Private club boots kids who might “change the complexion” of the pool

Guess what color the kids are.

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

“They just kicked us out. And we were about to go. Had our swim things and everything,” said camper Simer Burwell.

The explanation they got was either dishearteningly honest or poorly worded.

“There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club,” John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

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51 comments for “Private club boots kids who might “change the complexion” of the pool

  1. July 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    …left to wonder if their race was the reason.

    Oh, I don’t think anybody’s wondering. I’m sure it was obvious to the kids why they were being kicked out.

  2. Billy O'Connor
    July 8, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Padlock the place immediately.

  3. leah
    July 8, 2009 at 1:48 pm


  4. July 8, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    That generally is what “complexion” means. On behalf of my black (in the same way Obama is black) nephew, I would like to say:


  5. Niki
    July 8, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Holy shit..pardon my French, but I am absolutely appalled by the comments below the story. I cannot believe the racism. Seriously, I am utterly shocked, and I’m someone who comes to expect upsetting comments by conservatives online; here’s just a few gems (the first two pathetically try to defend their racism, the last few don’t even make an effort):

    “You get 60 black kids in a swimming pool and that’s alot of Grease. Not implying racism, just fact… Blacks have alot of natural grease or oils in their hair that don’t mix well with water. That’s a huge cleaning bill (daily) for the pool. It wouldn’t be able to run all summer long with those bills.” (Yeah, no racism at all.)

    “This pool is all WIN… wish they had more of these in St. Petersburg, Florida… maybe I would leave the house… they should also have a beach like this… Owner of this place should get Noble Peace prize in my opinion… btw I’m married to a black woman.” (OK, you’re married to a minority, you get the Racist Apologist Allowance Card now.)

    “if the black’s had been raised to be more civilized acting i’m sure there wouldn’t have been a problem.”

    “I would rather swim with piranhas in the amazon than 60 black kids.”

    “Coming from a group that idolizes pedophiles and Nicole Brown murderers, they can stay in the inner city – F them.”

  6. Andrea
    July 8, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    The comments on the story are heartbreaking and infuriating; I don’t even want to reproduce them here. This is outrageous.

  7. Johnny Bean
    July 8, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    I wonder if this affect Duesler’s fund raising for President Obama?

  8. Laura
    July 8, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I second Andrea– the comments on the stories are the worst part. I’m sure there’s a lot of trolling, but most of them seem genuinely racist… Sickening.

  9. July 8, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Niki: Don’t look directly into the trap. Every local news site in the county that allows open comment looks exactly the same, on any story that has even the remotest connection to class and/or race. Disgusting. “Post-racial” my fat cracker ass.

  10. Wehaf
    July 8, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Funny; I would rather the author of this comment (“I would rather swim with piranhas in the amazon than 60 black kids.”) swim with piranhas, too! Hungry ones.

  11. Sara
    July 8, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    I second all the comments here about the comments on the news site – they’re horrifying! I can’t believe the disgusting stereotypes and attitudes on display. I’m so fucking infuriated right now.

  12. July 8, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    So much for being the city of brotherly love. This is just so wrong it almost defies description.

  13. Betsy
    July 8, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    For Christ’s sake. That is…well, I can’t say “unbelievable” because it’s not, but I wish it were. That makes me so sad and angry. If I were a member of that pool, I would be pulling out so fast I’d take half the water with me. But then, I probably wouldn’t be a member of something like that anyway. But I can hope that some members do anyway.

    @Wehaf #9: Ha. That got sardonic chuckle out of me.

  14. July 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    What is WITH local news comments sections? I’m serious. I know the majority of people are assholes but are the majority really such bigots?

  15. Niki
    July 8, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Here’s the thing: They’re fucking kids. If you see the comments (at least, the ones defending the pool, I’d say they’re about 50/50) they seem to have two strains of thought: One, which is overtly racist, saying terrible things about balck people as a whole, and another which is subtly racist, saying let’s not be hasty, they were probably acting up and deserved it, and now the pool is the target of misplaced affirmative action.

    I call bullshit on the second line of thought. Again, they’re fucking kids at a camp. With counsellors. It’s not like there were 60 unsupervised kids. And if they really were acting up? Give them a warning for next time. No matter how you spin it, this was racist, ignorant and I hope it puts them out of business. That is being leniant.

  16. Dawn
    July 8, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    I thought at first that this was a story from like the 1940s. My god. The world sucks.

  17. preying mantis
    July 8, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    “What is WITH local news comments sections? I’m serious. I know the majority of people are assholes but are the majority really such bigots?”

    Most moderated blogs, forums, etc. will not allow posts like that. Most racist blogs, forums, etc., aren’t really read by non-racists. Consequently, people who feel some need to be a giant, bigoted asshole in a more public, widely-read format tend to gravitate to those sorts of postings.

    Oh, and the newspapers somehow never seem to publish their letters to the editor, so this is the next best thing.

  18. Dingo
    July 8, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    I knew the comments section would be bad but I was unprepared for the 1950’s racist vitriol. I can’t believe that people really believe this stuff. My heart just breaks for those kids to have to experience this. Their faces in the video were just heartbreaking.

  19. js
    July 8, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    As a white Philadelphia resident, I cringe in mortification. How is our nation still so ignorant. I was about to puke looking at the footage of the camp children — still dressed, as according to news reports, not a single one actually put toe to water — explaining to the reporter why they think they were thrown out.

    How do you crush a child’s soul and sit poolside enjoying your whiteness simultaneously. That seems like an awful lot of multitasking for people who don’t do much critical thinking.

    Valley Swim, you are truly pathetic. I hope your membership plummets.

    Creative Steps and campers — you got hosed. Stand your ground. And know that you are welcome anywhere the median IQ is over 100.

  20. July 8, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    So, Preying Mantis, do you think the non-bigoted among us just stays away from newspaper and local news stations’ comments sections? Anti-racist folks consume news too, but it doesn’t seem like any are commenting along with the racists. Maybe because people who are committed to equality stick to explicitly progressive websites?

    Anyway, sorry to threadjack. This story is terrible and I can’t imagine how those poor kids feel. Great to be living in this post-racial society, ain’t it?

  21. anna.licious
    July 8, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    I live in the greater Philly area, and sadly, this isn’t as surprising as it should be…

    …but that doesn’t make this club’s actions any less disgusting/horrifying/purely evil.

  22. catfood
    July 8, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    @19 SarahMC: I think it’s more like the non-bigoted sane people see a cesspool and know there’s no point. The racists won’t listen, nothing will change their mind, and you can only get sucked into the muck with them. I do believe the over-the-top racist nuts are relatively small in number, but they’re way overrepresented in newspaper comment sections.

  23. Turbopixie
    July 8, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    It hurt me to do it, but I trawled through each and every comment, flagging up the most objectionable ones for moderation. The individual posters may not particularly care, but I think it’s important that NBC Philadelphia realise that such comments are unacceptable to readers.

  24. July 8, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    With all due respect: If everyone is as outraged as they say they are: Contact the club. That is the only way things will change. Here is the contact information:

    The Valley Club Contact Directory
    Physical Address:
    22 Tomlinson Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006
    The Valley Club

    Mailing Address:
    P.O. Box 134, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006

    Club Phone Number:

    Club E-mail:

    Send your correspondence to the attention of John Duesler. He is the director. BTW: I just tried to phone. Surprise, surprise…Mr. Duesler’s mailbox is full.

  25. July 8, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Correction: Mr. Duesler is the President.

  26. July 8, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks Marcy! Emailing and passing it along…

  27. July 8, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Great, Sarah! I just sent my email.

  28. July 8, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    I went to the website, got the contact info and sent an email.
    Did anyone else notice on the website that the photos of the swim club contain no minorities? Surprise, surprise.

  29. SeanTheSean
    July 8, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Is this not illegal?

    I can’t actually see any comments when I look, thank heavens. SarahMC@19: I never comment on news sites, and hardly ever read the comments. Partly because they’re usually drive-by comments anyway, but mostly because of the horrific ignorance already mentioned.

  30. melancholia
    July 8, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Sadly I’m not that shocked by the comments sections. I’ve lived in a lot of big cities all over the country. There is something about those old school east coast cities – Boston and Philly especially – and midwest cities like Chicago/Milwaukee/Detroit. There is just a TON of racism in those cities, like open and blatant. I rarely saw that open and acknowledged racism in cities like Houston, Austin, L.A., or Atlanta.

    I really wish I knew why this was.

  31. July 8, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    I can’t see the comments either– I take it they’ve been closed and deleted? Good riddance… I guess?

  32. Katie
    July 8, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    I got to the comments and read some of them. The many of the comments are triggering and grossly offensive. I’m flagging all the rascist comments, we’ll see what happens.

  33. Henry
    July 8, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    “I really wish I knew why this was.”

    I’ll tell you exactly why. You know how some old married couples just hate each others fucking guts? Or the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt”? The cities in the south and west have dynamic populations where people are moving in and out all the time. Not so in Philly, Boston and the other industrial cities. They have relatively static demographics and are thoroughly mixed racially. So you have people of different races living in close proximity (although still separated in ethnic enclaves) for generations, and the resentment that builds up is passed down and never goes away. I don’t think it’s as bad as it used to be, but down in your working class Irish, Polish and Italian neighborhoods that stuff dies hard. Believe me, the black folks in Philly by and large aren’t particularly fond of whites either. It’s unfortunate.

  34. July 8, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Latest developments:

    Still, contact the club, and let them know that their treatment of the campers is unacceptable. They may be allowed to enroll who they want, but we have a right to tell them they’re racist scum.

  35. Sophist FCD
    July 8, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Presented without comment:

    if you want people opinins of blacks to change. then you should change how you behave. get and education and take respocibility for your actions

  36. stlthy
    July 8, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Wow. I kind of feel like throwing up. I can’t believe the club president was so unsubtle and shameless with the comments about the kids ‘changing the complexion’ of the club. WTF? Are some people not even ashamed of their rabid bigotry?? (I guess not.)

  37. July 8, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Just to clarify, Valley Swim Club is not in Northeast Philadelphia, or even Philadelphia, for that matter. It is in Montgomery County, Pa. Next to Philadelphia, but still a vastly different place. It’s a shame the Northeast’s (and the city’s) reputation is being dragged through the mud.

  38. July 8, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Shannon@37 – right, like the city is any better. uh, Gino’s steaks? “english only”? that attitude is pervasive in the city. i have lived in Philadelphia most of my life. open your eyes.

  39. Henry
    July 9, 2009 at 12:54 am

    And a good deal of Montgomery County might as well be in the city anyway. The only difference between a lot of these neighborhoods is a line on the map.

  40. Tonya
    July 9, 2009 at 12:55 am

    this is disgusting. How does this even happen!?!?!? Wow!

  41. Ashley
    July 9, 2009 at 1:05 am

    How the hell do we still live in a world like this? People so often try and say that we’re “post-racist” and “post-feminist” but when shit like this comes up, how can you believe that bs? How can ANYBODY, even the most sheltered and unpolitical people deny that we are still a very biased society?? When little kids can’t go swimming because they were born with the “wrong skin”… Sometimes stories like this make me feel like we’re never going to embrace one another as human beings, celebrating our differences instead of shunning one another for them… Beh, what a downer. Here’s hoping that club gets reprimanded in some fashion.

  42. LSG
    July 9, 2009 at 10:03 am

    I just wrote them a very cold hard you-are-despicable-heartless-excuses-for-human beings email, wearing my white-Northeastern-Pennsylvanian hat and including a good old “examine well your hearts”-type lecture. What do you even say, in this case? The damage to these children has already been done, and makes me want to just shriek imprecations at them. But presumably, the ingraining-racism damage to white children who go to this club continues. How can we even begin to change these people?

    As far as comments on the stories go…the racism on the local stories is deeply sickening, but I just read the comments on the Huffington Post story. At this oh-so-liberal site, everyone congratulates themselves on not personally being racist, then about half launch into speeches about how the club is private, so they can do what they want, and after all free association, and did they mention private, and besides black people and women sometimes have clubs just for black people and women, and white men are discriminated against too, and the club was private! Apparently, if you value freedom you have to “respect” people’s and institutions’ “right to be racist.” The complacent stench of privilege is just pervasive. No doubt many of these commenters pride themselves on being progressive, and congratulate themselves on being so tolerant as to not be angered by racists freely expressing their “personal preferences”.

    So anyone have ideas for getting through to either of these groups of people?

  43. Michele
    July 9, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Makes me want to go back to bed and just fucking quit this life. I’m too sad for words. Sad for those kids. Sad for humans. Sad in general. What is wrong with people???

  44. July 9, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Makes me want to go back to bed and just fucking quit this life. I’m too sad for words. Sad for those kids. Sad for humans. Sad in general. What is wrong with people???
    Sorry, should have said good post! Waiting on the next post!

  45. Gidget Commando
    July 9, 2009 at 1:29 pm


    I share your disgust. However, I believe that the “free association” thing has to do with case law, if I recall correctly. I saw on another thread a reference to the Boy Scouts case from several years ago…if I can find a legitimate link and citation on it, I’ll post it.

    But “legal” or not, the country club’s actions are disgusting and offensive. For some reason, I’m reminded of a story from one of the Sweet Potato Queens books (not necessarily the most feminist reads ever in the traditional sense, but occasionally side-splittin’ fun). Seems one of them had a dog that loved to kill the neighbor’s chickens. No doggie discipline seemed to work until the woman tied one of the dog’s chicken victims around his neck. Unable to escape the inevitable decaying result of his own action, the dog never killed another chicken, or so the book said.

    I’m all up for a creative social equivalent of tying that chicken around the neck of every damn member of that club, and every employee that stood by while those children were treated so abhorently. Perhaps shunning is overdue for a comeback.

  46. Marksman2000
    July 9, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    This has made national news.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a civil suit in the mix.

  47. July 9, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    I can’t understand such blatant racism in the first place, but I can’t understand why people would be so, so disparaging to children. This is heartbreaking.

  48. Marksman2000
    July 10, 2009 at 7:37 am

    “but I can’t understand why people would be so, so disparaging to children”

    Because in our “great” country, a person is tagged black before they’re recognized as a child.

  49. LSG
    July 10, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Hi Gidget Commando — yep, it’s about case law. There’s been a bit of legitimate back and forth about whether or not the club was truly private since they were allowing the public to swim there for a price, and that’s all well and good. The legal right to free association is an important one, and I think it should be discussed and defended. (You’re also right that the right to free association in a private organization was cited in the Boy Scouts v. Dale case).

    What I was objected to was the fact that many people framed their arguments not as “This might be legal because it’s a private club and legally they have the right of free association, so we’ll have to socially shame them rather than relying on the state to force them to integrate” but instead as “They have the right to free association so that means everybody has to leave them alone and stop criticizing them!” They might have a “right” to be racist, but I have a right to nonviolently criticize them as much as I want — “legal right” doesn’t mean “free pass.”

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