I first realized there was such a thing as race when...

It’s Labor Day, and like many of you, we’re taking the day off to enjoy some extra time with friends and family.

As we settle in for our backyard barbecues, we couldn't help but think about a major theme that’s run through almost all the episodes of We Live Here. Because of the way St. Louis is structured, black, white, rich and poor people rarely live next to each other.

This separation often results in vastly different life experiences for people who may live just a few miles apart – yet seldom see or talk to one another. It's a fragmented landscape that can produce sobering results. As Jason Purnell, an assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University, told us, segregation is "literally killing us."

True, this is a show about systems, but we’re often reminded that systems are run by people.  And what’s in the hearts and minds of our friends, family, co-workers, public officials and neighbors can’t be ignored.    

To get a better handle on how these divides have shaped our ideas and experiences of race, in July we asked patrons at the four area St. Louis libraries to complete this sentence anonymously: “I first realized there was such a thing as race when…” 

Illustrator Susannah Lohr created these from anonymous comment cards people filled out around St. Louis


As we discovered in our episode on school segregation, many respondents said school profoundly shaped their views on race.

“I was in elementary school and I realized school food was not the same food that my family ate.”

“I met another little girl and we spent the afternoon playing in the park, and then my mom told me she didn’t want me to play with her again.”

“Teachers thought I was adopted because my skin tone was darker than everyone else in my family.”

“I shared a bus stop with black classmates in sixth grade and saw how they were isolated – segregated in a housing project on the other side of railroad tracks.”

Others cited work or family relationships.   

“My husband was the only black person at his job and someone said he was hired as a token.”

“I was afraid to meet my husband’s grandmother because I though she wouldn’t like me because I was brown.”

We’re now asking the same question at two churches in Ferguson. As always Tweet @WeLiveHereSTL to tell us when you first became aware of race.  

Season 1We Live Here staff