Asparagus disparity: Mountain, molehill or symbol of racial inequality?

In the national response to the Zimmerman trial, at rallies across the country, we hear from the bullhorns the outrage over police profiling minorities in traffic stops, the injustice displayed in our criminal courts and the fear of parents for the safety of their black and Hispanic children.  There have been calls, even from President Obama, for a national discussion of race relations in the United States.

Here in St. Louis, a scandal over dried-out asparagus may offer another symbol of racial inequality.

Recently, a member of the University City Human Rights Commission questioned whether the dried-out asparagus in the produce section of a local supermarket had any relationship to the store’s location in a black neighborhood. The accusation  resulted in a flurry of denials, articles and commentary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a talk-radio discussion, letters to the editor, and a call Sunday, July 21, 2013 from the Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon to “please keep some perspective,” that “asparagus rights do not hold cosmic life lessons.”

What lessons can we learn from what is now termed “the asparagus scandal”?

Whether the dried produce at the supermarket in question was only the result of a tray of water that had tipped over or not, the fact remains that the availability and quality of produce, meat and groceries in minority neighborhoods does not resemble that of our more affluent communities. The radio talk-show host [John Carney] said that this issue “got me thinking about the vast difference in produce” between a supermarket in an affluent suburb and another in the City of St. Louis.  A panel member on the radio show remarked that, though some of her colleagues called the asparagus story “silly,” there is a real issue of unequal maintenance of stores depending on where they are located.

Going to the only grocery store convenient to your home and finding a lack of quality produce or meat might not be as “cosmic” as being stopped and having your car searched, or receiving a jail sentence inappropriate to the crime, but it is important nonetheless. Knowing that when you go to a store, you’re getting lower quality food than shoppers in more affluent neighborhoods can make you feel undervalued, unequal, and lesser as a human being.

So, are we making a mountain out of a mole hill with the asparagus story?  The mountain might not be there, but the molehill still exists.  And as moles continue to burrow, they make more hills.  We need to be mindful of the damage that moles cause and make every effort to flatten these hills and create a level playing field for us all.