An Experiment in Scotch

"I write to discover what I believe." Michael Lopp on Twitter

Suing People To Solve Your Problems

The story: A pri­vate swim club kicks out a day care group pos­si­bly because of over­crowd­ing, pos­si­bly because of racism. Media fire storm brews. Said pri­vate swim club rein­vites day care group. Day care group refuses say­ing “chil­dren are scarred” and “The children’s best inter­ests are not being served.” Day care intends to sue within a cou­ple of days.

Look, I know racism still exists in this coun­try and that if the charges of racism are true, some­thing should be done about it. How­ever, say­ing the chil­dren are scarred and refus­ing the olive branch regard­less of whether you think it was coerced or offered hon­estly only serves to teach chil­dren that when con­flict arise it is best to bat­ten down the hatches and start fight­ing instead of try­ing to resolve things like, well, like humans. That action is what will actu­ally scar the chil­dren by show­ing them how their role-models go about deal­ing with a dif­fi­cult situation.

In this case, the charges of racism don’t ring par­tic­u­larly true. At least two other day cares had their invi­ta­tions renounced. If the club was wor­ried about minori­ties, don’t you think they would have inves­ti­gated a lit­tle before extend­ing an invi­ta­tion to a largely minor­ity day care? This sounds to me like a swim club that invited too many peo­ple to use its facil­i­ties and then got some blow­back from the mem­bers who pay to have a nice pri­vate club. It does not sound like a racially moti­vated situation.

The lawyer for the day care had this to say about suing the club and demand­ing the res­ig­na­tion of all board mem­bers: “Our goal is to ensure that this type of behav­ior never hap­pens again,” she said. Be care­ful what you ask for there. You’re liable to get it but just not in a way you expected. If clubs are wor­ried about how their actions might get played in our 24 hour news cycle, they just won’t invite you. At all. That cer­tainly doesn’t serve the kids well either.

There is much work to be done in regards to race rela­tions in this coun­try but refus­ing to solve things ami­ca­bly in a case that eas­ily could be iden­ti­fied as con­fu­sion will never help. We are teach­ing our chil­dren that when some­one spites you, go out of your way to make their life mis­er­able. Not a par­tic­u­larly instruc­tive way to do things.


  1. Sheik Yerbouti

    July 14, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Look, I know racism still exists in this coun­try and that if the charges of racism are true, some­thing should be done about it.

    I’m curi­ous as to what that some­thing should be. Racism is an ugly thing, but last time I checked, pri­vate prop­erty and thought leg­is­la­tion don’t exactly fit into the same ide­o­log­i­cal space.

  2. Scotch Drinker

    July 14, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    That’s very true. I shouldn’t write posts at work while try­ing to do 4 other things in my head. A pri­vate club should be able to deter­mine who can and can­not join and participate.

    Though in this case, if the day care had a con­tract, there may be con­trac­tual issues with can­cel­ing the con­tract with­out notice depend­ing on the related law. I have zero expe­ri­ence in such things but that’s the only way I can see where “some­thing should be done” con­trary to what I wrote in the orig­i­nal post.

  3. Randy Wolfgang

    July 14, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    But doesn’t a pri­vate club have the option to refuse any­one they want — I belong to a Ger­man Soci­ety and if you are not of Ger­man her­itage you can’t get in — does that mean a per­son can sue because they are not Ger­man and can’t join????

  4. Scotch Drinker

    July 14, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Yes, they can refuse them. How­ever, if they say they can join, have them sign a con­tract, cash their check and then say they can’t on the sole basis of race, I have the feel­ing they may be on slightly less solid ground.

    This club was under some sort of con­trac­tual agree­ment with the day care. I don’t know the details of that and am only assum­ing that that detail may be what the case turns on.

    Also, we may be fast approach­ing a time when some­one can do exactly that (sue to be a mem­ber of your club even though they fail to have the spec­i­fied char­ac­ter­is­tics). I don’t think that’s right but I think it may happen.

  5. This law­suit will go nowhere.. There is no evi­dence of racism. And the swim club has re-invited the day care.. If they refuse, that is up to them.. What you have here is a black woman try­ing to make noise, prob­a­bly encour­aged by a lawyer. The case will be dis­missed.. But hope­fully that won’t be the end of it.. This woman, Alathea Wright, should lose her job. She is the one that has “scarred” these chil­dren. If it wasn’t for her, none of these chil­dren would remem­ber this in a week. But now they will remem­ber it for the rest of their life. If I was a par­ent, there is NO WAY I would let my chil­dren be around a woman like this, who is using them to get attention.

  6. Whereas it may be true that there were two other day care cen­ters whose con­tracts were rescinded, this is the one whose con­tract was rescinded AFTER some patrons/members com­mented on why all the “black kids” were there and espoused fear for their safety and of whether or not their valu­ables would be stolen as a result (of that appar­ently unset­tling pres­ence). Those kids were there to swim and have some fun, but were sub­jected to unwar­ranted, deroga­tory com­ments sim­ply because of the fact that they were black. They no doubt were stared at and treated like the “crim­i­nals in train­ing” that some on-line racists have deemed them. Peo­ple keep try­ing to say that the days of dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism are over, as if they ended with the abo­li­tion of slav­ery. Yet, we are still deal­ing with episodes such as this. Since the civil rights move­ment of the mid-20th cen­tury, prej­u­dice has abated some­what and out­ward dis­crim­i­na­tion is not nearly so preva­lent as it was. Even so, racism is still very much with us. Just ask those kids who heard those racist com­ments or who were made to feel bad about them­selves sim­ply because of the color of their skin. THAT is a last­ing mem­ory for them. Hope­fully, they can put it behind them and not let it neg­a­tively impact their futures.

  7. Marie — that is hearsay. There is no way to prove that these com­ments were or were not made. I used to be a life­guard at sev­eral dif­fer­ent pools and over­crowd­ing is a seri­ous con­cern. I also saw men­tioned in a dif­fer­ent arti­cle on this story that this day care promised a 10:1 child to adult ratio but that the day­care did not stick to this agree­ment. When there are too many chil­dren and not enough adults to super­vise, and that con­tributes to over­crowd­ing, I think a pri­vate pool has every right to can­cel a contract.

  8. Tom wrote “there is no evi­dence of racism here.” Not sure if you and I read the same story Tom. The one I read and watched on the news states clearly that a white female club mem­ber expressed fear these young chil­dren would “harm her child.” What she based this upon is unclear since there has been no report the black kids were doing any­thing other than swim­ming, which is kinda the point of going to a pool. The news reports state white club mem­bers ques­tioned why the “black kids” were there, not why non-members or strangers were there; but specif­i­cally why black kids would be in their exclu­sive club. Racism in 2009 gen­er­ally does not reveal itself through pointy white sheets or legal­ized dis­crim­i­na­tion. This story is the Y2K ver­sion of racism: hid­den, insid­i­ous, sub­ver­sive, but still hurt­ful and igno­rant. Tell your­self what you want to believe, Tom. This is racism, plain and simple.

  9. Scotch Drinker

    July 14, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    I’m begin­ning to think my post is linked from some­where since 6 com­ments are sev­eral stan­dard devi­a­tions out­side the mean for this hum­ble blog. Glad you’re all hang­ing out.

    Marie, I think the charge of racism is both less clear than you make it out to be and more impor­tantly, not ille­gal. As Tom men­tions, the like­li­hood of this case stand­ing up is low because pri­vate clubs can basi­cally do what­ever they want.

    I don’t think any­one on this blog and very few intel­li­gent com­men­ta­tors in the wild, wild Inter­net would ever say the days of dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism are over. How­ever, I hap­pen to agree with Tom on this. Had the day care just let the sit­u­a­tion drop, these kids wouldn’t have remem­bered a damn thing about it in a week. They are mostly very young. The fact that it’s been par­layed into some sort of national media event is what the kids will remember.

    Your cer­tainty that the kids were treated in a racially unjust way is not sup­ported by the facts, at least not in the CNN story.

  10. Linked to from the story on CNN — that may be why you are get­ting more hits :)

  11. I m black and I know that the swim cen­ter owner was not racist when he said that he also turned away white day­care. Blacks should accept some things for just what it is and stop cry­ing racism at every lit­tle thing. Seri­ously this cry is get­ting pretty old!

  12. It sounds like over­crowd­ing was really the issue, not racism. The bur­den of proof should be on the day care. If the court finds that not enough sup­ports their accu­sa­tions, then they should be forced to pick up the court costs.

  13. Scotch, I say to you that Ms. Wright did not cre­ate this prob­lem. This prob­lem was cre­ated by the patrons/club mem­bers who made the racist com­ments. It was the chil­dren who brought the mat­ter to her atten­tion. Whether she acted on the mat­ter or not is imma­te­r­ial to the fact that those chil­dren are now scarred. You think every one should just let bygones be bygones and get over it; that the day care cen­ter should take its clients back to that club where they have already been hurt once. Nei­ther Ms. Wright nor the day care cen­ter, how­ever, have the right to sub­ject those chil­dren to that. The club own­ers may be very tol­er­ant and open to diver­sity, but obvi­ously that sen­ti­ment is not shared by all mem­bers of the club. It was their attempt to cater to the wishes of those intol­er­ant patrons/club mem­bers that cre­ated this mael­strom. A few intol­er­ant mem­bers sit­ting around a pool mak­ing neg­a­tive, racist com­ments is one thing. An estab­lish­ment sub­se­quently act­ing in a dis­crim­i­na­tory man­ner is another mat­ter entirely. An inves­ti­ga­tion is cer­tainly war­ranted here. You want this to be a sim­ple mat­ter of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­fu­sion, while ignor­ing the weight­ier mat­ters of prej­u­dice and abject racism. What the chil­dren SHOULD learn from this is that while it may be per­fectly legal to voice racist com­ments, it is NOT legal to act on racial prej­u­dices and dis­crim­i­nate on the basis of someone’s race, color, reli­gion, gen­der, or any other arbi­trary cir­cum­stance. The chil­dren of the 21st cen­tury should not have to tol­er­ate racism in any way, shape, or form, no mat­ter in what benign guise it is col­ored or couched!

  14. MW, it may be hearsay, but that is what those chil­dren HEARD! Nat­u­rally, those fine, upstand­ing white patrons who made the com­ments will deny ever even THINKING, let alone VOICING such inflam­ma­tory, clearly racist state­ments, but were it not for the state­ments, those chil­dren would have gone on, blithely unaware of the “real” con­cerns their pres­ence was caus­ing for some of the club members/patrons. Their com­ments were about the large num­ber of “black kids” and about their safety and the secu­rity of their valu­ables. It was not about being able to ade­quately accom­mo­date the large num­bers in terms of water safety. That was the expla­na­tion given by the club man­age­ment after this story broke. They didn’t even bother to give the day care cen­ter an expla­na­tion for rescind­ing the con­tract and ask­ing that they not return. Surely, a vio­la­tion of a promised 10:1 child to adult ratio would have been a rea­son­able expla­na­tion. But that was not the case. The REAL rea­son that con­tract was rescinded was that some of those intol­er­ant mem­bers demanded that they do so. If there is an inves­ti­ga­tion, the same eco­nomic fac­tors that caused the club own­ers to rescind the con­tract with the day care cen­ter will prob­a­bly also pre­vent them from nam­ing names. But names should be named. Racists do not all hide beneath white sheets while wear­ing pointy white hats with masks. As Tee said, they are “hid­den, insidious,{and} sub­ver­sive, but still hurt­ful and igno­rant. They not only hurt blacks or who­ever the tar­gets of their prej­u­dice may be. They also hurt inno­cents like those club own­ers, or whites who do not share their racist beliefs, but say and do noth­ing when they hear the racist jokes and/or rants. And they hurt our soci­ety as a whole because we still have to deal with all the hid­den, insid­i­ous, sub­ver­sive aspects of racism. The worst thing we can do is to ignore this spec­tre when it raises its ugly head. It is not going away. You can’t do too much about it when it remains hid­den, but if it reveals itself, KILL IT! (And this is not about it being a pri­vate club. That club entered into a con­tract with that day care cen­ter. The center’s clients had a con­tracted right to avail them­selves of the club’s ameni­ties. The fact that those clients were made up of a large num­ber of black and Latina chil­dren is not jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for breach­ing that contract.)

  15. Scotch, as I said, it is NOT ille­gal to voice racist sen­ti­ments. It IS, how­ever, ille­gal to act on those prej­u­dices and dis­crim­i­nate against any­one on the basis of some arbi­trary cir­cum­stance such as race, color, reli­gion, or gen­der. Those patrons who made the com­ments may have legally done so, but had those com­ments incited vio­lence, they could also have been held legally account­able for doing so. Even pri­vate clubs can­not legally vio­late a con­tract. Thus, this case has a strong like­li­hood of stand­ing up.

  16. Scotch, I am glad you couched your com­ment “.…very few intel­li­gent com­men­ta­tors in the wild, wild Inter­net would ever say the days of dis­crim­i­na­tion and racism are over” as there are many not very intel­li­gent com­men­ta­tors who allege just that.… Appar­ently, nei­ther you nor Tom have ever been sub­jected to any prej­u­diced or racist com­ments or behav­ior. It is not some­thing you are likely to soon for­get. Even if the day­care had let the sit­u­a­tion drop, those kids would have remem­bered every aspect of the hurt and pain they felt. They may not have known what name to put on it, but they DID know that some­thing was very wrong with the sit­u­a­tion and it was all because of the fact that they were black. My cer­tainty that those kids were treated in a racially unjust way is indeed sup­ported by the facts. You need to go back and reread the CNN story. Now a jury or even a benev­o­lent judge may be will­ing to let the club off the hook by accept­ing that latent expla­na­tion that the con­tract was rescinded and the day care cen­ter told not to return because of con­cerns about over­crowd­ing, but we all know that this whole case arose as a result of the racist com­ments which led to the con­tract being breached and thus, per­haps, to a fed­eral lawsuit.

  17. Scotch Drinker

    July 15, 2009 at 9:00 am

    @Marie: First of all, putting words in my mouth isn’t the best way to make your case. I did not say Ms. Wright cre­ated this prob­lem and I did not say every one should let bygones be bygones and get over it.

    What I did say was that A) peo­ple should learn to han­dle their dis­putes like adults instead of suing at the drop of a hat and B) this case doesn’t look very much like racism to me which make it even sil­lier to sue. On top of that, it’s my under­stand­ing that a pri­vate club can allow whomever they want based on what­ever they want as criteria.

    Your cer­tainty that this is racism is not at all sup­ported by the CNN arti­cle. It’s a he said, she said sit­u­a­tion and there’s noth­ing in that arti­cle to say oth­er­wise. You keep say­ing it’s what the chil­dren heard but since when do we start law­suits based on what a 7th grader heard? It’s a ridicu­lous response to a sit­u­a­tion that could have been han­dled grace­fully which has been my argu­ment all along, assum­ing there was any­thing at all racially moti­vated here. At the very worst, a con­tract was bro­ken. The club then offered to let them back in so I just don’t see any of this hold­ing up in court.

    And on top of all that, even assum­ing the worst and this really was a hor­ri­ble case of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, there is noth­ing inher­ently ille­gal if a pri­vate club chooses to exclude peo­ple. As long as they aren’t act­ing on the State’s behalf, it’s unlikely to ever be prosecuted.

    …we all know that this whole case arose as a result of the racist com­ments which led to the con­tract being breached and thus, per­haps, to a fed­eral lawsuit.”

    No, we don’t all know that. You seem to think that but there is no cer­tainty here, no mat­ter how many times you pro­claim it. Advo­cat­ing for a fed­eral law­suit for the case of a bro­ken con­tract at a sec­ond rate swim club in Penn­syl­va­nia sounds, well, rather hys­ter­i­cal to me.

    PS. You should get a blog. I think you’d be prolific.

  18. Jennifer Gordon

    July 21, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I guess you have never had any­one cross the street at the sight of you because of the color of your skin. I guess you never had some­one lock their car door at the sight of your skin. If you have never expe­ri­enced racism, then you have no idea. It was the use of poor choice of words and poor man­age­ment you should always know the capac­ity limit You can­not tell me man­age­ment did not know this espe­cially when he emailed the child/adult ratio to Ms. Wright. Scotch, please explain to me how does “the com­plex­ion” and “atmos­phere” of the club mean over­crowd­ing of a pool. @ San­dra it was never stated if the other day­care cen­ters were a minor­ity that was “sup­pos­edly” turned away. That is really not even the issue, the fact they had club mem­bers using racial lan­guage makes the mat­ter even worse.

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