So I was talking with my mother-in-law the other day, and the conversation went like our conversations usually do, where she talks about 95% of the time, and I say "mmhmm" and "oh really?" and "yeah" a lot. She was telling stories about how she got into trouble in high school, but then got diverted onto the subject of how inconvenient it was for everyone she knew when the school district policy started to require forced integration of the school districts, which meant that the bus rides for some people took longer. She honestly couldn't see any need at all for integration of schools, because after all, the people she knew would never harass black students, and if the black students all sat at one table at lunch it was just because they wanted to. All integration was to her was a pointless hassle, and at that point I really didn't have anything to say.
My in-laws and the people I've met here in St Louis since moving here last summer are not bad people. They are intelligent, educated, middle class white folks who insist that St Louis is not, in fact, in the South, but is in the Midwest and so must be untainted with horrible horrible racism. It puzzles me, that they don't see it. St Louis is about half white and half black, I think, although I don't know the current statistics; we are currently living in my grandmother-in-law's house, which is in a neighborhood with exactly zero people who aren't lily white. I go to the grocery store around the corner and it's no more diverse than the stores in rural Washington state where I grew up. On the other hand, if you go up to the northern part of St Louis county, communities there are almost 100% nonwhite. My in-laws' social circle does not include a single person who isn't white.
The way money is spent by the local governments here reflects this segregation to a degree that makes my skin itch. The neighborhood here, which is white and upper middle class, is perfectly safe. You can leave your doors unlocked when you run to the store and you can walk alone at night. I get the impression that the nonwhite neighborhoods are rather dangerous; the principle advice I got when I moved here about how to get around the city was to not go north of downtown or across the river, because doing so means you're going to get shot. It's not just dangerous crime, either. The VA hospital downtown is in a part of town that is right on the edge between a university campus and, to the north of it, a patch of urban poverty recognizable by ancient, poorly maintained, or abandoned buildings: it's a 'black' part of town.
Some of the history of the area is outlined in these posts by The Infamous Brad, which I found via Orcinus. The shooting he talks about occurred in Kirkwood, which is a suburb of St Louis that is only about ten minutes from where I'm living now. Orcinus also gives a link to a previous discussion of sundown towns that mentions Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, which I thought was very interesting. It's easy for a white kid from a white town like me to grow up almost completely ignorant of the complexities of race in our society, but it seems to me like it ought to be more difficult to stay ignorant when your white town is right next to a black town and the difference is so stark. My in-laws do manage to be ignorant, though.
It makes me wonder if the difference between us really is just that I read so much science fiction at such an impressionable age, or if there actually is less racism in the Pacific Northwest like I used to assume. Or maybe the type of racism in Washington- the kind people don't talk about- just doesn't pass along to the next generation as reliably.