A Democratic U.S. Senator who is accused of belonging to an “all-white” beach club in Rhode Island is both denying the claim and defending his membership in a local racial controversy that is making national news.
When confronted and questioned on Friday about his membership to Bailey’s Beach Club in Newport, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse all but confirmed that the establishment with which his wife “is one of the largest shareholders” doesn’t have any “minority members,” as Kate Nagle, the journalist who interviewed him, said.
“I think the people who are running the place are still working on that and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet,” Whitehouse said in response to being asked if there was any traction to have a more racially diverse membership.
Nagle doubled down as Whitehouse began to walk away from her on-the-spot interview, asking him if it’s tone-deaf for a Democratic U.S. Senator to belong to such a club as the country is in the middle of a racial reckoning spurred by injustices to and discrimination of people of color. She also asked Whitehouse if those kinds of “clubs should continue to exist.”
Whitehouse’s response spoke volumes: “It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them and, um, I just think we need to work our way through the issues.”
To be sure, Whitehouse did not denounce the exclusive club and did not refute its description as being “all-white.”
Watch the interview below.
After the video went viral, one of Whitehouse’s reps moved swiftly to do some damage control, the Boston Globe reported.
“The club has no such restrictive policy,” spokesperson Meaghan McCabe said in a statement on Monday. “The club has had and has members of color. The Senator has dedicated his entire career to promoting equity and protecting civil rights, as his record shows.”
It might be tough for some critics to reconcile the comment from Whitehouse’s spokesperson with Whitehouse’s actual words that he willingly spoke. Especially since he changed his tune a bit when asked again about the controversy on Monday.
Whitehouse suggested he misspoke on Friday and said the “tradition” he mentioned was in reference to Bailey’s Beach Club “being a family club, and they’re working on improving diversity,” he said before adding, “I think that’s pretty fair.”
He used his strongest terms with the local NBC affiliate: “There is no discriminatory policy.”
The Globe cited a 2003 New York Times report about Bailey’s Beach Club that addressed the demographics of its membership, writing in part, “Blacks, not really.”
Among Whitehouse’s loudest critics for his club membership are Black Lives Matter leaders in Rhode Island.
“I am ashamed of Senator Whitehouse and his affiliation with this racist club. Him coming out and speaking about ending systemic racism while belonging to a ‘whites only’ private club is hypocrisy as it worst,” Brother Gary Dantzler, Executive Director of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, told GoLocal Providence, the news blog for which Nagle is an editor. “We need to put an end to this good ole boy mentality and hold our elected officials accountable. Black Lives Matter Rhode Island expects the Senator to call this what it is; Jim Crow era racism that’s been lingering around the Black community like a plague. It’s time for real change and equity.
While it is not news that Whitehouse belongs to the club, Friday and Monday marked the most ardent defense of his membership.
The controversy prompted Newsweek to publish an op-ed declaring Whitehouse as the most recent example of Democrats having “an elitism problem.”
This is America.