Pennsylvania Pool Ousts Black Kids: Racism?

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Democratic Rep. John Murtha got into hot water duiring the 2008 presidential election saying "There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area." With today's NBC story from Pennsylvania, "Pool Boots Kids Who Might 'Change the Complexion'," perhaps Murtha's real error was that his assessment excluded other parts of the state.

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

"I heard this lady, she was like, 'Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?' She's like, 'I'm scared they might do something to my child,'" said camper Dymire Baylor.

The Creative Steps Day Camp paid more than $1900 to The Valley Swim Club. The Valley Swim Club is a private club that advertises open membership. But the campers' first visit to the pool suggested otherwise. ...

... The explanation they got was either dishearteningly honest or poorly worded.

"There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club," John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

While the parents await an apology, the camp is scrambling to find a new place for the kids to beat the summer heat. (NBCPhiladelphia.com)

I grew up in Louisiana, and I haven't heard a story carrying such old-school "good of the club" racist action and language since I was a child during the Civil Rights desegregation battle.

UPI reports this same story but without the "complexion" part of the quote:

John Duesler, the president of the club, said the decision was not based on race, adding other camp and daycare groups also were canceled. He said the groups "fundamentally changed the atmosphere at the pool."

But (Alethea) Wright [sic] (a representative for the club) is not convinced, saying the Creative Steps children were well-behaved.

"We were the only minorities there," she said. (UPI)

I suppose someone brought the dual meaning of the word "complexion" to his attention. Oh, where is Dr. Paul Eckman when we need him to ferret out the lies?

At the Hinterland Gazette, also know as BlackPoliticalThought, a conservative blog, Janet Shan writes:

I don't want to jump the gun, but the club needs to release a statement supporting their actions. On the face, their actions seem patently racist. If they continue to maintain silence on the matter, the only plausible conclusion is that their actions were racist and people need to send a message to them that racism will not be tolerated one iota. Now if there were too many kids and they weren't behaving, then that could constitute a viable reason why they were asked not to come back. I would like to hear more about the agreement between the club and Creative Steps Day Camp. (Shan at HG)

Perhaps her attitude is the way to go, believe the club, look over contracts, don't make a big deal. Give the white people at the pool big benefit of the doubt despite this part of the story from NBC Philly.

"When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool," Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. "The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately."

And naturally we should rethink what Duesler really meant in his original "complexion" explanation. This being a so-called post-racial society and all, perhaps we should assume the pool club members have been miraculously delivered of the racism associated with many suburban communities and think that the children misbehaved when they stepped in the pool because, after all, we know how some black children are and that all those children and their parents could be lying to cover up their behavior issues. Right?

I'm inclined to disagree this time, but at least one person commenting at Hinterland said what I suspect many Americans would prefer to assume reading this story.

Sorry, but I don't buy the story. When they reported that staff members said "we don't allow minorities here," they jumped the shark. Even if the action was inspired by bigotry, it's hard to imagine staff members being that forthcoming about it (and, remember, the camp knew the kids were black when they took the contract).

Next, c'mon, I grew up in a big city, and you know as well as I do that there is no way - NO WAY - that you can have 60 inner-city, low-income kids together in one place and have them behave in any kind of decent manner. (somebody called Paladin in comments)

This person may be a little sheltered because I used to work in Public Relations and customer service. Without training on how not to misspeak, employees will tell you the truth, especially employees who don't know that what they say may open a company or club to a lawsuit. Other stories about The Valley Swim Club report that the club later also rejected some all-white groups as well. I wonder if these groups got the "complexion" explanation or were they booted in the name of CYA.

Steven Reynolds at All Spin Zone, a progressive blog, seems to have knowledge of Pennsylvania and he's prepared to take the event on its face.

If you know anything about Philly, you know that Huntingdon Valley is one of those suburbs populated by refugees of the "white flight" of the 60’s and 70’s. This should be surprising to nobody. What I suspect happened here is that the manager of the club saw no problem with taking the money of the group, was comfortable with the difference in racial make-up of the Creative Steps Day Camp. But when reality hit, the regular members put on the pressure. Still, that can’t be proven. It can only be shown that the kids now have nowhere to swim. (Steven Reyonolds)

Yes, most major American cities that developed a large black community have "white flight" bedroom communities and also some private clubs for which the government has in the past made concessions to allow "lawful" discrimination. Furthermore, throughout parts of the country some areas have in the past had restrictive covenant communities where people have signed agreements to not let the Negroes move in.  I don't know that this swim club has ever had such a covenant. Perhaps it only has an undocumented "gentleman's agreement." (Paragraph edited to past tense since restrictive covenants are illegal today but used to be legal until challenged.)

For a state with a Quaker history of abolitionism during slavery and a popular city called "The City of Brotherly Love," Pennsylvania's image has not fared well of late on matters of race. Think Ashley Todd, the Luis Ramirez beating death, Bonnie Sweeten, and now the pool ousting.

To be fair, racism is not limited to any particular area in this country or one political party or group, a notion those commenting on a Daily Beast story about race debate. A Louisiana Young Republican's Facebook account became the focus of an incident involving a supporter's use of the word "coon" and saying proudly that he was from a southern town where blacks shouldn't let the sun set on them. The YR, Audra Shay, who's running for chairperson, appears to have cheered on that supporter. Some people in her forum spoke out against the comments and her laughing it off.

Nordette Adams is a BlogHer.com Contributing Editor who is also the African-American Books Examiner at Examiner.com. You may keep up with her feeds at Her411

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