured, Guest 24 Comments

Guest post by Kuan Butts

Murder, drugs, theft, car chases. In the three or so months since I left St. Louis to attend graduate school, much of what I have heard in reference to or from the Gateway City has circulated around danger and crime, particularly associated the urban core. Such news topics were not isolated to correspondence with those living in St. Louis currently. No, this reputation permeated everyday experiences. For example, during an introduction to GIS graduate course, the professor demonstrated an example of a “successful” final report for the semester; a project which happened to have mapped crime in relation to discovered meth labs and freeway onramps in, you guessed it, St. Louis, Missouri. While this did not pertain to the city center, per se, the thematic trends it presented were synonymous.

This information, of course, should come as no surprise to any who have lived in St. Louis. The City’s self-esteem issues have long been a source of both frustration and humor. An excellent example of this is any of the number or articles The Onion has produced. In one such article, published last year, they announced millions of new jobs had been created, but they were all located in St. Louis (implying that St. Louis was such an unappealing locale as to render these new jobs unattractive, even in such an economy). Many, including myself, wrote an angry comment or two, chastising the author for his cold attack on my city. Nonetheless, the popularity of the piece was clear, demonstrating a notion that was firmly entrenched in some national psyche regarding this “shrinking city,” and many others like it.

What concerns me most is the effect that some of these perceptions on the relationship of greater metropolitan regions with their urban core; particularly when the two are divided by political isolation. For example, the relationship occurring through the Zoo-Museum Tax District in St. Louis is an intriguing case study of this. The taxing entity covers a broad region, including much of St. Louis County in addition to the City of St. Louis. Created in 1971, the tax district demonstrates plainly the regional significance of such amenities – specifically that the Zoo is a zoo not just for those in St. Louis City and not just for those in Clayton. Rather, the Zoo is a cultural center whose benefits exist on a regional scale.

Simply, the Zoo and museums are broad ranging benefits, whose costs are born by those outside of the traditional taxation district in an attempt to recapture some of its positive externalities, seeking equity in the bearing of its costs. Applying this same logic to the civic core of St. Louis, it is striking to see how such a clearly regional asset (from its architecture to its history, entertainment capacities, judicial and governing functions, business environment, and convention infrastructure) can be provided and the costs born by such a small group of individuals. What creates the culture of entitlement, ownership, and thus stewardship in the case of the Zoo, that fails to occur in the downtown core of St. Louis? Conversely, does fiscal investment such as taxation, in itself, create this sense of possession?

I posit that one element of difference between these two locations is a “sense of persistence.” By the word “persistence,” I mean an attitude that, if one is not presently in the location, one’s social circle or someone with whom one identifies closely (be it through cultural similarities or racial composition) could very well be there at this moment. Just as many suburban neighborhoods operate through a Homeowner’s Association that unifies homogenous groups to care for a collective good, denizens of the St. Louis region feel a stewardship towards the Zoo, along with much of Forest Park, because there is a belief that those similar to you could very well be standing to gain should you not be using the services yourself at that particular moment. Thus, it would behoove you, the tax-payer, to contribute to the care of this amenity, preserving it for the greater good of yourself and those like you.

In the case of downtown, this same metric of cognition falls short due to its perceived brevity of occupation by those living in, for example, the suburbs. In many ways, St. Louis City is still stuck in a strange notion of the Instant City, as developed by Archigram, a London-based avante-garde architectural group from the 1960s. In this model, a city could be brought anywhere, even to the smallest town or village, carried by a blimp and set up almost instantaneously. The wonders of the city were provided and, once consumed, lifted up into the air, out of sight and mind. In St. Louis, the arrangement of peripheral cities exists in such a way as to have the benefits of a major city, taking in the qualities only substantive urbanity can provide, but ignoring it once such benefits have been acquired.

Such attitudes have fostered a quality of impermanence within the downtown core. Those same individuals who obtain a sense of stewardship of Forest Park or the Zoo often see downtown as a limited,programmed environment. Downtown is, to many, a place in which specific events occur and then end. It is almost as though the scheduling of such activities has the capacity to turn “on” and then “off” the existence of such a place and its setting.

cavalia-hirschwrites
What approaches to regional development have created an environment where it was appropriate for this to be placed in the middle of downtown? Image via Flickr user hirschwrites, used with permission

In many ways, the recent “Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse” event space in downtown St. Louis is a physical manifestation of this attitude. What attitudes toward downtown development created the present environment, enabling such a large temporary structure to be erected? The singularity of structures, their lack of contextual design within the greater surroundings, is often targeted as the primary reason for retention failure post major events. While deficiencies in formal planning and urban design rightfully hold the fault for these failures, these accusations are often tired and played out. Physical alterations and plans for future build-out are costly and often long-range in scope. Furthermore, physical remediation of presently deficient urban environments can only achieve as much as the attractions which it services. If the amenities do not appeal to the targeted social groups, then the area may remain under-utilized.

While physical environments can significantly improve an experience, often the primary inhibitor of occupation in an environment is a damaging perception of what is there. Often, because of limited experience and interaction, distorted notions of places and those within it create apprehension or even repugnance towards the idea of such areas. In a simple example, consider the willingness of a stereotypical suburbanite to enter an aging strip mall and yet express hesitancy toward approaching an older urban structure. In presenting the urban environment as desirable to a population that has become unfamiliar with it, creating a sense of familiarity is key. Just as with Forest Park, the notion that “I” or someone like myself, can be in an environment at any time of the day, can have a very powerful effect on the behavior and investment patterns of a region. Unlike the programmed nature of major sporting events at Busch Stadium, for example, the notion of permanence in occupation, day in and day out, enables spontaneity. No longer is a scheduled activity (be it work or an event) necessary for one to feel “allowed” or for it to be “okay” to be in downtown. While the flexible nature of a park environment makes such an accomplishment much more easily accomplished in the case of a park, the same can still be achieved in an urban environment.

An additional advantage of culturing such an attitude is the ability to develop interest and occupation by a “desired” market sector without the displacement of those currently living in an environment. Because of the absence of major physical redevelopments, an environment can grow and infill organically, to meet both new demands as well as retain and continue to service old ones.

What methods can achieve this perception change? Clearly, the issue has now been framed perfectly for a marketing solution. Presently, a number of major marketing initiatives are already in place, ranging from an amenities-driven approach (Explore St. Louis by the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission) to a business development initiative (St. Louis is All Within Reach by the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association). The success or failure of these initiatives is not within the parameters of this essay, though. Rather, concepts for alternative methods of culturing familiarity need to be sought.

One such alternative attempt is currently being pursued by local St. Louis startup CityPulse. (Full disclosure: I was part of the Brain Drain collaborative team that developed this idea in early 2012 for the Good Ideas for Cities event hosted by the Contemporary Art Museum and GOOD Magazine.) In this case, a series of beacons placed strategically throughout the city sense pedestrian presence, which in turn activates a light feature, thus highlighting activity, Furthermore, every beacon is connected digitally and all are represented through a web portal. This web portal would, in addition, sync social media activity, linking geo-spatially tagged locations which allow observers to begin to connect pedestrian activity with individuals and interests. Ideally, such a mechanism could enable individuals to identify with areas they previously shouldered.

Imagine such signage being presented along the freeway, demonstrating to commuters caught in post-game traffic from Busch Stadium all the amenities they could instead be enjoying downtown, as many other fans who had attended the game have opted to take pleasure in. Rendering by Kuan Butts.
Imagine such signage being presented along the freeway, demonstrating to commuters caught in post-game traffic from Busch Stadium all the amenities they could instead be enjoying downtown, as many other fans who had attended the game have opted to take pleasure in. Rendering by Kuan Butts.

This solution is by no means the final answer, a perfect resolution for the observed problem. Rather, it begins to identify qualities that presently hinder current initiatives, such as those aforementioned. Specifically, creating data that is absolute and out of the control of any incentivized individual or organization’s control overcomes concerns of deception or biased curation by such groups. Ultimately, fostering that sense of permanence necessitates a neutral means of delivering data, presenting unpruned information that is easily consumable, but effectively highlighting the liveliness that already exists, “under the radar,” within numerous urban cores across the country.

Born and raised in San Diego, CA; Kuan Butts is currently a graduate student at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, where he is focusing in City Design and Development. Prior to MIT, he worked at H3 Studio in St. Louis, MO after receiving a BS Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

 

East Boogie: Reflecting on a Hometown

August 2, 2012 Featured, Guest, Metro East 4 Comments

Guest post by Chris Andoe:

I can’t really explain why I’m so drawn to the place, but even sitting two thousand miles away in Oakland (CA) my mind still wanders back to East St. Louis.

I’ve gravitated to abandoned places all my life. My Grandma Andoe lived in North Tulsa, a forgotten and emptying area not unlike East St. Louis. Her yard was skirted by railroad tracks that I would wander as a kid. I’d find forgotten salvage yards filled with rusting chrome and crumbling brick. I’d trample though old graffiti covered warehouses. I’d hear stories about the hobos riding the rails during the depression and how my granddad would visit with them and give them something to eat.

ABOVE: Children play in the shadow of the vacant Spivey Building in East St. Louis. Summer of 2009. Photo by Chris Andoe

As an adult I’ve been able to recapture that feeling of adventure in East St. Louis. I’ve climbed though most of the major abandoned structures, some with breathtaking views of the skyline. I’ve scaled the behemoth Armour Meat Packing Plant and descended into its dark labyrinth basement complete with watery pits. I’ve hiked to ruins only accessible by railroad tracks

I’ve visited the crime scene, complete with dried blood, and written about the gruesome murder in what the St. Louis Post Dispatch described as “a human slaughter chamber” along the riverfront.

East St. Louis has been home to legendary nightlife and I’ve hosted story telling events paying tribute to those good times. I’ve read about the mafia history, the built environment history, and have studied the East St. Louis Race Riot.

Despite all of my interest, research and writings, one thing I haven’t done is gathered the stories and viewpoints from the local’s perspective. This fact struck me recently when my friend Shaun Mexico, an East. Louis native, shared a touching update about his mother and hometown:

“I was driving through East St. Louis earlier, and all the memories of my mom were all that was on my mind. I really wish that I could call her, but I cannot, nevertheless, she holds a very special place in my heart, and she’s with me wherever I go in life. For those of you who still have your mom, you have no idea how much I admire you.”

I asked him right away if he would share his thoughts on East St. Louis and he was happy to do so.

C.A.: What was it like growing up in East St. Louis?

S. M.: Thinking back when I was growing up in East St. Louis, I had more good times than bad times. In the summertime in my neighborhood, we would always have a cook-out that would attract the neighbors, and everyone just had a good time with no problems whatsoever. East St. Louis is similar to other small towns in that it had things that were special, at least to me. For example, if I wanted some great ice cream, I’d go to Pirtle’s, where it was family-owned, and made fresh daily. Everyone would go to the East Side vs Lincoln games, and back then, the neighbors looked out for each other. For me, it was really a great place to grow up.

C.A.: Do you have many friends or family that live there today? If so how is it different than it was then?

S. M.: I don’t have any family that lives in East St. Louis anymore, but whenever I go to East St. Louis, I see a lot of people that I’m familiar with, and it just doesn’t seem as if there is a sense of community. Like I mentioned in the last answer, there would be entire neighborhoods having cook-outs, and they would look out for one another. It just doesn’t seem like they do that anymore.

C.A.: While East St. Louis has a sinister reputation I’ve heard locals describe it as a friendly small town. Is that your experience?

S.M.: I have to admit that it bothers me whenever people disparage East St. Louis, because I don’t know too many towns that don’t have any crime, and while it may be true that East St. Louis may have a little more than most, compared to North St. Louis, East St. Louis is like Mayberry. It really is true that if you’re from East St. Louis, it’s really difficult to not run into someone you know. A funny story is when I would be out with some of my friends, I would always run into someone I knew, and it blew them away, because they just thought that I was popular. Most of the people I would run into were people that I knew from East St. Louis.

When I was in college, one of my college roommates thought the worst of East St. Louis, but instantly changed his mind once I took him there. Close to the summer of ’99, we met with his sister and some friends of his family who were vacationing, and St. Louis was one of their stops. He had told them that I was from East St. Louis, but they didn’t believe it because they felt that I was too well-spoken to be from East St. Louis, and all they had known about East St. Louis is what they had seen on the news. I’m glad that I can help to change that image.

C.A.: What are your thoughts on the abandoned buildings?

S.M.: My thoughts on the abandoned buildings is that they could be restored and put to good use, whether it’s office space or residential space. The saddest abandoned buildings that I’ve seen recently were the old George Rogers Clark Jr. High building, my junior high alma matter, & the old Lincoln Senior High building, my high school alma matter, both of which were suspiciously set on fire recently. The only building that they have restored in recent years and put to use was the old Assumption High School building, which is now a prison.

C.A.: Of everything that’s now gone, what hurts the most?

S.M.: I think what hurts the most is that my high school, Lincoln Senior High, is no longer around, and recently the building was set on fire twice. I had so many great times with great friends at that school.

C.A.: Growing up were you taught about the 1917 race riot? If so what did you hear? Did you know of anyone who was there or had firsthand knowledge???

S.M.: To be honest, I don’t know too much about the race riot of 1917, and seeing that it is part of the city’s history, it should have been taught to us, but it wasn’t. I would talk to some older people that knew something about the origins of East St. Louis, but I don’t know anyone who was there or had first-hand knowledge.??

C.A.: Where do you live now?

S.M.: I live in downtown St. Louis, and what’s cool about living downtown is that I’m so close to East St. Louis, so I can visit whenever I wish.

C.A.: If there was a renaissance in East St. Louis would you be interested in moving back?

S.M.: I would definitely move back, because I think that it would be an exciting and great time for the city.

C.A.: How often do you visit?

S.M.: I go about once a week, and usually I just drive around and look at how the landscape has changed. On some occasions, I may grab something to eat. A fact to only those who know is that East St. Louis has some of the best barbecue that you will ever taste. There are also a few good Chinese food places there.

C.A: Who would you say has the best BBQ and the best Chinese?

S.M.: Young’s on 23rd & State for Chinese, The Red Door on 23rd & St. Clair for BBQ.

C.A.: I’ve heard East. St. Louis referred to as “East Boogie”. What do you think of that nickname? Do you know where it came from?

S.M.: I’ve actually used it. A long time ago, East St. Louis had a strong music scene, so the nickname “East Boogie” pays homage to that. I think that nickname for East St. Louis was around before I was born.

C.A.: What do you think the future holds for East St. Louis?

S.M.: I think that the future of East St. Louis is ultimately up to the people who still live there. I was just discussing this very subject with a friend, and we both came to the conclusion that for any real change to take place in East St. Louis, it must rid itself of all of the corrupt politicians who govern it. There are too many politicians in East St. Louis that aren’t doing anything that’s in the best interests of the people who live there, and until those politicians are excused, the future of the city will be on standby.

The East St. Louis that Shaun knew is rapidly vanishing as most everyone he knew has moved away, mostly to Belleville, Fairview Heights, or the city. The ruins that I’ve studied, explored, and loved are also vanishing. The new Mississippi River Bridge is opening up and scooping out one of the most mysterious and secretive places in the region: Route 3 between Brooklyn and East. St. Louis.

As the landscape changes I’m finding it harder to go over there. I asked Shaun if he could imagine a time when he’d discontinue his pilgrimage because there was nothing left to see.

S.M.: Because I have so many great memories, there will never be a time when I will stop visiting East St. Louis. I look forward to the day when I have children so that I can show them where their dad grew up. Also, there are always people that I have befriended in St. Louis that have a misconception of East St. Louis that’s based on rumors, so on many occasions, I would drive those friends around East St. Louis to dispel those rumors.

Chris Andoe is a writer, storyteller and activist who wanders the West, from St. Louis to San Francisco. Known as “The Emperor” the crown wearing Andoe has been interviewed by NPR, CBS, and has been quoted everywhere from CNN to The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Andoe writes for numerous blogs and covers the West Coast for the Vital Voice.  Andoe lives in Oakland, California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Opinion: The Free State of St. Louis

ABOVE: Missouri State Line sign on I-270, source: Google Streetview

Guest opinion by Chris Andoe

In the event you’re not familiar with the allegory of the frog in boiling water I’ll share it with you. Drop a frog in a pot of boiling water and it’ll immediately jump out. Drop it in a pot of cool water, slowly heat until boiling, and it will just sit there and die.

The St. Louis region is the frog and the pot of boiling water is Missouri.

St. Louis has always had an uncomfortable relationship with outstate Missouri, leading to byzantine arrangements like the state controlling our police department. There’s a general understanding that nobody from St. Louis could go on to be governor, and we can’t even agree with our rural neighbors on how to pronounce the state name.

The temperature has been turned up a degree or two at a time for well over a hundred years and with recent events we find it at a rolling boil. Still, many don’t see a need to jump.

The perverse new congressional map guts representation in the St. Louis region, the economic engine of the state, shifting even more power to the rural areas.  Outrageously some of our region’s own “leaders” collaborated with the GOP to allow this to happen, including Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, who said she was not concerned about the Democratic Party’s objections to the eliminating of one of the region’s congressional seats, or that 75% of Missourians now find themselves in gerrymandered districts that are solidly Republican. No, as long as the new map preserved Congressman Clay’s seat she’d back it. “I’m black before I’m a Democrat” Nasheed infamously said.

Can you imagine the delight of Republican strategists upon hearing her divisive, inflammatory, racially charged statement? Not only did she give them what they wanted with the new map, she gave them an outstanding tool in their efforts to get the votes of white Independents and Democrats. As the television infomercials say, “But wait! There’s more!” The self-serving Nasheed also helped Republicans to gut Prop B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act which passed by large margins in her St. Louis district.

State leaders were more concerned about upsetting the puppy mill lobby than the people of St. Louis and Kansas City. Because of pitiful leadership St. Louis gets one less congressional seat, puppy mill dogs get less humane conditions, and Nasheed gets a coveted third floor office in Jefferson City.

Time and again the St. Louis region winds up infighting over the crumbs after the bloated Jefferson City eats its fill. St. Louis pays the bills in the state with only meager representation, and some of the region’s own representatives are merely the lapdogs of outstate Republicans.

If there were ever a time for radical thinking, this is it. In a world economy built on innovation, the Missouri state motto “Show Me” doesn’t cut it. It’s time for the St. Louis region to lead. I also think it’s time for the region to secede from Missouri.

There’s legal precedent for the separation of a portion of an existing state from the original state in order to form a new one. In 1820, Maine split off from Massachusetts and was admitted to the Union as the 23rd state. At this moment there’s an aggressive movement in Pima County, Arizona to form a new state. Hugh Holub, the founder of this movement, explains “If the original American Revolution was triggered by the colonial people feeling they didn’t have a say in the government from London….the movement to create Baja Arizona is another in a long history of people wanting not to have their lives run by people with very different values and agendas who live somewhere else.”

A similar movement has begun in South Florida.

Think of all we’re giving to a state that values backwoods puppy mill operators more than the citizens of their mightiest city. Everything from tax dollars to electoral votes. It doesn’t make sense.

I’m asking the people of this region to shake the “show me” mentality and participate in innovative discussions about the future. Research what’s going on in Pima County, brainstorm about what’s possible. Even if secession doesn’t happen maybe the discussions will serve to wake the sleeping giant that is St. Louis, leading to a revolt against the tyranny of Jefferson City.

– Chris Andoe

Chris Andoe is a writer and community organizer who has divided his time between St. Louis and San Francisco for the past decade. He earned the moniker “The Emperor of St. Louis” as the crown wearing Master of Ceremonies for the zany Metrolink Prom, where hundreds of transit supporters pack the train for the city’s biggest mobile party. Andoe writes for St. Louis’ Vital Voice.

 

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Error: (#10) This endpoint requires the 'manage_pages' permission or the 'Page Public Content Access' feature. Refer to https://developers.facebook.com/docs/apps/review/login-permissions#manage-pages and https://developers.facebook.com/docs/apps/review/feature#reference-PAGES_ACCESS for details.
Type: OAuthException
Code: 10
Please refer to our Error Message Reference.

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