Black Lives Matter
As a young woman growing up in the South, I was always keenly aware of race, yet not much concerned with it as an issue. Of course, I had the luxury of being disinterested because I was white. I also thought of it as a non-issue because blacks had always been present in my world because my father was a football coach. In our house, competition and physical excellence were what mattered-so these things trumped race. This is not to say that we did not witness or encounter many acts of prejudice, just that we did not fully understand them, nor did their weight register with us.
My sister and I went to a pool that would not allow blacks. We did not think much about the fact that there were no blacks at our pool until one summer when we were at our grandmother’s house in Cartersville, Ga., and saw black kids hanging on the public pool fence, gazing longingly at the water. When we asked our playmates why the black kids were not allowed in the pool, they responded, “Would you want to swim with a n*****?” On another occasion, our family took a vacation to a beach resort in Georgia. My sister and I were playing in the hotel pool with some other (white) children when four black kids entered the pool. The white kids started popping out of the pool like penguins, grabbing their towels and hurriedly exiting. When we realized that all our mates had left, we swam up to my mother who was sitting on the side to ask why. She said, “They got out because those black kids entered. Don’t worry about it. That is their issue, not ours. Now you won’t have to stand in line for the diving board.” To this day, that simple act is one of the things I am most proud about concerning my mother.
It is only now that I am adult that I can fully comprehend what I was a witness to. I can now appreciate the role that pools and water played in racial discrimination in the South- the fact that many communities drained or filled in their pools rather than integrating them; the fact that fundamentally whites thought that blacks were dirty; the fact that whites believed that if blacks were in the water, it was tainted. This understanding is what breaks my heart over the state of racial relations today. As I heard the news of the passing of Stephon Clark, a young man who was shot to death in his own backyard, for nothing other than the fact that he was black, it reminded me of these experiences. Now that segregation is abolished, America needs to deal with our fundamental issue and make this a safer country for people of color. It horrifies me that the reality of young black men is that they will never be able to walk out their homes feeling protected by the people who are employed to protect them. As a mother of two sons I cannot even begin to imagine the sadness that is surrounding their family at this time. Stephon Clark’s loss of life is a true tragedy and should serve as a reminder to the rest of America why we still need movements like Black Lives Matter and voices like Collin Kaepernick’s. America needs to be reminded of our tainted history with race and the effects it still has to this day. We need role models like Lea Neal and Simone Manual who glide through the water with ease and agility. We need Cullen Jones to continue to spread his enthusiasm for swimming to minorities. We need Reece Whitley to excite us with his speed and talent. We need to open our hearts and minds to the tough realities these athletes face and what they overcame. We need to listen to their stories.