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What High School Did You Go To?

If you are new to St. Louis, you might be welcomed with a “what high school did you go to” or a “where do you live” before even introducing yourself by name. If you’re African American, it’s not uncommon for people to assume you grew up in North County St. Louis, mainly because a significant amount of black people dwell in that region of the metro area. I don't know about you, but there’s always been something rather odd about a stranger asking me where I live; however, I suppose that’s the icebreaker that determines which clan, clique, or tribe you derived from or whether or not you are worthy of further conversation. Typically, the question is followed by slight confusion and offense on my part. After being asked a few times in different social settings, I began to question the questions and soon got to the root of the inquiries. Here's my theory...

Not long after moving to St. Louis, I discovered that the city is quite segregated. It was very surprising to learn that many of its natives take pride in exclusivity and separateness. It's actually quite common for different cultural groups to dwell in the same regions of the city, to co-mingle with only those who went to the same high schools and grew up in the same neighborhoods. It's very common to stick with those who look and speak like you. So, imagine the looks I got when I would tell people I live in Chesterfield ( a predominantly white suburb in West County St. Louis). This generated all sorts of assumptions and confusion about me, and instantly people knew I wasn't from St. Louis. Honestly, I moved to Chesterfield for the school district. If you're an out-of-towner and researching St.Louis, it's easy to surmise county schools equal "good", city schools equal "bad". So, I made West County my home in hopes of premium free education. Of course, now I know that's not entirely true. There are actually lots of great options for quality education in the city.

After traveling and living in a few places throughout the United States, I hadn't experienced separateness at such magnitude. I didn't understand until I began to learn the history of St. Louis, until I learned of the Delmar Divide, Ferguson and the other racial tragedies that haunt this city. In my opinion, there's been a very slow progression in terms of race relations. Sometimes, I feel as if I've stepped back in time 50 years. Mainly, it's in moments when strangers yell that I should go back to North County, which is followed by more of me being confused because I've never lived in North County. It's also in moments when county dwellers express extreme fear of the city. There's always surprise when I share that I live in the city, and actually love the city. Truthfully, it's where there's the most diversity and exposure to other cultures. I love that my neighbor's cultural backgrounds connect to Africa, Bosnia, Turkey, North County, and so on . It enhances the flavor and richness of the city.

You're probably thinking, why would I want to live in a place like that; however, these struggles speak to the duality of the city and honestly this country. There are ugly parts, complicated parts, confusing parts, and beautiful parts interwoven into a complex culture and history. It is my hope that as I tour St. Louis, I'll be able to impress a desire to move higher collectively. I'll be able to serve as a guide to living freely in this city. I refuse to subscribe to the notion that separate is better. That mentality is limiting and stunts the growth of a place that has the potential to be a true "Gateway to West".

If you're a transplant, like myself, looking to connect in a new city and they ask "what high school did you attend" respond with a simple "does it truly matter".

~STL Tour Guide Lady

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I love this! I grew up in Saint Louis all through k-12. Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama the main thing at a young age that I love about Saint Louis was it’s size and the downtown skyline. I experienced inner city Saint Louis until high school then moved to north county. It was the first time I experienced life with white people. It was unpleasant and short lived. My mother doubled down and sent me to Parkway North. At first it was like “oh great more white people” then I realized it was actually more cultural, more ethnic groups, religions, but also more accepting. After leaving for college and living in various other cities and states for work, to your point,…

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