Most Everything You Need To Know About Why Black Folks Are Afraid Of Greitenstan—I Mean, Missouri

By now, most folks in Missouri (and most outside) have heard of the NAACP’s travel advisory involving my state. Most people, however, probably haven’t read the actual text of the travel advisory, the first ever issued by the group at the state level. So, because this is the Internet, here is part of it (first issued by the Missouri NAACP State Conference), which I have slightly edited:

A travel advisory has been issued in the State of Missouri due to the
sad passage of Senator Gary Romine’s Jim Crow Bill – SB 43 – and
recent events throughout Missouri.

The advisory means each individual should pay special attention
while in the state of Missouri and certainly if contemplating spending
time in Missouri. Unlike seasonal weather advisories, where no
unnecessary travel on city streets or parking might be directed, the
NAACP wants to make Missourians and our visitors aware of looming
danger which could include the following by example of what has
happened to some residents and visitors:

Tory Sanford who recently died in a jail cell but was never arrested
after running out of gas when he traveled into the state accidentally;

Racist attacks on University of Missouri students while on the states’
campuses – as the University of Missouri System spoke in favor of
Romine’s Jim Crow Bill;

Missouri’s legislature Representative Rick Bratton argued that
homosexuals are not human beings according to his faith;

Black high school students in St. Louis have been attacked with hot
glue while denigrated racially;

Two internationally born men gunned down outside in Kansas City
after their killer thought them to be Muslim;

According to the Missouri Attorney General African-Americans in
Missouri are subjected to excessive traffic – 75% more likely to be
stopped and searched based on skin color than Caucasians,
Public threats of shooting ‘Blacks’ that terrorized University of
Missouri students and members of the public.

Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme
CAUTION. Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history
in Missouri. Missouri, home of Lloyd Gaines, Dred Scott and the
dubious distinction of the Missouri Compromise and one of the last
states to lose its slaveholding past, may not be safe…

The Missouri State Conference NAACP asked that you do the
following:

warn your families, co-workers and anyone visiting Missouri to
beware of the safety concerns with travel in Missouri,

notify members of your trade associations, social and civic
organizations that they are traveling and living in Missouri at their own
risk and subject to unnecessary search seizure and potential arrest,
and file and seek help on any existing claims for discrimination,
harassment, retaliation, and whistle blowing ASAP…

Now, you can investigate all of the incidents listed in this advisory and decide for yourself if the advisory is warranted. But I will focus on SB 43 itself—which is now law in the state after our Tr-mpian governor signed it in June—and show why it is that this law is not just a Jim Crow-type law for African-Americans, but why it represents a danger to all those who have been at least partially protected by Missouri’s anti-discrimination laws.

But the first thing you need to know about this ridiculous law—which amends the Missouri Human Rights Act—is that its sponsor, Republican Senator Gary Romine (whose district comprises counties south of St. Louis) is the owner of a business in Sikeston called Show-Me Rent to Own. That business is one of those “Don’t Need a Loan, No Credit Required” furniture and appliance stores where you can rent a couch or a coffee table or a TV or a potted plant for a week or a year or whatever. In my experience, places like that tend to prey on those with poor credit, which usually means, of course, the poor. So, let that speak or not speak to the character of Sen. Romine.

In any case, allow me to quote extensively (you should read it all) from an April story involving Romine that was written by Sarah Fenske of the Riverfront Times:

In March 2015, a man who used to work at Show-Me Rent to Own in Sikeston, Missouri, filed a lawsuit alleging that his supervisor regularly used racial slurs against him, telling him, among other things, to “quit acting like a n*gger” — and Related imagethat a map on the wall of the store circled a majority black neighborhood with the words “do not rent” written next to it.

The owner of the business is state Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington), and in response to the suit, his lawyers acknowledged that, yes, a map in the back of the store had those very words written upon it. Everything else, he pretty much denied.

In any other state, that kind of admission might be a scandal — or at least grounds for future questioning. “Hey, Senator Romine! Who was redlined by that ‘do not rent to’ directive? And did any employees tell you about the allegations against your supervisor? If so, did you take any action?”

But hey, this is Missouri. And instead of Romine’s business practices forcing him into the hot seat, he’s instead using them as the basis of a folksy anecdote about “frivolous litigation” to advance legislation that would gut workplace protection against racial discrimination in Missouri…

Sarah Fenske goes on to describe what now is the law. She calls it,

a toxic stew: a mess of bad provisions that manages to exempt state employees from whistleblower protections, gut workers’ ability to allege racial discrimination, and protect Romine’s own interests, all in one package.

She then quotes Representative Steve Roberts, a Democrat from St. Louis:

“I honestly don’t understand how this hasn’t gotten more media attention.” He notes that when he questioned Romine about being sued for discrimination, the senator had a telling answer: “Which time?”

“It’s so bold to have a senator who’s been sued for this, multiple times, leading the charge,” Roberts says. “It is clearly self-dealing.”

Clearly. But even if it wasn’t, the law is horrific. I’ll allow Fenske to describe why because I think she does it so well:

SB 43 would gut the state’s Human Rights Acts (which is already fairly limited — among other things, sexual orientation is not covered). But under these new provisions, instead of showing only that race or gender are “a contributing factor” to discrimination, Missouri residents would have to show that it was “the motivating factor” (emphasis added).

So let’s say someone works for … just to come up with a totally random example … Gary Romine’s rent to own business. And let’s say they were subjected to the barrage of invective described in the lawsuit against Show-Me Rent to Own, which includes phrases like “black people are the worst to work with,” “black people are the worst to rent to,” “as long as I am manager, there will never be two black people working here again,” and, of course, the n-word. (Romine, for the record, didn’t respond to either a phone message or email seeking comment yesterday.)

Then let’s say the employee was fired. Under the new law, it wouldn’t be enough to show that race was one of the reasons he faced termination. His lawyers would have to show it’s the single biggest reason — an incredibly difficult standard.

I have to stop here and tell you that as someone who has occasionally represented employees who filed complaints of workplace discrimination, Fenske is absolutely correct to emphasize how difficult it is under ordinary discrimination laws to win a judgment against an employer. And she is also correct in emphasizing how harder it will be under SB 43 to win such a case. It will essentially require a business owner to stand up and say, “Yep, I fired the black guy because I don’t like n*****s.” It’s really that bad. Thus, that’s part of the reason the NAACP referred to it as a Jim Crow law.

But the law is bad for an even more onerous reason, one so bad it caused my own local state representative, a reactionary named Bill White, to reject it. Here’s how The Missouri Times reported that part of it:

The bill also removes provisions that would prevent the actual discriminating party – be it a supervisor or fellow employee – from being named in the case, which horrified Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin.

“What this bill does in its current form, the person who hung the noose in somebody’s locker, that person doesn’t get named in this case in this bill,” White said, citing a specific discrimination case in which a white employee racially discriminated against a black employee.

Kudos to Bill White for having at least some limitations on his shortsighted, radical conservatism. (And I think I’m being way too generous to say he has some limitations; maybe this is the only one).

If all that wasn’t bad enough, the law also limits damages in cases where a complainant actually wins. So, even if you get the owner to admit he fired you because you’re black and he hates blacks, his liability is capped. And that’s not all. This law doesn’t just make it harder for African-Americans to sue for discrimination, it also makes it harder for those pursuing age or sex or religious discrimination. If you’re an old fart no longer wanted because you’re old, a woman no longer wanted because you’re a woman, or, say, a Muslim working in a “Christian” environment, well, too bad for you. Businesses need protection from the likes of you and your ambulance-chasing, litigation-loving lawyers!

Which, of course, is how this damned thing, which was rammed through the legislative process in the most unseemly manner imaginable, was justified. It’s good for business. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce has been demanding this law for years. And here’s how The Missouri Times reported that angle:

“It was a priority for us and it’s been a priority for us for over a decade,” House sponsor Rep. Joe Don McGaugh said after session. “When you talk to the business community, the examples that they share are pretty broad with the number of people who come in and say, this was a real factor for businesses coming into the state. So, hopefully, it has a pretty quick impact.”

Rep. Kevin Engler, who has carried the legislation in the past, noted during floor debate the bill was needed to ensure Missouri remained competitive with other states.

“Privately, this is a number one cost driver,” Engler said. “We have to make Missouri a better place to bring jobs and development and workers.”

So, there you have it. We have a test case here in Missouri, similar to the “experiment” conducted by Sam Brownback and radical Republicans in Kansas. That Sunflower State experiment was a miserable and enduring failure, and the deeply unpopular Brownback is hightailing it out of the state for a job Tr-mp offered him in the federal government, a strange job of promoting “religious freedom” around the world. Good riddance. But meanwhile, we can now sit back here in Missouri and either watch the jobs flood in and government revenues increase because businesses are much freer to discriminate, or we will watch a continued decline in Republican-dominated Missouri, reflected in this AP report in June:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — New data show it’s unlikely Missouri revenues will grow enough to fully fund the budget passed by lawmakers last year.

State Budget Director Dan Haug on Friday announced state revenues grew 2.6 percent through May compared to the same period last fiscal year.

That’s well under the 7 percent needed to fully fund spending outlined in this year’s budget and the 3.4 percent legislators originally estimated.

Revenues also are below the scaled-back 3 percent-growth mark that Republican Gov. Eric Greitens and lawmakers predicted in January.

Lower-than-expected growth means funding cuts made by Greitens and his predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, likely will stay in place.

“Funding cuts.” Sound familiar? It should. That’s the kind of language used in Brownbackistan. Soon we will have our own Show-Me state version: Greitenstan.

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t know if MO is the first state to pass a law like this one that discriminates against a single class of people, but if it is first, it will set a precedent and other states will soon follow. The law, of course, is patently unconstitutional. (See Section 1 or the 14th Amendment.) So, I’m pretty sure lawsuits will soon be filed if they haven’t already. And after they make their rounds in the MO courts, the thing will likely be decided by SCOTUS. Unfortunately, our Court of last resort has a conservative majority, including, one Clarence Thomas, himself a former Missourian and the state’s AG.

    All this gnashing of teeth begs another, bigger problem: Racism, specifically racism involving African-Americans. The laudable efforts to ease discrimination and to achieve some degree of equality over the last 160 years have largely failed. Even the Civil Rights Act, which became law 50 years ago, is falling short of its intended purpose. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of noise over the years about this issue. There has been some progress and it has been hard fought. But I don’t see anything that will improve the situation and would be willing to bet that the situation will be the same 50 years from now; maybe worse.

    Here’s the problem as I see it. A lot of white folks, including but not limited to the white supremacists and their ilk, see blacks as demanding more equality by making the whites unequal. They want a level playing field by tilting it. So, it is a paradox that one group gets more liberty at the expense of another group. And that concept is expressed in just two words – Equal Opportunity. That blacks are seen as having stepped in front of whites in employment, education, housing and other social institutions. That has really pissed off millions on whites. And you see it everywhere – the south mostly, but in all the big urban areas as well.

    Those white racists see blacks as playing the victim card who demand special treatment and then get rewarded for it. They see blacks as lazy, dumb, and unwilling to meet halfway in solving common problems.

    To me, the overarching problem here is simple tribalism. To this point, Harvard’s Robert D. Putnam published his comprehensive study, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” back in 2000. This was a massive study based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people in 41 communities across America. In his August 5, 2007, review in the “Boston Globe,” titled “The Downside of Diversity,” Michael Jonas commented that Putnam’s study, “. . . has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study . . . found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.” This, it seems to me, is evidence of the difficulties faced when two or more tribes have to occupy the same space.

    Then too, I think our Western European heritage is a big part of the problem. We didn’t make apologies for the genocide of millions of native Americans – North, South and Central. And then there’s slavery. Part of our European alligator brains seen to lack empathy and compassion. It’s no wonder minority groups tend to stay together – the Jews, the Italians, the Greeks, the Muslims, the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, not to mention the large enclaves of Hispanics. Those are all tribes.

    Indeed, tribalism, IMHO is the chief restraint to our success as a society. Therein lies our identity, our history, our values, our worldview. The tribe is an extended family, protective of its own, suspicious of outsiders. And tribal loyalty, as professor Putnam found out, gives rise to the mistrust of others, sometimes intolerance, and even war. Too many tribes sharing the commons, it seems, tends to slow the advance of civilization, as the tribal confederation we call the United Nations can attest.

    So, should we back off of the idea of social integration – the melting pot — and encourage groups to form their own homogeneous communities? I don’t know. But, obviously, what we’re doing now is not working. Anger is fleeting, but hatred is lasting. That’s the dilemma we’re facing.

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  2. I agree with Herb’s well-researched comments.

    I recall reading about a community in New York, perhaps Long Island, in which multiple ethnicities cohabited and prospered in business. Unfortunately, I can’t find the article now. Maybe it was a one-off, I don’t know. It seems to me that such balance can only be achieved with economic prosperity and when stressors like crime, vandalism, and perhaps most significantly, demagoguery, are minimized.

    Trumpian rallies still astonish me with their violence-tinged anger. The tribal brain is remarkably vulnerable! I have to wonder whether Tr;mp has permanently affected our country’s ethos.

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  3. ansonburlingame

     /  August 4, 2017

    Herb and Jim,

    Herb wrote, “……efforts to ease discrimination and to achieve some degree of equality over the last 160 years have largely failed.” He attributes that failure (I think) to “tribalism” a term Jim has often used. Jim seems to agree and I tend to agree as well at some fundamental level. So if it is true, fundamentally, what might be the solution after 160 yrs of at least trying?

    My first question, challenge if you like, is what is the difference between “tribalism” and
    “racism”. They certainly sound very similar, a preference for or rejection of people of a different culture or tribe and/or skin color. Do you use tribalism in an attempt to be, well what, more polite or less confrontational perhaps or are they entirely different terms? “I’m Not Sure, Are You?” the title to my past blog.

    I have been rewatching the HBO series The Wire which ran from 2002-2008 and won a ton of awards. To say that it was “raw” is an understatement. But more important, was it an accurate reflection of conditions during those days in Baltimore? Let’s assume for a moment that it was reasonably accurate depicting the social and legal dilemmas confronting that city just after the turn of the century.

    If that is the case, what could or should have been done about such conditions? Fast forward to all the turmoil in Baltimore post-Ferguson, MO? The difference was the latter was part of the BLM reaction to cops killing blacks, not the turmoil of dealing with drug dealers and users and political corruption in The Wire.

    As I rewatch The Wire and consider issues related to black vs. white with cops, I ask myself what is the solution to either or both situations? I just don’t know is my honest answer, to myself, even though I join with you in wanting a solution, for sure.

    I suspect the drug trade in Baltimore remains, today, at least sort of similar to the fictional conditions seen in The Wire. I also note that despite all the social protests around the country since Ferguson, I am not aware of a single cop that has been convicted of murder, etc. in any of the headlined cases. Maybe I have missed news reports showing strong legal conviction and punishment of some cops that killed blacks but it seems to me most if not all of such cops so accused and prosecuted have been found not guilty or trials resulted in hung juries, repeatedly. In particular all of the six (?) cops charged in Baltimore have not been found guilty of crimes or been sent to prison, or so it seems to me thus far. Why?

    Does that mean our legal system remains corrupt, racist, tribal, etc. and if that is correct, what should be done about it?

    Finally, Duane specifically, I ask if it is true, as claimed by some in MO that the MO law is very similar to laws in 38 other States. That is reportedly part of the rebuttal to the NAACP travel advisory and you did not mention it in your blog. I suspect the real truth on that point is all wrapped up in legalisms that few if any of us can untangle for ourselves alone. Even the President of NAACP had to “mumble” when confronted with that point on PBS News Hour last night. As well the St. Louis NAACP has called on him to cancel the travel advisory as well. Why? It would appear to me at least that the St. Louis chapter is more concerned about economic consequences that it is the “morality” of the law now in place, democratically I might add.

    Anson

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    • @ Anson,
      Agreed, I think racism is a form of tribalism, but not all tribalism is racism. For instance, tribalism can be expressed in reaction to differences in customs, religions, or merely language. This obviously applies to modern urban crime and violence. It sure doesn’t help that cultural differences are exacerbated by social media these days. I saw a clip of a gang in Chicago recently in which the (masked) members claimed that they actually hated guns but felt they had to be armed to the teeth because of threats from rival gangs. This is a complex social problem and, in my opinion, will never be solved until there is uniform federal gun control for all states. I am not so naive as to think that will happen in my lifetime, but that doesn’t mean the issue shouldn’t be argued.

      I agree that cops are rarely convicted of wrongful killing, but there was a recent case. Policeman Michael Slager of SC, who shot a fleeing black man in the back after a traffic stop, pled guilty to second degree murder a couple of months ago. So far as I can tell, he hasn’t been sentenced yet. But, why the rarity? I think there is a general sense, justified I think, that if cops often get convicted while doing their hazardous work, that policing will have a serious recruiting problem. Tribal thinking distinguishes groups based on biased reasoning: poor people are more likely to be criminals and black people are more likely to be poor, hence black means probably criminal. Only serious training can overcome instinct. The military has a handle on that, so it can be done.

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