“Do you remember being the only little White girl who would swim in the public pool?”
Three times in as many months I have been asked this question by as many hometown African American lady friends.
The answer? Honestly? No.
“Do you remember teaching the Black kids how to swim?”
Sort of. I remember that if you couldn’t swim, you couldn’t play in the deep end. You couldn’t play with me. I remember that I was lucky enough to get swimming lessons. I remember that everybody’s Mama and Daddy couldn’t afford to give them lessons every summer.
Here’s what else I remember. I remember that I lived right across the street from the swimming pool – the cat bird seat, if you will. I remember that it was a sparkling oasis of ice cold, blue chlorination in an otherwise miserably hot, dry South Alabama town. I remember that I had a lot of friends and we played Marco Polo, and raced, and did crazy dives off the diving board.
I remember that if my grandfather took me to the creek, there were no other children to play with. It was just me. And Baw. And the river.
Now that you mention it, though, most of those pool friends were, indeed, Black. Now that you mention it, I do remember getting called nasty names, names that I will not repeat, because of who my friends were. Now that you mention it, I didn’t care what those hateful people said then — and I don’t care now. They weren’t going to change me. They weren’t going to stop me from playing with my friends. They weren’t going to stop me from going to the pool.
I remember thinking, how sad for them that they feel that way. How sad that they would deny themselves the fun of the public pool because of their prejudice. How sad that they would give up a whole afternoon of playing with some of the most fun people I knew just because of the color of their skin.
Back then, back in the early 70s, a few people felt compelled to say hateful, ugly things, but they had to approach me, look me in the eye, and speak their awful words out loud. They had to risk the possibility of a swift kick in the shins. Now though, thanks to social media, people are able to spew their vitriol right out in public for all the world to see — a glowing screen separating them from the real world and the black and blue consequences. And spew they do. Freely. Recklessly. Thoughtlessly.
Freedom of Speech is a right that we all have. It is a right I am thankful for, just like I am thankful for all of the freedoms we are granted by virtue of the fact that we are Americans. Freedoms that are unique to us, to the United States. Freedoms that many, many other people would give anything for. But just because you have this right, doesn’t mean you have to exercise it. As Granny used to say, sometimes it is better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.
This election season, played out on Facebook, has shown me an unprecedented amount of ignorance, selfishness, and hate. I have seen some of the most disgusting displays of prejudice — racial, gender, economical, sexual orientation — you name it. Forget about the least of these! Forget about loving thy neighbor as thyself! To hell with you, Samaritan!
Well I wasn’t raised that way. I was raised by a Mother who took groceries to shut-ins no matter what side of the tracks they lived on. I was raised by a Father who taught English at a historically Black community college during the Civil Rights era. They instilled in me that you should help those who could not help themselves without question, without judgment. I was raised to stand up for what I thought was right and to defend those weaker than me. I was raised to treat everyone – old, young, Black, White, rich, poor – with courtesy and with respect. I was raised at the pool.
Don’t be alone at the river. Alone with hate, greed, and prejudice. Why don’t you come to the pool and play in the deep end with me?