Alex Blaze

This is 2009, this is the north, this is America, and this is what it looks like

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 08, 2009 6:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: African-American, black, gay camp, philadelphia, public pool, racism, segregation, summer, white

A private pool in Philadelphia apparently didn't like the idea of black children swimming in their pool, even though these campers had already paid the enormous fee to use the pool.

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.[...]

"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.

Video and more after the jump.

Perhaps it's apropos that I find this article the day that I traveled up to Chicago to take care of some business. This morning I hopped the MegaBus, Greyhound's new competition in the midwest and the east coast. It's about the same price and the bus stops in Indianapolis and Chicago are almost next door to each other. But I was surprised to see that about 40 people on the bus were white and only one person was black. On Greyhound, which I ride all the time, has almost an inverse ratio here in the midwest.

Which makes for some interesting Greyhound Bus stories. I'm usually one of the first on the bus, so if it gets filled up and people have to start sitting next to each other, guess how they pick which stranger to sit next to? Once the bus wasn't even full, it had about 7 people on it, and the only other white guy on the bus moved from the back to across the aisle from me and gave me a nod. It took me a good half-hour to realize what that meant, but, now that I think about it, it was rather clear.

Anyway, I got off the bus and hopped on the subway to head to the northside. The subway was pretty mixed, but as soon as the Red Line got north of the loop, there wasn't a single African-American person in the same packed car as me. It's something Alberto and I noticed when we visited the city's South Side last year on the subway - we were the only two on board after the loop who weren't African American.

(Just in case you think I'm prone to over-generalizations, I know that there are some African American people in the north side of Chicago, and some white people in the south. Don't read my observations as absolutes that hold true 100% of the time, but as illustrations of a bigger issue.)

The high school I went to had about 4000 students, 17 of whom, my graduating year, were of African descent. A close friend of mine in college showed me his high school year book from the Bay Area, and everyone looked Indian/Hispanic.

It seems like the private club's problem is that they're just a bit more honest than the rest of us. No, I'm not saying what they did was right, but how many of the rest of us live in racially segregated neighborhoods? How many went to effectively segregated schools growing up, even if they went to school in the 70's, 80's, or 90's? Why is that OK but this pool isn't?

Also wanted to highlight this sentence:

There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion ... and the atmosphere of the club.

The issue isn't one or two people crossing the color line. I'm sure they would have been OK with several African American campers or families in their club, or that at least they wouldn't have been so stupid as to say anything. But 60? Tokenism's alright, but the minute these sorts feel out-numbered, even by campers whose parents paid their way like everyone else, well, that's just a bit too far. The power dynamic changes and that makes some people do things that the rest of us look at and think are just plain stupid.

I hope the camp and the campers' parents are going to fight this and get the club shut down. At least then new ownership can buy it up and responsibly handle pool membership and keep the pool as open to everyone as it can be. Private businesses have a responsibility to be good members of the community just like the rest of us, and who knows how much damage to the campers' self-esteem this incident caused.

But let's not pretend like this is an isolated incident or that it's a bunch of racists nothing like us, just a few bad apples acting in a vacuum. Segregation, in many forms, is alive and well.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Anybody still believes the fiction that we're a 'post-racial' nation?

here is the link to the Club that did this, you all may wish to drop them a line:

The following is now on their web site. It appears to be "CYA" to me. If members of the club were so shocked to see Blacks and Hispanics using the pool, apparently not very many use it.

The Valley Club is deeply troubled by the recent allegations of racism which are completely untrue.
We had originally agreed to invite the camps to use our facility, knowing full well that the children from the camps were from multi-ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, we quickly learned that we underestimated the capacity of our facilities and realized that we could not accommodate the number of children from these camps. All funds were returned to the camps and we will re-evaluate the issue at a later date to determine whether it can be feasible in the future.

Our Valley Club deplores discrimination in any form, as is evidenced by our multi-ethnic and diverse membership. Whatever comments may or may not have been made by an individual member is an opinion not shared by The Valley Club Board.

Hmm what part of the racist North havent you ever heard of?I have yankee cousins more racist than me and im a deep south girl.Once you get out of any good sized town there are zip for Blacks or any one else who is not white.When I was stationed in Maine they were proud of the fact they had 2 yes count em 2 Black families in the town.

That sucks for those kids and I hope that club suffers.
I found that when I moved to the north from the deep south it was this way. When I grew up in the South the schools were desegregated with the exception of a school that I went to in 3rd grade which was in a small farming town that was all white as a town so the school was too.
But for the most part the schools that I went to had a fair racial and ethnic mix especially in Houston where we had several ethnicities. And there was generally little racial tension.
So then I move to Mass to a small town and people say things to me like "you must be glad to be away from all of that racism in the south" they proudly point out that there has never been a problem at their school with racism which would be a cool statement if there were more than one race in the school system. I pointed this out on a number of occasions.
The town has started getting lots of people with colors other than beige over the last decade. It needed this.
I guess what bothered me was that I grew up in an environment where racial variety was constantly present and we had to chose to get over things or not and for the most part and most of the time we did ok. But these people were patting themselves on the back that they were not racist but they had not ever been faced with the issue. And they were weirded out that I had dated outside of my race, in fact they tended top react more negatively to my having dated interracially than my having dated multiple sexes.
It still amazes me when people tell me that they are not racist because they are from the north or that all southerners are racist or that we live in a post racism world.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 9, 2009 1:44 AM

When you mention high schools I shudder. Probably 40% of my grade school class was minority and by graduation it was 10%. Which students got the most nurture?

Pink Americans will have to get this out of their system fast as within 30 years Pinks will be the minority. Even then I can see Pinks running to Montana to feel "safe."

What you mention of Chicago (or any other metro city of size) extends well into the burbs. "Mr T" lives in North suburban Chicago and when his friends and family who are minority visit they get stopped by cops for no cause. It even made broadcast news.

Pink Americans? Do you mean caucasians or gays?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 30, 2009 8:28 AM

Caucasians are pink...if they are healthy.

I'm confused. I thought Alex Blaze supported stigmatizing whole races. I mean, just a few days ago, he wrote touching, supportive words in regard to the plight of the "Jena 6" - a group of thugs who attacked a white student in retaliation for a hateful act committed by some other white a week prior. In other words, the act of 1 white makes the whole race guilty and subject to retaliatory assault. So why does Alex Blaze have a problem when the same logic is applied in Philly?

I think you're looking at the Jena 6 situation from a rather creative position. No one said that people didn't do wrong there - the complaint was that charges against certain students (who just by chance were black) were trumped up and people were denied their due process rights. Someone doesn't have to be a perfect victim for the rest of us to care about them and about injustice.

I wrote about it more extensively here.

I went to a high school in Indiana whose land was donated by people with KKK ties. There was not a single minority in my class, and it actually took me a bit of time to break down the walls that upbringing had wrought. I had to learn not to be racist, despite my best efforts against segregation. It's something I keep in mind when discussing my trans status: because I am different, people must sometimes learn to be comfortable around me.

As for Megabus... I didn't know you were in Indianapolis again. I love the Megabus!

I grew up in Winchester, Indiana. There was one African-American kid in our school. Not my grade. The school.

Racism was so ingrained growing up that I remember when the kid's family moved to town; they were the first African-Americans to live there. They were adopted and their parents were white so the scuttlebutt around town was more of the "Well, their parents are white, at least..." I always found it interesting that the town seemed to give the kids a pass for it but you knew that if those parents had been black too, they'd have been run out of town.

As it was, most kids didn't speak to him in school. I did. We became friends and I'd spend the night at his house or he at mine. It cost me a few "friends," but as the class fairy, I could sympathize with his plight. Our common enemies made us friends.

Yeah, I wasn't knocking the megabus. Actually like the fact that they don't stop in between Indy and Chicago - it knocks about an hour off the trip.

I have lived almost all my life in Louisville, Kentucky – “Gateway to the South.” A “baby boomer” I was raised in a largely segregated society. It was not until high school that I attended a school with a black student. There were a hand-full of black students at Atherton – most if not all gifted students.

Court-ordered busing (initiated in the early 1970’s) was an effort – much fought over – to end school segregation. There was a period of civil unrest and picketing over the order, many white families left Jefferson County for neighboring “white counties”, and several “Christian” schools were established. (We sent our own daughters to Catholic school not only because we felt they would get a better education, but also because our oldest daughter (who had been accepted into an advanced public school) would be attending school in a black area of Louisville – in a neighborhood where a young black girl had been shot as she sat on the steps of her apartment just a block or so from the school.) Last year the busing order was rescinded. The County Board of Education will now have to come up with a new approach to desegregating the public schools here. Ironically, many black parents also called for an end to busing so that their children could attend neighborhood schools.

I do believe in equal opportunities for all. I do support an ENDA, which includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. I am also concerned about the “dumbing down” of America. I was appalled to hear of the case where a city government threw out test scores because no minorities had scored high enough on a placement test. And as a child of the ‘50s and ‘60s, growing up in a segregated community, I still do hold some racial bias (which I try to keep under wraps). Closing a club swimming pool, are we next going to shut down all the “gated communities” across the country? Many of these communities are gated, in my opinion, to keep out minorities.

Racism still exists in this country – on all sides – even if we wish it didn’t. It does take work to look beyond that personal racism to see a person for who they are, rather than what they are. My thinking as regards racial reality is still a work in progress.

When I went to the link shown in a comment above, this is what I got:

Error 403 - Forbidden
You tried to access a document for which you don't have privileges.


Just goes to prove once again that we have a long, long way to go before we get past racism, homophobia, transphobia, ethnocentrism, etc., etc.

And this wasn't Philadelphia, Mississippi; it was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Rebecca_B | July 10, 2009 3:06 PM

I didn't realize this was in Philly -- it sounds kind of like the film "Pride" based on a Philly swim team in the 1970s from a poor African-American neighborhood that competed against white teams (they weren't exactly welcomed at the pools in white neighborhoods). The film made me get a little teary eyed and is worth checking out for anyone who missed it:

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 12, 2009 6:02 PM

This is a perfect time to build some bridges.

It might help cut across some of the divisiveness caused by the anti-LGBT campaigns of George Bush’s Karl Rove and Barak Obama’s Joshua Dubois who use religion and bigotry to play divide and rule games using, among others, homohating cult leaders in African American communities.

GLBT groups, especially those in the region should issue denunciations of the kind of racism at work here. It's one of the most insidious kinds of attack because it targets children.

If the situation sparks a real fight involving pickets or rallies everyone in our communities should be asked to participate. Maybe we can offset some of the damage caused by the ugly racist reactions in parts of our communities after Prop 8 passed.

Whatever, we need to build those bridges when incidents like this occur just as HRC, of all people, did by supporting the Jena Six who were defending themselves against KKK style attacks.