Katy Trail Diplomacy

I made a new friend the other day: A black, French, Muslim woman who recently arrived from Paris. (That sound you just heard was Donald Trump’s head exploding.) I could think of no better way to introduce Joie (named changed to protect her privacy) to the America I love than going for a twelve-mile bike ride on the Katy Trail, along the banks of the Missouri River, with a stop at Cooper’s Landing for some delicious Thai food and live bluegrass music.

Travis Naughton

Travis Naughton

I am happy to report that Joie enjoyed our adventure thoroughly. This was the America she had been hoping to see ever since she began dreaming about coming to the United States to continue her education. While she was enamored with the lush scenery and the friendly people of mid-Missouri, I was genuinely happy for her—and relieved. Relieved that one of Joie’s first experiences in our country was an overwhelmingly positive one. But I’ve lived here long enough to know that won’t always be the case.

In these times of divisive political rhetoric and blatant hatred toward minorities, I am concerned about how my friend will be treated during her stay in the States. There are some red-blooded Americans who still refer to the French as “rifle droppers” due to the perception (however unfair) that the French surrendered too easily to the Nazis in WW2. These are the same people who eat “Freedom Fries” instead of “French Fries” because France didn’t go along with George W. Bush’s ill-conceived plan to invade Iraq based on trumped-up charges that Saddam Hussein was still hoarding weapons of mass destruction. These folks seem to have forgotten that were it not for France’s aid, the colonists would have likely been crushed by the British during the American Revolution. I’ve lived long enough to know plenty of France-haters. Plenty.

In addition to her nationality, Joie’s race may also be a magnet for intolerance while she lives in Missouri, a former slave state with strong Confederate leanings during the Civil War. At the starting point of our bike ride, a rebel flag waved in the breeze just a few feet away from the peaceful Katy Trail. While some people claim the flag represents southern pride, others say it is a symbol of white supremacy. I find it interesting that the same people who wish that blacks would just get over “the whole slavery thing” can’t seem to get over “the whole losing the Civil War thing.” The fact is that for many people, the stars and bars represent hate and racial intolerance. I hope Joie is not confronted by such bigotry, but I’ve lived in Missouri long enough to know plenty of racists who call our state home. Plenty. Joie will be scrutinized and looked upon with suspicion because of her faith. Despite Americans’ obsession with the Constitution, many seem to overlook the First Amendment, the one that says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” I would like to remind those people that a Muslim has the exact same rights in this country as a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, and for that matter, an atheist. Yet Joie will very likely face mistrust, distain, and outright discrimination because of her faith. Sadly, I’ve lived in America long enough to know plenty of “religious” people who despise those with different religious beliefs. Plenty. Being a woman in America carries with it yet another set of challenges for Joie. Women in our nation make roughly 25% less money than men for doing the same work. Black women fare even worse in the struggle for equal pay and equal opportunities. And of course, women here are routinely objectified, groped, cat-called, assaulted, and degraded by men. Unfortunately, I’ve lived long enough to know plenty of misogynists who unapologetically consider women to be inferior to men. Plenty.

Nevertheless, I am proud of the people of Southern Boone County and mid-Missouri for showing a black, French, Muslim woman how great our community, our state, and our nation can be. Joie told me her most surprising discovery about America so far is how friendly everyone is. She enjoys meeting new people and learning about different cultures. It seems to me that if more people had her attitude, one shared by the friendly folks along the Katy Trail last weekend, our world would be a much better place. Luckily, I’ve lived here long enough to know plenty of good people who care about making the world a better place. Plenty.