Living north of the Delmar Divide, the issue of residential segregation is often on our minds. The citizens of St. Louis, like those in many other cities in the US, have segregated themselves along racial and class lines. Such segregation was actually legally enforced in the 1920s and 30s, but it continued long after in the form of restrictive covenants. Recently, someone sent me a map from the 1940s outlining which blocks of north city would be white and which would be black. The practice of self-segregation continues, though in a largely unconscious way. This is clear because the black blocks on the map from the 1940s remain the black blocks today. The pattern hasn’t changed.

Restrictive Districts in St. Louis, c. 1940

Restrictive Districts in St. Louis, c. 1940

The unconscious enforcement of historic real estate patterns was confirmed for us when we were house shopping back in 2008. At the time, we knew we wanted to move to the north side in order to pursue racial reconciliation. So we called a local real estate agency and had a very nice lady agree to meet us one Saturday and show us some houses. We were clear we wanted a large house (for the community) on the north side. Instead of going north, she showed us several fine domiciles on the south side. The next Saturday was more of the same. When we protested that we really wanted to look in north city, she kindly shook her head and assured us that a nice couple like us would be more comfortable on the south side. What she meant was “a nice (white) couple.” We eventually had to fire her.

After presenting on residential segregation and showing this map at a church group last week, someone remarked that consciously or unconsciously, many of us were still following the housing patterns which we inherited from previous generations. Then they quoted Romans 12:2, “Be not conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Perhaps nothing so clearly illustrates the “pattern of this world” than this map of restricted districts.

What difference does it make where you live? Can’t one be a Christian anywhere? Perhaps, but the difficult truth is that babies born in north St. Louis live, on average, 18 years less than babies born in the adjacent Clayton zip code. Why? In large part because of racial and economic isolation resulting from residential segregation. Our unconscious conformity to the racist patterns of the world is killing our neighbors. Literally.

May our minds be renewed so that we may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (cf. Micah 6:8).