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Swim Club Prez's Racism Inexcusable

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Why the Valley Swim Club incident made one psychologist's blood boil.

Some kids from the Creative Steps Day Care center say club members made racial remarks.

Dr. Michelle Golland: I am outraged at the board of the Valley Swim Club in Philadelphia for their ignorance on many levels. Whether the incident of refunding the campers' money and not living up to their agreement was blatant racism or utterly poor management, they are certainly not rising to this challenging situation with any grace, dignity, or sensitivity to black Americans.

My degree in Multicultural Psychology has made me extremely sensitive to the experiences of different races, cultures, and religions. I do not expect the general population to have the understanding of an academic, but I do expect them to have a general sense of right and wrong. What the Swim Club Board did was simply wrong. If it is due to prejudice and threats from their "racist" members that they would leave the club if the campers continued to come, it is wrong. If they were concerned about "safety" and did not think there could be another solution so they could honor their commitment to Creative Steps Day Camp, it is still wrong. It is wrong because they did not have the sensitivity to racial issues of our day and age to consider that this would be perceived as prejudice. Poor management and lack of proper judgment is not an excuse for behaving in a prejudiced manner. It is still ignorant and still racist.

I also believe that the Swim Club president's comments regarding the "complexion" of the club is a classic case of a "Freudian slip." He may have wanted to present it as a safety issue, but his unconscious mind made it very clear that the issue was about the black complexion of the children. His continued dismissive attitude about his language is insulting. I always tell my clients that 80% of life is how we "repair" our mistakes. He is doing a very poor job at repairing this situation.

Also, let's be honest ... there are many ways to address the safety issue at a pool. For example, create shifts for the kids to swim to avoid overcrowding, or request that the day camp have more adults on-site. The board should have notified their members of the day camp's days and hours, and explained that this was a revenue source for them as well as a community service, giving them the option not to come during the times and days that a large number of children would be at the pool. The board should have discussed options with the owners of all the camps he had contracted with regarding safety and ways to manage the environment safely for everyone. These are actions that were not taken, and now they are paying a very high price for reacting too quickly, too emotionally, and not sensitively. They have lost their reputation and will probably suffer serious legal and financial consequences as well.

The board of the Valley Swim Club should be more concerned about the emotional safety and experience of the kids they have turned away and less about trying to wiggle out of the situation. When children experience prejudice, it causes emotional pain and confusion. If not addressed, it can lead to depression and anxiety.

I asked my 8-year-old son, Asher, what he would feel if that happened to him. He said softly and with tears in his eyes, "I would be sad and my stomach and heart would hurt." I then asked him what he would say to the kids who have been mistreated. He said, "Stand up for yourself!" He also added, "Parents, you need to fight back for your children." All parents, we need to fight for the kids!

For any healing to begin, the Swim Club Board must take full and total responsibility for their actions, and issue a truly heartfelt apology to the kids, their families, their own members, and the larger community for the emotional stress, inconvenience, and overall shameful handling of this matter.

I am proud to say my son is right on point with what we need to do psychologically when we experience discrimination. The counterpoint to depression is empowerment. Empowerment comes from standing up for oneself and standing against discrimination.

I hope you're standing.

next: The Jenny Craig Experiment: Week Two
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Nell July 13, 2009, 9:05 PM

Thank you, Dr. Golland, for writing such an informative article on this incident. I hope it shows those who seem to think that it was “not a race issue” that it indeed was, and that racism still exists in this country.

momofboys July 13, 2009, 9:23 PM

And to think, this swim club actually had the gaul to invite them back? Those parents should be ashamed to teach their children such horrid behavior. They should donate money to this school to aid in future efforts to provide a non-racial fun environment to these children who are not as fortune, but still color blind to others. God created all of us as equals… having money doesn’t make you better than anyone~ you put your pants on just like these children do. Valley Swim Club, be glad I don’t live in your neighborhood, there would be a great big giant sign that read “don’t swim here, these people are racist!” They deserve the bad press they are getting. And praises to the director of this childrens program for keeping her cool and showing the Valley Swim Club what “class” is.

TheOtherSide July 15, 2009, 1:23 AM

Wow Dr Golland - apparently you know everything and even better yet, your 8 year old agrees with your point which conveniently fits into your ‘professional’ write up found on this random website.

By the way, your assessment of JD couldn’t be anymore incorrect. As shown in countless other stories, he has also been well documented as a kind and compassionate man. In fact, he is one nicest men I have ever met. He couldn’t be any further from a racist. Poor word choice with no “Freudian” meaning behind it. Even with all of that education you have you can’t differentiate between a literal and figurative meaning of a single word?

It also sounds like he’s in a no-win situation. Everyone suggests that anything less than inviting the campers back would insulting so when they did invite them back people are jumping on the club for doing that too? Give me a break.

I live a thousand miles away from the club and this situation yet my support is as strong for this guy as it has ever been. It’s too bad ‘experts’ like yourself have a voice in a situation such as this because you clearly don’t know what you are talking about.

you're only a psycholgist, not a psychiatrist July 15, 2009, 1:22 PM
David Baker July 15, 2009, 2:44 PM

I am sure glad that there are academics out there like Dr Gollard who can guide us poor pathetic ignoramuses. The Doc is the biggest hypocrite going, informing all of us to be sensitive to others and then insensitively implying we are stupid.

I am wondering what words she has for Judge Sotomayer who writes that Hispanic women are racially superior in decision making then white men.

USC graduate says it all and the blonde hair confirms it. Shes from California (I’ll bet you thought I was going to say nasty things)

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