Let's start with that "town pool:" Hannah Natanson prepped at Georgetown Day, then moved on to Harvard.
She graduated from Harvard last year. This year, the Washington Post dispatched her to the wilds of Franklin County, Virginia, a place where the Klan still runs wild—or so it might seem from Natanson's novelized report.
In last weekend's Franklin County Confidential, Natanson managed to cite the Klan three separate times. At one point, her editors even stooped to the point where they published this paragraph, using Natanson's name:
NATANSON (8/1/20): Sun sparkled off an inflatable bouncy house, and children milled sticky-fingered in the heat, faces half-hidden behind columns of cotton candy. Three officers from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office stood guard, summoned because of rumored plans to disrupt the protest, including a vow that the old boys of Franklin County would ride again that night.According to the editors, there had been "rumors" of "a vow." According to that rumored vow, "the old boys of Franklin County" were going to "ride again."
Given two other explicit referees to the Klan, even the dumbest reader would be able to guess who those "old boys" were supposed to be. Every Post reader knew what it meant when the editors suggested that they'd planned to "ride again."
We're sorry, but no! We don't believe that a Georgetown Day/Harvard alumna really wrote something like that.
In that passage, "Natanson" is reporting a rumor—a rumor about a vow. Sh doesn't say where the rumor was spreading, or who repeated the rumor to her. Her text doesn't quite explain who had supposedly taken the rumored vow.
Especially given the subject matter, we don't believe that a Harvard grad would ever write something like that. We'll assume that paragraph actually came from Natanson's editors who, perhaps a bit like the Klan of old, work under cover of darkness.
Before we're done with this week's reports, we'll look at all three references to the Klan in the Post's embarrassing piece. For today, we'll only say that the references apread quite a smell across Franklin County. Also, that all three references seem inappropriate by normal journakistic standards.
That said, Natanson's piece was less a piece of journalism than a modern American novel. In these thrilling tribal tales, members of the finer class visit some place where Those People live. They return from this heart of darkness eager to share what they've learned, if only about unsourced rumors.
The scribe then falls on his or her fainting couch aa accolades to roll in. Other members of the tribe will rush to praise his or her work.
We'll get to the Klan tomorrow or Friday. For today, let's review the editors' treatment of the "town pool" in Rocky Mount, Franklin County's rather small county seat. (Population of Rocky Mount, roughly 4800.)
First, a quick bit of background. The Post's report features three youngish women who decided to stage a series of Black Lives Matter protests in "extremely white" Franklin County, where all three egrew up and currently live.
Stating the obvious, there's no reason why they shouldn't have done that. It's entirely possible that something good will emerge from their efforts, although there are no huarantees.
That said, we're focusing here on the Washington Post, not on those three youngish women. In part, we're wondering why the Washington Post would publish a statement like this:
NATANSON: No one expected the protests following [George] Floyd’s killing to reach Franklin County. Not its White people, not its young people and certainly not its older Black residents, who fought to integrate the schools in the 1960s before watching—with horror that gave way, over decades, to dull despair—as things settled back to how they’d been, with Black people living as second-class citizens in fact, if no longer in law.We don't know if Natanson composed that passage, but someone at the Post did.
That paragraph contains some truly remarkable statements. Most strikingly, it says that black citizens of Franklin County are currently "living as second-class citizens." More specificlly, they're "living as second-class citizens in fact, if no longer in law."
According to the Post, a past generation of reformers fought for change in Franklin County, then watched in horror and despair as "things settled back to how they’d been."
Those are truly remarkable claims. The Post makes exactly zero attempt to justify those remarkable claims, or even to specify what they're supposed to mean.
In what way are black people in Franklin County "living as second-class citizens?" What exactly does the Post mean when it says that "things" in Franklin County "settled back to how they'd been?"
Are we talking about the public schools, which are specifically referenced in that passage? Are the public schools segregated again, as schools once were, as a matter of law, all through the state of Virginia?
Are we talking about some other aspect of life in Franklin County? Are we talking about the conduct of local police? Are we talking abut the operation of local courts?
At no point does the Post attempt to say—unless, perhaps, we're talking about the Rocky Mount "town pool." For today, let's examine the clownish way that part of this novel unfolds.
In the passage shown below, the Post refers to Bridgette Craighead, age 29, one of the three women who decided to stage the protests. As the passage starts, we hear about a well-maintained pool to which she can't take her son:
NATANSON: It was a lazy Saturday, sunny and protest-free, and Craighead waded farther into the lake. She called to her 4-year-old son, Bronsyn, who was standing with fists clenched on the shore.Good lord! There's a well-maintained pool in the center of town to which Craighead still can't take her son? He's learning to swim up at Smith Mountain Lake, the same place where she had to learn how to swim?
“C’mon, baby boy,” she said. “Don’t be scared. It’s just water.”
She reached down and let brown water dribble from her cupped hands, meant to entice him. She wished for the thousandth time that she could take her son to the well-maintained pool located in the middle of Rocky Mount, just behind the Sheetz, where she had begged to go as a child. Instead, she’d learned to swim here, in Smith Mountain Lake, a roughly 45-minute drive from home.
By this part of the Post's report, we've already heard about The Hub restaurant, where black people still aren't (or in fact, it seems, now actually are) permitted to eat inside! We've already been treated to our first reference to the Klan.
Now it sounds like there's a pool right in the center of town where Craighead can't take her son! As we continue, the Post pours it on, and employs a peculiar construction:
NATANSON (continuing directly): The town pool was for members only, and Craighead had never met a Black Rocky Mount resident who was a member. Growing up, when Craighead asked her parents about it, they said a membership was needed to swim there. They skirted any discussion of race.Good God! As it turns out, the well-maintained pool which "black people can't go to" is, in fact, the Rocky Mount "town pool!" Who would think that, even today, a town pool like that could exist?
A week earlier, Craighead had decided she was done skirting.
“Let’s talk,” she wrote on Facebook, “about the Rocky Mount swim club that black people can’t go to.”
The post drew dozens of comments. “My momma always told me ‘Black people aren’t allowed there,’ ” one Black woman wrote. “My mama and aunt [used to] tell me the exact same thing,” wrote another.
“We were all told that as kids here,” offered a third. “They never even tried to hide it.”
Our righteous anger began to boil over—but then, a question arose. It stemmed from a rather strange turn of phrase. Our question went like this:
What kind of "town pool" is "for members only?" Needless to say, the answer turned out to be this:
It's the kind of "town pool" which isn't a town pool at all! The kind of town pool which is, in fact, a fee-based private club:
NATANSON (continuing directly): A couple of days later, a woman phoned Craighead and introduced herself as a board member of Brookside Swim Club. She explained the club’s membership fees and promised to raise the lack of diversity at the next board meeting. A few days later, the club made a public Facebook post: “The pool has two shares of stock for sale—$700.00 per share.”Interesting! As it turns out, the "town pool" to which the Post referred isn't a town pool at all! It's a private club known as the Brookside Swim Club. It sounds like there's an initiation fee of $700 per person, plus an annual fee of $285 per year.
Jessica Slough, another board member, said in an interview that the club has some Black members, but that she does not know how many. “I don’t know how things worked in the past,” she said, “but it’s been equal opportunity for at least 12 years."
Craighead considered the call an early hint of progress. Her friends agreed: No real change would come until Franklin County hired more Black teachers, reformed the laws that put too many Black bodies behind bars, and passed a stimulus package creating Black jobs and boosting Black-owned businesses. On the advice of Penny Edwards Blue, who is mentoring the trio, they planned to split their chapter of Black Lives Matter into three committees: education, law and the economy.
But conversations were a start. And more kept happening.
We base that on some amazingly clumsy writing by the Post, mixed with information from the club's Facebook page.
People, can we talk? Private swim/golf/country clubs exist wherever you look. Quite literally, there's a private swim and tennis club less than one block from where we sit as we type on this very day.
In large part, we don't swim in that club's pool because its membership fees are too high. People of every conceivable "race" don't belong to private swim clubs for this very reason—and no, they aren't "town pools."
In response to her irate Facebook post, Craighead received what sounds like a perfectly civil communication from an official of this particular club. Concerning the Post, please note these journalistic groaners:
Does this club have black members? The Post report doesn't say.
How many black members does the club have? The Post shows no real sign of having tried to find out.
Concerning swimming in Rocky Mount, the town does have a YMCA. According to its official web site, anyone can use its pool, though there is a daily fee.
Presumably, Craighead had to pay a daily fee to swim at Smith Mountain Lake, where Franklin County maintains a public swimming area. Also, the YMCA web site provides a link which says this:
Financial assistance form:Could Craighead be using the local Y to teach her son to swim? There is no sign that the Washington Post made any attempt to find out.
The Y is here for everyone in the community regardless of their ability to pay.
Instead, they treated us to shrieks of complaint about the well-maintained town pool "that black people can’t go to.” Except the town pool isn't a town pool, and it sounds like black people do swim there.
It's hard to find sufficient words to explain how pathetic that journalism is. That said, this is very much the way our own failing tribe now plays.
We don't believe, not for a minute, that a Harvard graduate actually wrote that embarrassing passage about the town pool. We don't believe that Natanson wrote that. But someone at the Post did!
We'll close with this restatement:
One half-block away, as we sit here and type, there exists a swim/tennis club. We don't swim in its big, wet pool because its membership fees are too high.
People of every conceivable race don't belong to pools of this type for that very reason. Also, no one but the Washington Post refers to them as "town pools."
This is the way our failing tribe plays. Can anything good come from this?
Tomorrow: In what way are black people "second-class citizens" in Franklin County? Tomorrow, we plan to start with this:
"[Craighead's] friends agreed: No real change would come until Franklin County hired more Black teachers, reformed the laws that put too many Black bodies behind bars, and passed a stimulus package creating Black jobs and boosting Black-owned businesses."Is that what's wrong with Franklin County? Tomorrow, we plan to start there.