Sunday, February 25, 2007

What the Words Tell Us

Yahoo! News released an Associated Press story, which, in the surface, is a curious bit of irony. It turns out that Al Sharpton is descended from a slave who had been owned by a member of Strom Thurmond's family. Very little has been released by way of "official" comments (which is probably as it should be); but there is always someone who will not keep their mouth shut. In this case the "source" was Thurmond's niece, Ellen Senter:

Some of Thurmond's relatives said the connection also came as a surprise to them. A niece, Ellen Senter, said she would speak with Sharpton if he were interested.

"I doubt you can find many native South Carolinians today whose family, if you traced them back far enough, didn't own slaves," said Senter, 61, of Columbia, S.C. She added: "And it is wonderful that (Sharpton) was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was."

Now I am sure that Ms. Senter was trying to be nice about this revelation, but that last sentence of hers is a strong indication of just how hard old values die. It sits right up there with Barbara Bush's comment about Katrina victims having better facilities at the emergency centers that they had had in their pre-hurricane homes, a comment that Spike Lee did well to immortalize in When the Levees Broke. It is not that we should attack either Ms. Senter or Ms. Bush for making offensive and prejudicial remarks but that we should examine what it is about our social context that enables (facilitates?) such casual speech that is as damaging as the now notorious use of the word "articulate."

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