Swimming While Black

by Vanessa Rivers

I don’t know if my parents could swim, but I never remembered them taking me swimming, and of course, they never paid for any lessons, bottom line, I never learned how to swim.  Through the years, I have enrolled and attended 3 swimming lesson sessions that lasted 4-6 weeks, and I still don’t know how to “swim”.  Sure, I’ve got a little “back stroke”, and a “froggy stroke”, but that’s it.  My biggest problem is that I don’t like water in my face, I can’t hold my breath very long because I have Asthma, and if I stop to stand up, and I can’t feel the bottom, well, let’s say, it’s not a pretty sight.  I almost drowned once at a beautiful waterfall on the island of Guam, luckily my friend was able to save me.  Because of my challenging history with swimming, I made sure that my children learned.  I wanted them to enjoy swimming, and not be so afraid like I am, and most importantly, be able to save themselves if need be.

There has been a rash of 911 calls made by white people, who are having a problem with black people swimming, or just being around a pool.  There was a white apartment manager who called the cops on a black man at a pool with “socks” on, oh my!  The black woman who he was with at the pool was a resident, did I mention, that she was a resident who’s rent entitles her to enjoy that pool like all other residents and their guests.  There was a random white man who called the cops on a black woman who refused to prove to HIM, that she indeed was a resident, which entitles her and her guest to enjoy the pool like all other residents.

Segregation prevented black people from going to public swimming pools because white people didn’t think that they should have to share the same chorine filled water with a black body.  This exclusion was the reason many black people never learned how to swim, especially in the cities.  In the 60’s, there was an incident in Florida where the manager poured “acid” into the pool while a group of black people were swimming.   As you can imagine, many people were burned by this act of “domestic terrorism”, and of course, no one went to jail because of it.   I’ve experienced my own minor incident during my cruise last month.  No one wanted to be in the same jacuzzi with me.  When I figured out what was going on, I purposely stayed in there, way longer than I had planned, because I just wanted to see, how long they would wait.  I stayed in there so long, that a month later, I still have the tan lines.  As soon as I got out, it was if they “flew” into that water.

I read once, that “racism” not only hurts the person being “discriminated”, it also hurts the one who is doing the “discrimination”, and in all these cases it is true.  The apartment manager lost her job…GOOD!  The man who felt he had the right to monitor the pool, didn’t get to enjoy his day at the pool, and his identity is circulating on the internet now, I wonder if it was worth it to him, because he may lose his job.  The people on the cruise didn’t get to enjoy their” hot tub time”, since there was only one operational.  In my case it was minor, but when white people call 911 for a cop to come and “handle these black people”, which equates to us not being wanted in “white spaces”, it can escalate into something that comes “off the rails” quickly, and someone black could end up dead.

We need white people to stop calling your “cousin cop” to come and have your backs and leave us the hell alone.  Since 1865, black people have just wanted to live their best lives possible, and white people just, won’t, let, it, go!  Let it go!  Stop calling the police on us while we are just #LivingWhileBlack

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