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America’s racism runs deeper than a Philly pool

Created: 31 July, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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3 min read

 When a suburban Philadelphia swim club kicked out a group of black and Latino kids on June 29 because of their skin color, the incident generated much outrage throughout the country.

 But it would be a mistake to think that such incidents and attitudes are a rare exception.

 The Valley Swim Club — located in Hunt-ingdon Valley, Pa., a mostly white suburb of Philadelphia — turned away 65 children from a day camp called Creative Steps. The day camp had paid the club $1,950 for the use of the pool for the summer. In a released statement, the president of the swim club said, “There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club.”

 The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission opened an investigation into the matter, and the day camp is suing the club in federal court for discrimination.

 The Valley Swim Club incident forced me to remember my own painful and humiliating experiences with racism, growing up as a black youth in America in the 1970s and 1980s. Almost 30 years ago, I accompanied my cousin, then a budding teen golf player, to one of his tournaments at a white country club in the South. One of the patrons of the country club told me, “You know what? You can shine my shoes.”

 Looking at the nation today, there is no denying that some things have changed. After all, unlike 40 years ago, I will not face arrest or imprisonment because of my interracial marriage. And the United States has elected its first black president.

 Yet racism persists.

 Black Philadelphia police officers have sued their police department for creating a hostile work environment by allegedly allowing white officers to maintain and use a racially offensive website called Domelights.com at work. The lawsuit also alleges that the website featured a poster that read, “Guns Don’t Kill People, Dangerous Minorities Do,” set with images of white officers and mug shots of black men.

 Even Ivy League professors apparently aren’t out of reach of the sting of racism. In Cambridge, Mass., a white police officer arrested Henry Louis Gates Jr., a distinguished black Harvard professor, for disorderly conduct. Gates, who had difficulty getting his own front door open, finally got in. But someone had called the police, and an officer arrived at his home. Gates showed the officer his driver’s license and Harvard identification to prove he was a Harvard professor and lived at the address, but the officer continued to question him and Gates became upset and was finally arrested. (The local prosecutor has agreed to dismiss the case.)

 Some racist sentiment reflects a backlash against having a black president in office.

 Gary Frago, an Atwater, Calif., city council member, sent racist e-mails to city staff and community leaders, including one that said, “Breaking News Playboy just offered Sarah Palin $1 million to pose nude in the January issue. Michelle Obama got the same offer from National Geographic.”

 Audra Shay, the newly elected chair of the Young Republicans, responded to a Facebook friend’s comment that said, “Need to take this country back from all of these mad coons” with, “You tell em Eric!”

 In a recent speech, former Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel should put “Gorilla Glue” on President Obama’s chair to keep him in the Oval Office.

 We do not yet live in a post-racial society.

 Like the members of the Valley Swim Club, there are many other Americans, I fear, who would have kicked those children out of the pool.

 And that’s a sad commentary for America in 2009, even with our first black president.

pmproj@progressive.org.