Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Meta Post On The Valley Swim Club Story

(And I also posted here.)

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 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.'"
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).

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?

13 comments:

Unknown Blogger X said...

Well I have a counter to your response to the overt racism here:
unknownbloggerx.blogspot.com

Pretty much I think this situation is blown way out of proportional to what really happened. Kids came into the pool 65 or more at once. Members had no warning. The kids came in screaming basically taking over the place. Yeah if it happened in my hometown they would be asked to leave.

Anonymous said...

Here, here for The Valley swim club member(s) who voiced their own opinions / remarks. It’s a private club. It’s about high time. Why must Whites in America continually walk upon eggshells concerning Blacks; particularly in Philadelphia. Perhaps when many Blacks shed their “entitlement” culture, perhaps then many Whites will be less “uppity”...

Yitzchak said...

Hey, doomsy.

First of all, I want to thank you for your courage in admitting that you, too, good liberal that you are, get racial impulses. Gee, I'm tired of white liberals who act as if they're always saints when it comes to race or, rather, their sometimes visceral reactions to the race of people who are usually strangers to them.

Secondly, as I read of your experiences with friends and family members who "turned on the stupid switch" during Obama's presidential campaign, I had to wonder to myself if those stupid switches hadn't previously been turned on and perhaps you just hadn't been aware of it (or maybe didn't WANT to be aware of it)?

I ask only because I tend to think that we usually know with reasonably certainly just who the people who are closest to us are, and maybe we choose not to confront those parts of them that are unsavory to us.

Just wondering. And yes, I do believe that the incident at the club was motivated more by racism than by any other legitimate concerns. I'd like to be wrong, but I know from racism in this country, and I know just how insidious it often is. I hope those racist bastards suffer.

doomsy said...

To Yitzchak – I think you made a good point; the “stupid switches” were on all along and I personally didn’t realize it, which is probably a big reason why I’m feeling a little contrite here (or at least, I didn’t realize it until last year’s election, and I saw how expertly the Hillary Clinton campaign was playing to these people, with the McCain-Palin bunch trying to win them over in the fall, albeit in their typically clumsy fashion).

To Anon – yes, it’s a private club, and if they aren’t talking public money then I don’t have the right to tell them what to do, however repugnant I find their practice. However, is the so-called “entitlement culture” really the issue here?

To Unknown Blogger – I think what you said amplifies the fact that Duesler absolutely blew it here, though I don’t think he’s really the bad guy. The bottom line is that the club should have done right by the kids regardless of their skin color, ethnicity…whatever (particularly because the club had taken the $1900). They could have let the kids swim and then told Duesler to never allow kids from other camps again…as I say, that would be awful, but it’s a private club.

As it is, the club can now look forward to more media attention than they could have ever imagined or wanted, along with a likely appearance from Al Sharpton or a self-proclaimed “leader” of the African American community. They might as well close the pool right now.

And if there was ever a time when we could least afford to get preoccupied with “values” issues like this as opposed to trying to solve actual problems in this country, this is it – sigh.

Thanks to all for your comments, even those I don’t quite agree with.

Anonymous said...

To the poor people of the swim club: Let this be a reminder - no good deed ever goes unpunished. It sounds as though you meant well, but realized that your facilities would not accommodate all of the children from the camps. To all of you who are raging about this happening because the children were black - sometimes things happen that have no relationship to the color of ones skin. I know that this is a difficult concept for some, but it really is true

Doogman said...

The club's defense of 'we didn't realize how many kids were in the group' just doesn't wash. Can the membership director not ADD? Please. The truth is out and the seamy white underbelly of lily-white Philly is hanging out for all to see. Sad.

Pooki said...

Came across your comments quite adventitiously. Thanks for your candid and level-headed thoughts on this matter.
Looking at the facts that transpired, I (as a non-white)believe this was a clear-cut case of racism, practised by BOTH the members and staff of the club. You mentioned that racists can be pretty honest, hard-working and nice folks (as you knew them to be), but I would like to remind all that Hitler's waffen SS types (many of whom ran concentration camps in WWII) were EQUALLY as sweet, hardworking and nice towards fellow "aryans", while at the same time shooting "non-aryan" mothers cradling babies in their arms on a daily basis, with demonic pride and alacrity. I don't think there's any defence for what the club members did in this case, I WISHED president Obama would send in some MIBs to lock up the lot of them and send them all to some hellhole in Egypt or Yemen (where torture is legal) and where they deserve everything they get there, but sadly, that isn't going to happen, so they'll all say its one big misunderstanding, its freedom of expression, blah blah blah and then life goes on nevermind that the poor kids in this case now learnt that they're "minorities", that they're "inferior" and its a lesson on American adulthood 101 at a tender age.
As a sidenote, I did meet some folks from PA, real KKK types, Adolf would have been soooooooo proud of them!

Pooki said...

Came across your blog rather adventitiously. Thanks for your candid and forthright thoughts on this matter.
As a non-white and judging from the facts as stated by numerous media sources, all I can say is that this was indeed a racist incident, instigated mainly by the members of the club and backed up by the staff. You mentioned that some racists you knew could be sweet, hardworking and nice, and I say the same can be said of SS concentration camp commandants towards fellow "aryans", while they were all too happy to "evacuate/shoot/gas/whatever" "non-aryan" women and children at the same time.
I don't think much will happen to the swines who perpetuated this racial atrocity against innocent children in this case, (even if the parents sue, its an all-white jury in a lily white county, a white judge, BANG! No case to answer! NEXT!), but the next time President Obama goes around preaching American "democracy" and "free" values to foreign powers, someone should remind him to clean up his own shitty backyard before engaging in the usual pontification.

doomsy said...

I think the two most recent comments fall under the category of “painting with a broad brush,” and are a bit “over the top.” However, I am not arguing with someone’s experiences, since they are each personal matters (and no politician, be it Obama or anyone else, is going to change the behavior of the offending parties here).

Christie Goelz said...

this is a very sad situation here that happened to these kids i hope in the end this dispute will be resolved...
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http://christiegoelz.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

BS. Don't believe for a minute that the Board didn't approve this before these kids came. Then once they did so, the paying members got pissed, plain and simple, why, because they are a bunch of racists. I am very shocked at what Dr. Duesler said because I didn't think he was racist. In any event, the private swim club is.

doomsy said...

I have a feeling Duesler convinced the Board it would be OK without really telling the Board about Creative Steps (and with Duesler not understanding how anyone would react)...and then we all know what happened next.

Alex said...

What outraged people is the comments that were made by the club members to the children themselves, and from the management about 'complexion' of the club. They made it into a 'race' issue. Even though the membership of this large group of children could be revoked, the management should have also revoked the membership of those who made racist comments, after proper investigation, and sacked the staff who asked children to leave based on race comments.

Imagine if heard another person to tell her child to get out of the pool so that nothing would happen to him or her from your 'so and so' child?

This should become a discussion about American parents, their decency, their shared responsibility for all American children, and how it becomes about race, again and again, based on such irresponsible comments. So give us all a break, and do not think that those poor kids made it into a race issue. It is club members who made it into a race issue.

Now about good 'hoods' and bad 'hoods', where people work hard or not work hard. Madoff and most people who brought our economy down and bringing this country down live in 'white' hoods, so let's not kid ourselves about who works hard in this country. If we start discussing it in terms of 'race' or 'ethnicity', we will have to leave it to Mexicans. They work hardest here for the least money.

Decency, it is about decency. Whoever lost track of what is civility, these are whom we should talk about. Civility is not possible in a society where parents are openly racist in front of theirs and other people's children. This is simply not good parenting. And no matter how liberal we think we are, indecency what will bring our credibility down. Our actions in situations like these, and not our words. The manager should have walked out on this club after this incident, if he is a decent man. There was not other way around it, no way to justify his members like this.