The Annie Malone Home and foundation has been taking care of the families and children of The Ville for a long time and in this century has moved it's signature parade to Downtown St. Louis. I have never attended. For several reasons. First and foremost I do not like large gatherings of people. And this one is the largest held in St. Louis. Only the Mardi Gras parade might have more folks attend, or maybe it feels that way as it is held in the Soulard neighborhood with narrow streets and closer buildings. Second, I don't tend to come to Downtown on the weekends, that is my time to decompress. If I am in the area on Annie Malone May Day Parade weekend, I am there because I am working. And finally, I am not always impressed with how people behave and it irritates me.
Last week someone made the comment to me that St. Louis is a polarized city. They are right. It was abundantly clear on Annie Malone weekend. Yesterday I was so happy to see all the excited children and their parents. I was speaking to a man that was parking on my lot, and he was sharing with me how much this weekend meant to his community and to him personally. It seems that almost everyone has a connection to The Ville and the work that has been done with so much pride and care for it's residents.
As the parade started just blocks from us, I could hear the bands warming up and ultimately playing. Those are some incredibly talented young people, and it was a sheer joy to listen to. It was a beautiful day, the rain that was promised waited until today to happen. So the laughter, joy and celebration was unburdened by Mother Nature. Even she knew the importance of this weekend.
Against the backdrop of sunshine, great music, amazing drum lines, laughter and celebration was an undertone that made me sad. Several of the younger generation, I call them the "me" generation, were unbelievably rude and self-centered. Their crass behavior and comments made it uncomfortable to be around. They were loud, profane, and if you had the misfortune of being any color other than their own they were ugly. Ugly in their speech and actions.
I don't understand this. I wasn't raised in this area, maybe there are things in the past that I fail to understand clearly because I didn't experience them. I don't know.
I do know what it's like to always be the new person. To always be the one on the outside of a group looking in. Longing to be accepted and having to decide how I was going to either adjust myself or work to be accepted by the groups already established. It isn't about the color of my skin, but about me as a person.
I don't understand how the color of your skin is more important than the content of your character, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr so eloquently stated. The last thing I look at is your skin color. The very first is the kind of person you are. When you smile, does it reach your eyes? When you speak to me, is there a genuine caring and kind demeanor? When I see you with children and animals are you gentle, compassionate and nurturing?
I don't really know how I feel about segregation, integration and the rest of the stuff that has been forced on communities by governments. I have never dealt with it, and I know it does not rise in me the passions it rises in others. I wonder where we would be as a nation and especially as a Metro area if our governments would keep their noses out!
The same person that told me we are polarized, also told me I could not understand the feeling of being the only black person to walk into a room of white people. Seriously? Can that person truly believe that they are the only one to feel that kind of intimidation? It doesn't matter the color of your skin, it doesn't matter your nationality, gender... none of it. The same could be said about being the only white person in a room of black people, the only woman in a crowd of men, the only man in a crowd of women, the only English speaking person in a country you are in. It is intimidating to cross the boundaries in any situation. The fact that we are still using that as a reason to keep walls up 150 years after one of the greatest flaws in our early nation was corrected makes me ill.
A wonderful woman works for me, she is so much like me I giggle sometimes, and pray that I become more like her as I get older. One my greatest joys in the world is when her son comes in and gives his other mama a hug! Sometimes he calls me mama number two or his white mama, neither of those are meant as a demeaning phrase, but as a definition. He is a good man, a hard worker that takes care of his mama. I am so proud that he feels that way about me. Proud to add him to my list of "children" and there have been many over my life.
I would have loved to have seen those children playing their instruments and marching to celebrate such a wonderful, long lasting cause. I am proud to know I live in an area, that long before the government stuck their noses into the mix found a way to meet a serious need in the community and 125 years later it is still going strong and doing so much for all in their community. I am sad that to be able to rejoice in this region you must be willing to be defined.
I think we all need to put some glasses on that make all the people gray. So that we as American's can finally define each other by content. When we can finally stop hearing or reading a news article that starts with "a black ..." or "a white..." and not just "a child...", "a man...", "a woman...". If it is truly relevant to the story add their origin or ethnicity later, and if it isn't... then leave it out. It is a description just like tall, short, thin, fat. It is not a definition of the soul.
As a melting pot, we all have different backgrounds, even our "native Americans" migrated from another area. Maybe, just maybe, Dr. King was on to something. I don't want to be judged by my skin, my nationality, my gender, my sexual preference, my hair color, my eye color, my speech, my clothing, my car... yes we can get just that wrapped up in things. I want to be judged on the content of my character. I want to celebrate each person in my circle of friends for the wonderful people that they are.
So I am ambiguous over this weekend. I simply do not know how to feel about it. I want to celebrate a great cause, a great accomplishment and a community that is strong, nurturing and loving. I don't want to be told I don't belong or I don't know what it feels like to be an outsider - especially when the person saying it has just made me feel that way...