This doesn’t have anything to do with politics (not directly anyway), the Iraq war, or any other national news. It doesn’t have anything to do with George W. Bush either, or President Obama (actually, I’m in the middle of a wholly other topic more typical for this site that I want to post on before the day ends, and hopefully I’ll get to it).
To back up for a minute, I first heard about this story here at Eschaton (I’m pretty sure NBC 10 here in Philadelphia, to be honest, broke it first). Basically, here’s what happened (as Adam B tells us here); some kids from the Creative Steps Day Camp in Northeast Philadelphia bussed to the Valley Swim Club of Huntingdon Valley, PA to go swimming (the Creative Steps kids being African American and the Valley Swim Club being private with mainly a white membership, though I believe it has advertised itself as public to attract new members, but I’m not 100 percent sure about that…and by the way, the Valley Swim Club took $1900 from Creative Steps to let the kids swim).
Well, when the Creative Steps kids arrived, Adam B recounts what happened (from Philly news reports)…
According to 14-year-old camper Dymir Baylor, with whom I spoke yesterday, some of the comments were heartless.I’m sorry that I don’t have anything particularly brilliant to add here, partly because this story has been covered much more thoroughly by news professionals who do this sort of thing for a living. But though I didn’t grow up in Somerton as Adam B did, I did grow up in the Bustleton section of Northeast Philadelphia, which is right next door (to Somerton and Huntingdon Valley).
"I heard a white lady say, 'What are all these black kids doing here? They might do something to my child,' " recalled Dymir, who says he lives in a neighborhood so diverse, he'd never heard anyone speak like that before. "It was rude and ignorant."
His mom, Sharrae Thompson, was appalled that an adult would behave so terribly.
"I was just shocked," she said. "This is 2009. You can't believe people would carry on like that."
(Creative Steps director Alethea) Wright was adamant that (Valley Swim Club President John) Duesler make things right.
"I told him, 'The parents don't want their money back. They want a good place for their children to swim, which is what they paid for. Please, let's try to work this out.' "
…Wright says memberships were arranged through e-mail and paid for in advance, but when the kids showed up at the club, she says members made racially insensitive comments and took their kids out of the pool:
"One of the members was shouting out, 'We're gonna see to it that they don't come back anymore.' And two days later, Dr. John called me and said, 'Miss Wright, I truly apologize, I'm so embarrassed, but the membership has overthrown me in votes and you're not going to be able to come back to the club.'"
And not for a minute am I going to defend the vile words and actions of those who denied access of the Valley Swim Club facilities to the Creative Steps kids. I don’t give a damn what the color of their skin happened to be; the Valley Swim Club should have done what is best for the kids, figured out what their mistakes were and made things right for next time.
Instead, they have stupidly chosen to mistreat the Creative Steps kids by accusing them of “doing something” to the white kids who comprise much of the club’s membership. And they have opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box which will generate consequences that will only grow worse over time (in terms of any possible good image the Club once held or tried to maintain).
I guess I’m posting about this because I’m feeling equal parts anger, disgust, and sorrow, and I’ll try to express these feelings through some reasonably intelligent prose.
The fact is that I know these people. And many of them are truly hard working and good in many ways; they took care of their homes, participated in the typical neighborhood and family functions, served their communities as well as this country, and on and on. My parents interacted with them, and we all grew up together.
But way, waay too many of them are stone racists (and I’m not going to absolve myself completely either – I’d like to think that I grew out of that over time, but I won’t kid you; I definitely get that impulse also on occasion, wrong as it is).
Now if I were to say that to any of them (or if I had done so in the past), at least one of two things would have happened: 1) They would have done their very best to utterly kick my ass and would have likely succeeded, or 2) They would have expressed hurt and indignation over what they considered to be my thoughtlessness.
And it would have eventually occurred to me that these individuals (in the Philadelphia suburbs, in this case, though you could find people with this shared experience throughout this country) landed in the suburbs due to the “white flight” in this country from the cities that took place primarily in the 1950s (indeed, in Bucks County where I live, people who arrived over the last 10-15 years from Philadelphia, including your humble narrator, were often stigmatized on the pages of the Bucks County Courier Times, though not so much any more). And that experience had a lot to do with coloring their racial perceptions.
But that doesn’t absolve any of them (or anyone who has grown up in that area, or anywhere in this country where such tacit racism is allowed) of their actions.
This also reminds me of the presidential election last year. I heard more than a few white people who were peers of mine or family friends express some truly stupid, and in some cases vile, racial contempt towards Barack Obama. It truly was just like they turned on a “stupid” switch somewhere in their brains when it came to the election.
Am I trying to bestow some saintly character on African Americans by saying this? Of course not. Stupidity, greed, vanity, thoughtlessness, criminality, and every vice you can name come in all shapes, sizes, genders, races and ethnicities. But I suppose I feel compelled to say all of this about this story because it has utterly laid bare a dirty aspect of my upbringing, to say nothing of that of probably millions of other Americans.
A while back, I teed off on Attorney General Eric Holder because of some phrasing from him that I genuinely didn’t like about race relations in this country (here).
However, given this story, I think the main reason I feel this way is that I’m starting to believe that he could be right.
Update 7/10/09: I'm not a bit surprised that Keystone Progress has now gotten involved - kudos to them (here).
Update 7/12/09: I grudgingly give the swim club credit for doing the right thing here - we'll see.
Update 7/18/09: And while I was away, I believe Creative Steps said "thanks, but no thanks" to the offer to come back from the swim club - smart move (here is an update).
Update 11/14/09: Surprised?