December 21, 2003

· Gender · Politics · Sociology

An article in the New York Times reports that the (white) relatives of Strom Thurmond are all upset since (black) Essie Mae Washington-Williams told the world last week that Thurmond was her father. Her mother had been a teenage maid in Thurmond’s household when Strom was in his early twenties. The article doesn’t have much in the way of commentary, but it doesn’t have to because you just have to listen to them damn themselves out of their own mouths.

They say, variously, that the announcement “was like a blight on the family”; that “For the first time in my life, I felt shame;” that “My family always had help around the house. But it just seems Strom would have been above that” (?!); that the publicity was “embarrassing and awkward”; that if Washington-Williams had been white “it would be a whole other situation,” because criticism wouldn’t have been as harsh (you don’t say); that they “don’t know why this lady is doing this”; that she had better be “coming out for the right reasons”; and that anyways at least she was “humble,” if you know what I mean. Thurmond’s nephew, Barry Bishop, said “For something to be done so publicly … well, we’re just not comfortable dealing with things in that way.” You never spoke a truer word, Mr Bishop. Finally, Thurmond’s niece, Mary T. Thompkins Freeman, said she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to meet Washington-Williams just yet. “If I do, I’m not going to go with open arms,” Ms. Freeman said. “It’s too much to accept right now.” Yes, dear. This must be such a burden for you all.

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I am Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center. Learn more.

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