Let’s confront the ghosts of our past and calm things down

Listen Up


The ghosts of our past are boiling in a cauldron that is spewing fury and distress across America like lava from a volcano.

And just like climate change, many deny or ignore how segments of our society are colliding, getting hotter and hotter week after week. There’s an increasing sense that America is out of control, preferring dysfunction and confrontation to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Leaders in blackface. #MeToo revelations. White nationalist rallies. Priests abusing kids. A high school student staring down a native American. Deadly shootings at schools, churches, and synagogues. “Gay conversion” therapy. All-white social and country clubs.

America is on edge, seemingly leaderless as ghosts seem to confront society increasingly, causing the deterioration of values that have united us in the past. It’s as if there’s something new every day or three to ratchet up the heat on the cauldron which, in turn, predictably responds by launching more hot venom from the ghosts.

Don’t things seem more and more out of control? More divided than ever? Less hopeful?

You don’t have to look hard or far to find evidence of the haughty ghosts of race, discrimination, paternalism, and privilege that are roiling our country.

Just this week in South Carolina, a Republican state senator working to reform the state’s backwards education system said “someone on social media ‘threatened to put my neck in a noose’ because he did not allow public testimony” during an organizational meeting on a bill that would raise teacher pay, consolidate small school districts, and get rid of some of the incessant testing students have to take.

And on the same day, some 20 black lawmakers walked out of judicial elections alleging discrimination after a white attorney beat a longtime black state judge 87-73 for a seat on the state Court of Appeals. “Shame on South Carolina. Racism still lives here!” said state Rep. John King (D-York.) “Until we cure what is happening in our state House, we can’t expect our citizens to do any better.”

So what do we do about this bubbling stew of confrontation? It would be great to have the ghostbusters on the scene, but it’s not going to be that easy. We’re actually going to have to bust the ghosts of the past ourselves if we want to calm the cauldron. We’re going to have to start listening better and talking with each other, instead of at each other.

“It’s as if we need to have a Reckoning Day and just confront all of this stuff,” said one thoughtful man who is trying to better understand America’s distress.

If it could only be done in a day. In South Carolina after the eras of slavery and Jim Crow, followed by dulled acceptance of things being the way they are because they’ve always been that way, we might need a Reckoning Year — or Decade. Just look at how many still don’t have much to say about the Orangeburg Massacre where three students died and 27 were hurt 51 years ago this month.

To get started, maybe we should confront our individual ghosts and make amends with people we’ve hurt. We’ve all got things in our past that we’re not proud of. Perhaps embracing and asking for forgiveness is a way to start cooling the cauldron.

But as a society, we’ve got to start responding to threats from the ghosts of days past, too.

As our friend told us, “a society or group needs to acknowledge bad behavior on the institution’s behalf. I’m certainly not a full-throated fan of Baptists, Germans, or white South Africans, but it seems to me that they’ve made an honest effort to confront their past. We’ve only just begun it in South Carolina by seeing our Confederate statues with new eyes — or at least that’s how I feel.”

Let’s pick active listening, reason, community discussions, and compromise over confrontation and stubbornness. Let’s choose to start healing, not to continue to wallow in the past.

Doing nothing to heal South Carolina and America is not an option. Because if we do nothing, the ghosts win.

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