In 1949, a black woman named Violet Barker won a [fencing] competition and with it the right to attend the Fencers Club, then a bastion of white privilege. A senior executive tore up her letter of admission as he told her, "We don't let niggers fence here."
A little over three years ago, when we first arrived in New York City, A began lessons in the Very Old, Very Monied, and Very Elite Fencing Club of New York, which bears some resemblance to the club mentioned in the above quote (erm, how much exactly, I'll never tell). I myself did not have much money, but I paid for A's lessons, once a week. When I asked about the originally-minority fencing underdog group (OMFUG) that used the Club space on weekends, one parent informed me, "Oh, well, there is only ONE TYPE OF KID that attends that group." In other words, only poor, black kids. But it was the manner in which that parent talked about the originally-minority fencing underdog group that was odd. Don't the medalists attend that group, I thought? In the meantime, I didn't want to disassociate myself from the "right people" at the Club.
And then, fencing lessons eventually got out of my financial reach.
The OMFUG produces medals. Its primary coach is half-African-American, half-Japanese, and he was the last American to win a medal in fencing for the U.S., in 1984. Two outstanding fencers -- both Olympians, both minorities, and one was recently ranked #1 in the World-- oversee the OMFUG. At the urging of my very petite Togolese Buddhist friend, whose kids already compete in the Fencing Nationals, I took A to the OMFUG. I observed a bunch of Asian kids alongside the black kids, while their very serious-looking Asian parents carefully observing their every lunge and parry (my personal note: Asian parents seem to sniff out the really good sports/educational programs from miles and miles away). Some white kids. Some mixed kids. A handful of Russian kids. Before the fencing commenced, there was a lot of rules-giving, a lot of pep-talk, a lot of motivational speaking. All the kids were really digging it.
"I love this group, mom," reported A. "I don't really mind if I don't use the Club during the week. There are Olympians in this group."
Right. And did I mention the OMFUG charges $25 for the year?
Lesson learned: If you really want it, don't be a snob, research the possibilities that are out there, and jump in. Your kid might get a better education out of it.