The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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We are family

OP/ED
 We are family
We are family

We are family

The family singing group from my era, Sister Sledge, has aformer hit entitled, “We Are Family.” The music of thisgroup is believed to have brought diverse individuals together.This song was also a theme song used by the Pittsburgh Piratesbaseball team during the 1979 baseball season. It is a catchy tune,”We…are…fam–i–ly…I got all mysisters with me…”

This song came to mind as I was reading the media storiesregarding an announcement made by Essie Mae Washington-Williams.She recently announced that she is the child of Sen. StromThurmond. Sen. Thurmond passed away in June of last year. He hadserved in the U.S. Senate for 48 years, and is considered a hero bysome because of his humanitarian work. The Thurmond family isconsidered a dynasty in South Carolina.

Ms. Washington-Williams who is a 78-year-old retired schoolteacher, said she made the announcement to be rid of a burden shecarried and so her children could know the truth. Her announcementappears to be given humbly. The intense media coverage of thisannouncement is based on the fact that her mother was a 16-year-oldblack domestic employed in the Thurmond family home in the southduring a period when interracial relationships were illegal.Another factor causing interest is the fact that Thurmond at onepoint in his political career spoke out strongly in favor ofsegregation.

According to newspaper accounts, comments coming from theThurmond family with regard to the announcement have includedcalling her “a blight on the family” and referring toher as “that lady.” Another family member said therevelation was “embarrassing and awkward.” One familymember said, “For the first time in my life, I feltshame.”

The family has acknowledged her “claim to herheritage.” According to The New York Times, Congressman JamesE. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, commented on thefamily’s statement.

“She had DNA proof. Even so, I applaud them. But mostly Iapplaud their attorney. The statement he put together was a work ofartful vagueness,” he said.

I wonder, has the family considered whetherWashington-Williams’ 16-year-old mother felt any shame orembarrassment? She too is deceased and unable to speak today. WhenWashington-Williams was asked how she felt about the Thurmondfamily members who were embarrassed she commented, “Well,that’s just too bad. We’ll pray for them.”

When it was stated that the Senator’s widow and herchildren wanted to welcome Washington-Williams to the family,Washington-Williams commented she was family before they were andthat perhaps she should welcome them.

The Thurmond family’s response toWashington-Williams’ announcement haunted me a little morepersonally as I thought of an event which I had observed when Iattended SMU’s December graduation ceremony. That night thecampus was beautiful with the holiday lights glistening in thetrees. It was difficult to find a seat for the ceremony in McFarlinAuditorium as many individuals were saving entire rows. Thetechnology of cell phones enabled them to speak to their familymembers while explaining in which row they could be located. I wasamazed that that many cell phones in one building could actuallylocate a signal.

I found a seat on the second floor, last row against the wall.This was 45 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony. It was verywarm up there and we were all fanning ourselves to cool off despitethe cold night. The graduation ceremony hadn’t even begunwhen what to my wondering ears should appear but the sounds of abrouhaha getting wound up next to me.

A well-groomed middle-aged white man stood up, and as heclenched his fists ordered an equally well groomed African Americanwoman out of the seat she had just sat in. When she informed himthe seat did not have his name on it, he used the “F”word (and I am not referring to “feminist”) andcommented he intended to throw her out. She suggested something tothe effect that he should just try to lay one hand upon her. (Thewoman was holdin’ her own.) She evidently was an interloperto the “saved” seats. I can understand his frustrationbut his body and verbal language were beyond offensive. I can alsounderstand her frustration as seats were difficult to come by andas I said, that was 45 minutes prior to the event.

As this incident continued to escalate I began to count thenumber of people I was going to have to climb over should the needfor an emergency exit occur. The young woman sitting next to meslid down in her seat and fanned herself even faster. A woman withher asked “WHAT’S WRONG?” I was embarrassed forthis man’s wife sitting next to me who sat staring straightahead, remaining silent. I was embarrassed not only for him, butalso for the woman with whom he was battling. I was embarrassed forSMU to have this occur in the 21st century. Wasn’t it theseason to be jolly? What about Christmas, Kwanza, and Hanukkah?Feliz Navidad? I gladly donated my seat to the cause.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.Unfortunately that sameness doesn’t always make us think ofthe good old days. Perhaps, though, it should make us think.

[Sound of middle-aged woman humming Sister Sledge tune.]

“We…are…fam–i–ly…get upev’rybody and sing.”

 

Deborah Currie is a junior social science major. She can bereached at [email protected].

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