The Philadelphia pool story getting a lot of attention this week.
Clara Jeffery in Mother Jones:
According to the NBC affliate in Philadelphia, the Valley Swim Club booted a day camp of inner city kids—which had paid $1900 for summer swimming rights—after members refused to swim with black kids. Really.
“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….
“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.”
The next day the club told the camp director that the camp’s membership was being suspended and their money would be refunded….
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.
In a statement! Wow. The mind reels. First at the racism. And then at the PR bungling. When I posted this to Facebook, a got a note from a (white) friend who grew up in Philly. It didn’t surprise him, he said; racism in that ‘burb is entrenched. Worth noting that the comments on the NBC site, many of which were horrifc a hour ago, have been disabled.
For those wondering how an Obama supporter could have problems with minority kids in his pool club, the answer’s actually depressingly simple. The skin color of a President several states away may be safely abstract. The skin color of the child currently splashing in the shallow end of your pool is rather, ah, concrete. Sad, but true.
Not that I’m alleging that this is the case, here. But that kind of break between the abstract and the concrete has been known to occur.
The club itself, for whatever it’s worth, claims that it’s not about race—that a number of similar deals with summer camps were revoked because members were unhappy about the crowding. Maybe that’s at least partly true, though I wonder whether those members would have felt similarly “crowded” by white campers. Either way, the club obviously botched the situation very badly—but I think it’s striking that the fiasco took them by surprise. I think the reason that it did may be a belief in the common sentiment that inevitably cropped up in the comments at Mother Jones: “Children are not born racists, they are taught to be racists.”
This is true in the narrow sense that kids are not born preloaded with any particular set of racial stereotypes—but for practical purposes, it’s bollocks. Acceptance of human difference—like sharing your toys and not hitting—is one of the many liberal virtues that will not manifest automatically unless they’re taught. There’s an obvious appeal to this sort of Rousseauian notion that all our ugly tendencies come from bad social programming, but in this case it meant the club failed to expect an awkward reaction that should have been wholly predictable: “When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool.”