I know everyone has moved onto the Henry Louis Gates story, which is awful-I would be furious if that happened to me-oh, wait, it did, after I accidentally set the alarm off in our new house before I knew the code.
When the police arrived I said something coy like “I have absolutely nothing in this house with my name and this address on it because we just moved here.” And they said, “okay”.
The underlying assumption (aka privilege) of the interaction was that I was innocent, unless there was reason to believe otherwise.
But I’m still thinking about the Valley Swim Club. After hearing John Duesler’s defense/apology, I’m convinced that diversity training or cultural sensitivity training or intercultural communications training or whatever you want to call it, would have yielded an entirely different outcome.
I believe that he believes he is not racist. The problem was that unconscious bias/white privilege was built into how he set up the program. He said “we wanted to do this. We wanted to bring these ‘underprivileged’ (sic) kids into our pool, so that the poor children could have a place to swim (my interpretation).” He approached it from the ‘overprivileged’ giving to the ‘underprivileged.’ There’s ‘us’ and then there’s everybody else.
Intercultural communications would have approached it more from an equal partnership point of view. What’s the common ground where we are meeting? A dialogue might have exposed things, like the kids don’t know how to swim (very common in summer day camps). Or, just basic good event planning, intercultural or otherwise, would have dictated looking into additional lifeguards, bathrooms, etc. to accommodate larger than usual numbers of swimmers.
From a public relations point of view, perhaps welcome signs for the visiting groups, a Public Service Announcement to members: Valley Swim Club celebrates community by opening it’s doors, etc. could have been done in advance, a press/photo release to the local paper…all of this would have made sense, would have deepened the relationship, and ensured a smooth event.
While there is no excuse for the white parents who removed their children from the pool or made racist comments (shame on them), the club, as an institution, could have made this a successful program by being more engaged in what they said they wanted to accomplish.
In intercultural interaction, it’s a given that mistakes will happen. In trainings, we teach tools for anticipating others’ feelings, but mostly for how to own one’s own identity and behavior, and how to respond when mistakes do happen.
I would love to see a ‘do over’ between the organizations because I think both wanted the program to work. Unfortunately, as it stands, there are raw feelings, public animosity, and really bad lessons being taught to the children. This is a fantastic opportunity for a very public demonstration as to how to resolve issues of difference to arrive at deeper undertsanding. In both this case and in the Gates case, I hope the key players are not fired, but rather forced to analyze what went wrong, given the right tools and training and required to publicly make it right.
Maybe Mr. Duesler could visit the day camp, admit that he has ‘egg on his face,’ and let the kids throw eggs at his face.