President Donald Trump has made it his job to equate American hate with making America great. Doug Mills The New York Times
President Donald Trump has made it his job to equate American hate with making America great. Doug Mills The New York Times

Jeneé Osterheldt

My welcome back to Missouri: NAACP travel advisory, rising hate groups and Trump

By Jeneé Osterheldt

August 29, 2017 10:49 AM

As I wrapped up my fellowship year at Harvard this month and began to pack my boxes and leave Boston, the concierge in my building asked where I was moving.

“Kansas City? Missouri?” she said. “They don’t like us there. It’s not safe. Didn’t you see the news?”

Yes. More than that, I told her, Kansas City is my adopted home, in the state that compelled the NAACP to issue a travel advisory for bodies that look like my own.

Derrick Johnson, NAACP interim president and CEO, cited racist incidents and the statistic that African-Americans in Missouri are 75 percent more likely to be stopped and searched by law enforcement officers than Caucasians. These facts, he said, “are unconscionable and are simply unacceptable in a progressive society.”

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But do we live in a progressive society or are we just pretending?

I started driving back to Kansas City the day President Donald Trump stood at his New York tower and put people standing up for equality and justice on the same plane as white supremacists.

I drove across the Missouri state line the same week the Southern Poverty Law Center showed Missouri is home to more hate groups (white separatists, neo-Nazis, anti-Muslims, anti-LGBTQ, sovereign citizens, black separatists) than Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma combined: a big, bad total of 24.

With my foot on the gas, I remembered my regular supply of racist emails from readers. You don’t forget people defending George Zimmerman, vilifying Tamir Rice, denying the proven police bias in Ferguson and regularly debasing black lives, immigrant lives, LGBTQ lives and the lives of women. You don’t forget how recognizing the reality of racism at Mizzou led to a death threat.

And those hateful comments came before the country elected a bigot who believes more people descended on Charlottesville, Va., to protect the monument of the Confederacy’s top general than to perpetuate oppression. Sure.

“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said. “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

Well, Mr. Trump, it shouldn’t stop until upholding slavery and bias is no longer the American way.

I returned to work on Friday, the same day a vandalized United Daughters of the Confederacy monument was removed from the boulevard at 55th and Ward Parkway — right within J.C. Nichols’ historically exclusionary Country Club District. I wondered whether Trump would be upset and consider it an erasure of what he calls America’s greatness. Would he applaud the armed militia who think it’s their duty to police KC’s peaceful marches against injustice?

This is a man who can look beyond a terrorist using his car as a weapon to pummel protesters against hate, killing Heather Heyer. A man who can look right past the “Jews will not replace us” chants, the “White Lives Matter” cheers, the torches and the clubs and equate white nationalists with anti-supremacy protesters.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said from his New Jersey golf club. “It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”

Is he sure? He’s the same man who, in the midst of Hurricane Harvey and the aftermath of Charlottesville, pardoned former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for racially profiling Latinos and dehumanizing prisoners.

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Trump is leading a national attack against journalists as a way to disempower the people. He criminalizes immigrants and objectifies women. He believes in police militarization, disrespects black lives and is trying to deny the rights of the LGBTQ community.

And I’m a black, biracial woman journalist who advocates for equity and justice. I’m back to stand up for what he wants to stifle and tear down.

Hate has always been a part of America’s foundation — but Trump has openly given it a home. On Wednesday, he is heading to Springfield, in “the great state of Missouri,” to talk Republican domination and tax cuts.

The agenda should be how to bridge the divide. So if the president is not going to do his job, we’d better get to work.

Jeneé Osterheldt: 816-234-4380, @jeneeinkc