A Regrettable Misunderstanding

Filed under: Talk About Race |


Originally published on Imagine 2050

Man goes to his therapist and says, “Doc, I had dinner with my in-laws last night and made a terrible Freudian slip and now I feel just awful.” Therapist says, “Oh dear, I’m so sorry. What did you say?” Man says, “Well, I meant to say, ‘could someone please pass the bread,’ but instead I said, ‘you’re ruining our lives, you ugly old cows.’”

Pretty funny, right? Here’s an even better one you may have heard recently.

A camp in Northeastern Philadelphia contracts with a private swim club in a Philly suburb to have its elementary school-age kids swim in the pool. One day, 65 young black and Latino campers show up to do just that. A number of white parents pull their own kids from the pool, club staffers tell the campers to leave, and the club president, one John Duesler, revokes the camps contract shortly thereafter.

Here’s where things get hilarious.

Having offered the camp director no explanation, Duesler tells the local NBC station that “There was concern [by club management] that a lot of kids would change the complexion . . . and the atmosphere of the club.” When that statement prompts further outrage, Duesler laments his terrible choice of words. What he meant to say was that the club was unprepared for the influx of camp kids, many of whom could not swim, and staff was compelled by concerns for their safety to turn them away.

Um, could someone please pass the bread rolls?

A friend emails that this case brought to mind her psychology teacher in high school, an African American, who told the class that when he was little Fridays were swim days in the local public pools for black kids because on Friday nights the clubs would drain and wash the pools. He was referring to a time 50 years earlier, but, for him, the sting of it was still fresh.

Compelled by considerable public criticism, the leadership of the club now says that it wants to reach an agreement with the camp to bring the kids back.

Come what may, I wonder: how old will these young people be when, if ever, the sting fades?


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Author: Andrew Grant-Thomas (8 Articles)

Andrew Grant-Thomas

Andrew Grant-Thomas is Deputy Director of the Kirwan Institute. He directs the Institute’s internal operations and oversees much of its US-based programming. His substantive interests include structural racism and implicit bias, alliance-building between immigrants and African Americans, African American males and gender dynamics within the African American community, and the promotion of systems thinking through videogames. Andrew serves as Associate Editor of the Institute’s journal, Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts. He also edited Twenty-first Century Color Lines: Multiracial Change in Contemporary America, published in 2008 by Temple University Press. He is sits on the boards of several nonprofit organizations and various social justice initiatives. Andrew came to the Kirwan Institute in February of 2006 from the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University where he directed the Color Lines Conference and managed a range of policy-oriented racial justice projects. He received his B.A. in Literature from Yale University, his M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago.

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