Why the Valley Swim Club incident made one psychologist's blood boil.
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.
|Dr. Golland is a USC graduate and a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY#16974). She works with adults, teens and is an expert in the field of marriage and relationships. Dr. Golland has given her expert advice on CNN, HLN, MSNBC, ABC, and Fox news. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two wonderfully exhausting children.|