Monday, July 13, 2009

Racism in Pool Controversy

Many of you may have read, heard, or watch coverage about the Pennsylvania Swim club that reportedly residing their offer to allow a predominately black summer camp access to their facilities citing that the kids were overwhelming and that there "was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club."

In an interview on Radio Times (NPR) with Marty Moss-Coane, Valley Swim Club president, John Duesler said he underestimated the number of swimmers who would come to swim at the club. "It was never our intention to offend anyone," said John Duesler. "This thing has been blown out of proportion." What troubles me is that some very dangerous words were used. Complexion is almost always used in reference to skin tone. Additionally, these people did not offer the use of their facilities out of the goodness of their hearts--there was a contract between Valley Swim Club and The Creative Steps Day Care children -- who are in kindergarten through seventh grade. -- where $1,900 a day was paid for use of the favilities one a week.

I'm sure the director of the camp, Alethea Wright, let the swim club know EXACTLY what they would be dealing with. Children. Why would the club allow this [and three other camps to contract use of their facilies] and not plan to retain an appropriate number of lifeguards, etc? This is a public facility, not a pool at a private residence. These concepts are not new. Wright called it an "unfortunate situation," adding, "I know what happened; the members know what happened and a higher power knows what happened." Video Watch the club president say racism is not at play »

This type of racism, intended segregation, and then the later backpedaling is nothing new. The club and it's board cited safety as their chief concern in turning these minority children away, but it's interesting that following public outcry of racism, suddenly the pool is welcoming the children back. Hmm... so is the issue of safety no longer an issue, in order to save face? Jeff Wiltse, PhD, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, and Jim Ellis, subject of the 2007 swimming film, "Pride", provide some really good inside into how swimming has long been a source of racial division. I'd urge you all to check out his book.

I'd urge you to also go to and check out today episode of Tell Me More with Michel Martin... really great, objective, insights.

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