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  • Louis Venters

"At War with Ourselves"

In recent days the sitting governors of South Carolina and Florida have each referred to their political opponents as animals.

It is no coincidence that these same political opponents overwhelmingly represent African Americans.

This would just be more of a tired old story, going back at least to the sordid days of Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, of the cynical manipulation of white voters for short-term gain--were it not for the fact that for decades such tactics have been so clearly connected to a suite of policies that amount to a reversal of the civil rights movement and that these days so many of the people who hear this kind of rhetoric seem perfectly willing to act on it.

Y'all remember the time, exactly six months before the Charleston Massacre, when South Carolina's previous governor (and current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) banned a poem by the state's poet laureate from her second inaugural ceremony because it frankly mentioned race, slavery, the Confederate flag flying at the State House, migrant farm workers, and homeless veterans and called for us to build a just society?

I wonder why she was so afraid of a little poem that takes about two minutes to read?

You can see for yourself. It's reproduced with permission in its entirety in this NPR story. And here's my take on it from shortly after the event.

Six months after a tepid, spineless inauguration, one of the governor's young constituents, called to grizzly action by white supremacist screed he found all over the Web, murdered nine people in a historic black church in downtown Charleston.

Words have power, for good or for ill. To deliberately misrepresent reality--whether through outright lies, whitewashing, or strategic silence--has real-world consequences.

This country is a tinderbox, and who knows which well-placed spark might set the whole thing ablaze?

The people of South Carolina and Florida--and of Flint, Ferguson, Standing Rock, and everywhere else in this country--deserve a whole lot better than the lies, half-truths, and glaring omissions that seem to animate so many of our political leaders. Petty party allegiances aside, we all have to improve our skills at discerning the truth, insist on it from those in positions of authority, and not settle for any policy, program, or ideology that divides the body politic.

As Marjorie Wentworth put it in the closing lines of her offending poem:

...haunted by our past, conflicted about the future; at the heart

of it, we are at war with ourselves

huddled together on this boat

handed down to us – stuck

at the last bend of a wide river

splintering near the sea.

This republic is sure to sink if we can't learn to see the truth and speak it, to ourselves and each other.

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