One thing about St. Louisians; they love their sports. I love the spirit because it reminds me of home. Back home, I was too young to care or really be involved in sports culture. In St. Louis, though, it’s almost a necessity. Everybody is always talking about it, and the logos are everywhere. I was excited to be apart of the culture as the St. Louis Blues went on to play the Bruins for the Stanley Cup. St. Louis has never won a Stanley Cup so the pressure was on and anticipation was high.
Now, I know people say that hockey is for white people. But I’ve watched hockey before and I actually enjoy it. My friends native to St. Louis talked about all the things to expect and all the exciting things that could occur if the Blues won. Everyone was watching; you couldn’t miss it. So, I immersed myself in the culture. On game day 7, I festively put on my Blues blue. A friend donated me a cap and a sweatshirt. She was decked out with Blues attire and finished it all off with a St. Louis flag cape. So Dope.
Downtown, we went to a watch party in ballpark village. Everybody was repping the Blues with apparel. It was 5 in the afternoon, and everyone was already tipsy. The watch party was amazing; it was nothing like I’ve ever seen before. The energy in the room was wild. The host got everyone pumped. “Let’s Go Blues!” roared throughout the venue. As more people started to fill the room on both the first and second floor, I thought to myself, “I wonder if I’m the only black girl in the room.” It definitely seemed like it. Hell, there weren’t many black people, to begin with, except the men that were working the event. I brushed off the feeling of being out of place. I deserved to be in that space just as much as anyone else. I wasn’t going to allow a room full of white people to allow me to feel uncomfortable. Being in there with a friend, an ally, eased my troubling thoughts. She made sure I was good every step of the way.
No surprise, the Blues won that night! Everybody was lit! Gloria played all night long. It was a Wednesday night, though, and I didn’t want to be out all night. And to be frank, the thought of a bunch of drunk white people scares me. I just wanted to get home as soon as possible and celebrate in the comfort of my bed. My friend asked me if I was sure I was good to leave. It was late, and I would be leaving by myself. It was impossible to Uber from where we were, so I would be taking public transportation. I assured her I would be fine. I take public transit all the time by myself and at night, plus there were plenty of people around. I didn’t think anyone was going to snatch me up. So, I left. Alone.
I stepped outside and immediately wondered if I had made a mistake. There was a sea of… yep, you guessed it…drunk white people. My stomach immediately fell into the floor. At that moment fight or flight must have kicked in because my only concern was making it past the enormous crowd taking over ballpark village and getting my ass home. “Excuse me, pardon me.” I am very small, so I was easily able to make my way through the crowd. I moved swiftly, but I tried to make it a point to be polite. At the train station, there was a long line to get to the platform. I didn’t want to wait. I was beginning to feel extremely anxious. Again, I began excusing and pardoning my self through the crowd of people.
As I made my way to the front of the line, I was stopped by a tall white man with a large build. He was with two other people, a man and a woman. “Excuse me, where are you going?” he said pushing me back with his arm. Startled, I said, “Oh, I’m just trying to get on the train”.
“No, you’re not. There’s a line”
”I’m just trying to get home,” I said. I attempted to go around the group and again the man put his arm out and nudged me. “We are all trying to get home.”
“Okay, but why did you push me?”
The man he was with stepped in. “He didn’t push you, I was watching him the whole time”.
My heart began racing, and I felt the temperature in body rising. “He did push me.”
Then a woman that was with another couple stepped in.“Ma’am just wait in line, you’re not getting past.”
Frustrated I made a final attempt to pass the group “Just let me pass.” I was met with a huddled group of angry drunk folks. I realized that arguing with them wasn’t worth it. People had begun to watch, and I didn’t want to make a scene. I decided to just go around the group. I walked to the other end of the pathway and was met with the same white women who intervened moments earlier. What’s she doing here, I thought. Then it dawned on me. She had followed me to the other side of the pathway. “Ma’am, I just told you, you weren’t getting past!” she said aggressively.
“I’m just trying to get home.”
“So! Everyone else has to wait, so do you.” Everyone else doesn’t live where I live I thought to myself. Everyone else is going back to their nice big houses on the other side of town. “Well, everyone else should be like me then,” I said making an attempt to pass her. “Bitch, I said no!” she yelled. The woman pushed me and I fell a few steps back. Appalled, I made another effort and we began to tussle. Her husband grabbed her and turned her around. She screamed at me “Bitch, I’ll beat your ass!”
At that moment, I wasn’t scared. I was angry. I knew that if I acted in the way I wanted to, things would end badly. I admit I was shook. Everything in me just wanted to punch her at that moment. I was fired up. I just couldn’t believe she felt so offended to the point where she believed it was okay to put her hands on me and to call me out my name. I didn’t even know her. If I react the way I wanted to, the situation wouldn’t have ended well for me. I thought about jail. I thought about humiliation and death. I thought about every worst-case scenario. Because I wasn’t in Chicago, I was in St.Louis.
St. Louis was different in that segregation is so bad here. It’s likely that none of the white people at the game that night come into contact with black people in their daily life. I know this. I study it. Everything I’ve read, every news article I looked at, every bias or stereotype I had about St. Louis came together at once. I got on the phone with my brother and I cried. I cried because just minutes ago, I saw my life flash before my eyes. I saw myself behind bars in horrible jail conditions. I literally saw my body laying in the middle of the street. All of the stories I heard, all of the movies I watched. In that instant, I saw myself.
I’ve called St. Louis my home for almost two years. I’ve grown to deeply love this place. But St. Louis has its issues. When I described my experience to friends, one response was “That’s fucked up, but that’s St. Louis.” That’s St. Louis, I thought to myself. It’s true. St. Louis has such a deep and long history of racial segregation. And many times white folks here have a real dislike for black folks. It wasn’t until my conversation with my friends the next day, I realized I had experienced something traumatic. An arriving train was the only thing that interrupted the dispute because it became more important to get on the train than to argue with me. It was clear that in a few minutes, maybe hours, they would forget the encounter, but it would stay with me for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, it would serve as another framework in my interactions with my white peers. It had changed me and it was too late to turn back.
I was foolish, I was thinking from a woman’s perspective when I left the watch party that night. I guess I forgot I was Black too. It’s one thing to know you are different, to feel out of place, to know you don’t belong. It’s another to realize that you are being treated badly because you are different. I will never forget again.
Ashley Williams is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC.