No Brown Babies In The Pool? A Philadelphian’s Perspective.
The outrage at the Valley Swim Club’s mistreatment of a group of mostly black campers last week has spread across the country, and rightfully so. The Facts: a group of sixty-five kids from Creative Steps Day Care contracted with the club for weekly pool time. When they arrived, comments such as “what are all of these black kids doing here?” were overheard by (now-scarred) little black children. The next day, club president John Duesler revoked the camp’s membership because their use of the pool would change the club’s “complexion” and “atmosphere.” Girard College gave the kids a place to swim. The president claims he was only concerned about safety and overcrowding, not color, and after a hasty vote the board decided to let the kids come on in. The camp said no thanks, see you in discrimination court.
It all sounds pretty cut and dry to any of us who’ve heard of a little thing called racism, but as usual the media is leaving a few things out, and as a Philly chick with an opinion you know I’ve gotta give it…
1. The Valley Swim Club is Not All That. We read “swim club” and picture a lily white elite organization that wouldn’t even let in Tiger Woods. The Valley Swim club is not that. I’ve been to the club before and there are as many brown folks there as you’d expect to find at any open swim club – i.e. not many. My father basically forced us to swim as kids and we were among very few black folks – in my experience, the stereotype of black folks not swimming is kind of true. The club also isn’t in some posh neighborhood or particularly pricey – a summer membership is only $150 per person or so. Huntingdon Valley as a whole is very suburban but the club itself is just past Northeast Philadelphia, which is mostly working class and Chinese/Russian immigrant. It’s racist as all get-out up there, but in a low self-esteem working class, not a highbrow polo-playing way. And let’s be real: if they weren’t financially strapped they wouldn’t be offering to bring camps in at all.
2. The Campers Actually Swam. News reports have suggested that once Valley management saw a bevy of black bodies everything was a no-go, but first-hand reports say that in spite of rude comments the kids had a blast and the club president revoked their membership the next day (probably after members complained). Did club members give stank looks at the campers over the top of their Ray-Bans when they arrived and make comments like “what are all these black kids doing here?” I’m absolutely sure of it, and further certain that little white kids hopped out of the pool like free Sunny Delight was being handed out. But the idea that the club itself didn’t want brown bodies contaminating the water á la 1954 is doing a disservice to real incidents of biologically-based racism that still happen.
3. Girard College is Not Your Typical Private School. Girard College is awesome for offering Creative Steps use of their facility, but let’s not misrepresent that organization either – it is a free, private boarding high school for gifted, low-income students and is chock full o’ brown kids. National news outlets presented the fantasy that “a local private school was kind enough to let the campers use its facilities,” and therefore racism is not all that bad. Malarkey – there are dozens of predominately white pools in the vicinity and none of them stepped up.
4. The City of Philadelphia Is Doing The Same. Thanks to the recession only 46 of the city’s 73 public pools will be open this summer. A disproportionate number of the pools the city chose to open are in more affluent areas. It’s 83 degrees and people are hot and mad with nothing to do but mess around in fire hydrants, get into arguments, shoot each other, and contribute to the annual summer Killadelphia murder rate explosion. The city of Philadelphia is doing pretty much the same thing the Valley Swim Club is doing, but institutionalized racism just isn’t sexy enough for the media so you probably haven’t heard about it.
5. The Club President Is A Fool and Bad Businessman. By using the word “complexion,” Duesler made it either a blatantly racist situation (and didn’t expect any objections) or was simply insensitive to the vocabulary of racism (and didnt expect any objections) – either way, you just can’t say mess like that because all we smell is the old ‘cism. I’m still shocked that the club could take the camp’s money without knowing the kids would be mostly brown and rolling 65 deep, all of them in the shallow end acting as rowdy as campers should in a pool. The club could have been racist without anyone noticing by simply doing a little research and rejecting them outright, but now they get bad PR and probably a decline in membership. If I were a club member I’d be mad about the mistreatment of those kids AND for allowing a bunch of wild munchkins in my quiet pool – and I’m a proud black person. Whether the club itself has a problem with black people in droves, which in my heart I believe they do, the members certainly don’t want them there. It’s an assertion that no one can prove, but having dealt with this type of nonsense since birth black folks can sense these things and a swimming pool is the least of it. There are PLENTY of places where white people do not want us to be – schools, parks, clubs, companies…shall I go on? Expecting otherwise, even in 2009, would be naive.