Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Belly Flop

While it may be true that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, yet if it happens in Philly, it makes the news in Vegas.

One night in Vegas, my husband & I were listening to the news when we heard a report about Philly. Not another murder spree, we thought. No. Instead we heard a story about that post-racial America we keep hearing about, which solved all of our bigotry problems, now that we have a black President.

Of course, I'm talking about the brouhaha over the Valley Swim Club which kicked out a group of minority day camp kids who joined the private swim club for a weekly pool time. As the Inky reported, Phila. camp alleges racism at Montco swim club:

A Huntington Valley swim club is facing accusations of racial discrimination after 65 children from a Northeast Philadelphia day camp claim they heard prejudicial remarks by club members and later had their club membership rescinded.

* * * *

Repeated attempts to reach club President John Duesler and other club officers were unsuccessful. . . . NBC 10 reported today that Duesler made the following statement: "There was concern that alot of kids would change the complexion .....and the atmosphere of the club."

Several days after the incident, Wright said the camp's $1,950 check in membership fees to the swim club was refunded, meaning the children no longer had access to the pool. She said Duesler did not provide a reason for the refund.

See also, AttyTood, We SHALL overcome some day...but apparently that day isn't 2009.

What?? In turning the campers away, the Club President didn't really say that the kids using the pool would "change the complexion" of the place, did he?? I actually winced when I heard that comment. Of course, one of the ironies of life is that Caucasians go to the pool to get a tan, but don't want to bathe next to someone whose tan is natural.

When I first heard the news, I thought that it must have happened at one of the country clubs in Huntington Valley. After all, according to Steve Reynolds of All Spin Zone, "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." Racism in Philadelphia. As Leonard Zeskind wrote at TPM Cafe, White Residential Enclaves, White Nationalism and the Re-articulation of Racism in the 21st Century, explained:
Huntington Valley is an upper-middle class overwhelmingly white community with a total population of 20,917. Of those numbers, 158 are black, another 242 are Hispanic and 804 are Asian-American. There are many such residential enclaves in the United States of America. And they form the hard pit of reality inside the white nationalist phantasmagoria.
Although the swim club is technically located in Huntington Valley, it actually borders the city line in the Northeast. I'm not originally from Philly and, although I've lived here over 20 years, there are still the nuances of the city that I don't quite comprehend. I live in Mount Airy, an integrated enclave that doesn't have the same issues that I know exist in many other sections of the city (such as the "Great Northeast"). So, once I got my bearings, I wasn't shocked to hear the news. After all, as Philebrity observed, Surprise! Northeast Philly Is Still Racist!:
Sure, ejecting 60 kids from a paid membership at a swim club because they’re, uh, black seems a bit much, but maybe you haven’t been to Northeast Philly lately. Remember what it was like there when you were a kid? Well, imagine that same sort of put-upon White Man’s Burden/Fightin’ Irish bullshit that was au courant in the 1980s and just update it with an outside world that has a black president. Translation: It’s probably worse, because everyone who used to live there and just try, in their own meek way, to just live with this bullshit and get through their days has already picked up and moved to Center City already.
Likewise, Adam B writes at Daily Kos:
I grew up in the Somerton section of Northeast Philadelphia, a mile and a half from the just-over-the-county-border Valley Swim Club, so this is a community I know intimately well. And I am not surprised. Huntingdon Valley is an exceedingly white and wealthy suburb . . . . Just over that border line is Philmont Heights, a Philadelphia neighborhood of brick duplexes increasingly inhabited by Philadelphia's growing Russian immigrant population, and itself predominately Jewish.

Also, I want you to set your class bearings a little: it's a swim club, not a country club -- i.e., swimming pool, snack bar, playground, but not a golf course, banquet hall or any of the amenities one would associate with the latter. That's why full membership was only $395 for the summer. So think more working class to upper middle class than Judge Smalls and the Underhills."
As has been reported, the comments and treatment of the campers by some of the Club's members were disgusting. However, after reading about the story when I got home, I have to say that the Club President, John Duesler, may be getting a bad rap about the incident. Duesler was an Obama supporter and Chairman of Peace Action - Philadelphia, so he's not exactly the epitamy of a redneck. In fact, it sounds like he was in favor of the campers joining the swim club, but the Board who approved their joinder got overruled by a membership vote. As President of the Club, Duesler was left to "explain" what happened. Not knowing how to justify the inexcuable actions of the Club's members, he then made the incredibly stupid "change the complexion" remark, which further fueled the racism charges.

This matter was mishandled from beginning to end. As the Reid Report notes, ‘Complexion’-conscious swim club wants Campers back (sort of):
The first rule of public relations: never allow a crisis to become a calamity. By initially defending its decision to expel the Creative Steps summer camp and its 65 Black and Hispanic kids from their pool, the Valley Club in Montgomery County, PA screwed up, especially when its board president, John Duesler, told a TV station his members and board feared the kids’ presence would “change the ‘complexion’ and the atmosphere” of his club. Well … after two more tries; in a lame statement on their website (which is now down) and another in front of television cameras for 14 minutes, Duesler is trying for his fourth bite at a pretty rotten apple: belatedly inviting Creative Steps to come back.
Yes, after the Club's actions caused a groundswell of outrage, We can't always tip toe around it, the Valley Swim Club has recinded its recinded membership to the camp kids. After a hastily called emergency meeting earlier today, the Club was humilated enough to do the right thing -- reopen the pool to the kids. The Philly Daily News reports, Publicity parts the waters at swim club:
Members of the Montgomery County swim club that has endured a torrent of bad publicity after it ejected a group of black and Hispanic children in late June decided at a hastily called meeting yesterday to try to work out an agreement for the youngsters' return.

Amy Goldman, a member of the Valley Club, said the members voted unanimously in support of reinstating the swimming rights of the Creative Steps day camp and two other camps as long as safety issues, times and terms can be agreed.

The club will seek to meet with camp directors to discuss the issue, Goldman said.
Of course, who knows if they will return. However, at least they now have the satisfaction of saying we don't want to swim with your kind.

For more on this, see Phawker, JIM CROW SWIMS HERE: Valley Swim Club Discrimination Becomes National Embarrassment.


field negro said...

Great post! And thanks for all the great links.


Susan said...

Judi, how nice it is to have a chance to inflict my old memories on others. Decades ago, my mother had cousins who were short-order cooks. They worked summers at the Dolphin Swim Club, a clone of this one, in same type of area. There is no way it made sense - safety or comfort wide -- to open pool to such large groups of children who have only a limited time to play in the pool. So what this shows me is the depth of the problems in the economy. The club management was willing to ignore guaranteed chaos and overcrowding to get cash infusions beyond the regular family membership fees. I guess it was betting that those members would similarly put aside their ignorance for 90 minutes once a week (on a Monday no less) in order to save their own pleasures.

victor said...

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