Wednesday, July 8, 2009

From Erica: Unbelieveable

I just caught this link somewhere on the Internet and wow, am I ashamed. I'd suggest reading the whole story, but in case you don't: the gist of it is that a summer camp of African-American kids paid a massive membership fee to a country club for use of their swimming pool, only to be booted on their first visit because the club is concerned that these kids will "change the complexion" of their institution. There are so many things wrong with this situation, I don't know where to begin. The most obvious is that no one should be denied membership or access to anything on account of their race, especially since there are laws protecting against this sort of situation from occurring.

What it points to, however, is something far more insidious and damaging: the club not only took this action, but was so convinced that it has the right to restrict its membership on racial grounds that it didn't even try to disguise its motives for kicking the campers out. I'm not arguing that concealing racist motives is a better idea, because it's not. Rather, what I want to point out is that the bluntness with which the club handled the situation is a reflection of the status of racism, anti-racism, and the (dis)enfranchisement of people of colour in this society. A club that makes these restrictions in spite of the law is apparently unafraid of facing reprisal for its actions; either it believes that the camp (and its associated parents, grandparents, and other legal guardians of the campers) lacks the financial capital to take out a lawsuit, or it believes that such a lawsuit would be decided in its favour. Ricci v. DeStefano, anyone?

There was a lot of talk after the election of President Obama about what having an African-American president meant in terms of systemic racism, and some people went so far as to call racism dead. I never believed that, but I had hoped that the legacy of the Antebellum period and the second half of the 20th century had taught us, as a country, the basics of humanity. Apparently, I was very wrong. Not only does Obama sill have to live up to his every word in order to make future non-White presidents possible (because, let's face it, a racist society demands that he act as the representation for every single non-White person in the country), but we're so far emmeshed in racism that businesses still feel they can hang up a metaphorical "Whites Only" sign. How shameful, heartbreaking, and embarrassing.

What I want to see come of this: I want to see a lawsuit. I want those kids, their counselors, their parents/grandparents/guardians, the camp directors, and anyone else who can prove they have standing to take this case to court. I want that country club to be forced to eat their words, and I want them to be held up as an example to the rest of the country (and to the world, for that matter) that racial discrimination is unacceptable and intolerable. Mostly, I want those kids to have role models that are willing to fight, so that they can grow up knowing that this behaviour- this discrimination- is the fault of ignorant people and systems. I want them to grow up- and their White peers to grow up- proud of themselves and their identities, and dismantling these sytems of injustice that continue to allow situations like these to occur in the first place.

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