Missouri State Fair Obama mask [courtesy of Perry Beam via RiverfrontTimes]

Missouri State Fair Obama mask [courtesy of Perry Beam via RiverfrontTimes]

THE FAIR CLOWN Obama mask at the Missouri State Fair doesn’t surprise me in the least. This is the Missouri I knew when growing up there, where racism was a very real element of the state’s foundation.

“They mentioned the president’s name, I don’t know, 100 times. It was sickening,” Beam said. “It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally you’d see on TV.” Officials with the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, the organization that coordinated the rodeo, did not return phone calls seeking comment Sunday. [Associated Press]

The AP article quotes a Republican as saying, “We are better than this.” Remembering back to the attitude when I grew up in that state, leaving it in my early 20s, I’d say many Missourians are better than this, but there is still a very wide swath of the state that still harbors the deep racism of the traditional south.

There are many Missourians fighting against this foundational disease in the state, people from both sides of the aisle who abhor racism and believe respecting the presidency is incumbent on citizens, with this type of degrading racism appalling.

When it can be front and center at the Missouri State Fair, however, it reveals the rooted racism at the heart of Missouri history.

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, my high school was part of the busing program briefly. Race was never far from the conversation in our home when I grew up.

Perry Beam, who was among the spectators, said “everybody screamed” and “just went wild” as the announcer talked about having the bull run down the clown with the Obama mask.

“It was at that point I began to feel a sense of fear. It was that level of enthusiasm,” Beam, a 48-year-old musician from Higginsville, said Sunday, referring to the reaction from the crowd that filled the fair’s grandstand.

Scott Holste, spokesman for Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, said Sunday in an email that Nixon “agrees that the performance was disrespectful and offensive, and does not reflect the values of Missourians or the State Fair.”

If you counted the number of African Americans in the crowd you’d get the message. The Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association being at the center should set off alarms for anyone not wearing blinders.

It’s the companion thread that also bleeds hatred for feminist women and strong females, who are seen as a threat to the traditional misogyny that still lives in Missouri and was the reason I couldn’t wait to flee the state after college in the 1970s, running as fast as I could from the ingrained belief that women were second to men. It’s something that politicians like my big brother, a former Republican state senator and assistant attorney general to John Ashcroft, fought to change through supporting the ERA Amendment, way back when.

Missouri has a history of this stuff. As an aside, I saw it first hand, including when my brother was trying the de-segregation cases for the Missouri Attorney General’s office, which isn’t that long ago when looking at the history of civil rights. Ashcroft was accused of racism, some stemming from these cases, with my brother providing a letter to Sen. Orin Hatch during Ashcroft’s confirmation to state unequivocally that as AG, my brother saw no evidence of racism from Ashcroft. So, I know the differences and where they lie.

People say Missouri is getting better than I remember it. It had only one way to go and that was up, which manifested in Todd Akin’s senate campaign going up in flames. But as this story from the Missouri State Fair proves, there is still a lot of 19th century thinking in the Show Me state.

This post has been updated.