- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The most unsettling news story of the last week came out of Philadelphia, where a group of black and Hispanic children of elementary-school age paid for the right to swim at a private suburban club and were denied the experience without cause and publicly humiliated in the process.

While the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton cry racism too often and make a mockery of their cause by exploiting events for their personal gain, sometimes old-fashioned bigotry does rear its ugly head in America.

In this instance, the Valley Club’s president confirmed our worst fears when he offered something far from an exculpatory explanation. “There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club,” John Duesler said in his initial statement.

Some campers claim to have overheard at least one parent fretting about the sudden influx of 65 minority children at the mostly white club.

True or not, these children were clearly wronged and it’s hard to believe that race didn’t play a significant part in their being tossed from the suburban club on their very first field trip.

Bigotry is not a partisan issue, and to be sickened by this story is the proper human response. America’s original sin of slavery and the stain of Jim Crow make a bad situation almost viscerally unbearable - and warrant a conclusive remedy. This, unfortunately, is our country’s long-term burden.

Many members of the private swim club, removed from its director’s idiotic move, now find themselves in the unenviable position of working round-the-clock to defend themselves and their previously unblemished club. Even neighbors of the institution have taken to the media to distance themselves from the awful act.

“I think they’re knuckleheads up there,” said John Fenton, a local. “I don’t know how you can do that to little kids.”

Whenever legitimate acts of bigotry occur, they should be exposed to the light of day. The media and the legal system - fueled by public outrage - can do the rest. In this case, substantial national and even international news coverage of the Valley Club incident is beginning the process of making the campers whole.

Racism is so unwelcome in America these days, government is no longer the most effective mechanism to thwart it. The common sense of good-hearted citizens is enough to shame culprits to relent. Modern institutions have filled the void where organizations like the NAACP have become more and more irrelevant - and hopelessly partisan - in confronting bigotry.

Facebook and Twitter, powerful social media tools, worked so quickly that Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Jackson didn’t have time to book their flights to Pennsylvania. Good Samaritans came out of the woodwork to offer the campers opportunities such as cooking lessons from local chefs and classes from professional filmmakers and other artists. Nearby Girard College has offered its swim facilities to the kids for free.

“So much goodness is coming out of an awful situation,” said Alethea Wright, director of the Creative Steps camp. “This is wonderful.”

While racism does exist, it is no longer the natural order, nor is it representative of the majority. Otherwise, this story would not have played out the way it did.

The eradication of racism in this country has best transpired when the media exposes the bad behavior and private citizens act to remedy it. Of course, Creative Steps and the individual campers still have legal recourse in this instance, and given the public outrage generated, the Valley Club is likely in a settling mood.

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