The last place someone would attribute politics to is the pool. It’s practically a kids bar, a place where under 14 year olds go to chat and lounge over orange juice and the smell of chlorine.
I began working at Miller Pool when I was 16 years old. Walking in fresh faced and naive, the last thing I would ever want to do was disappoint my managers. My managers at the time were both women; one white and one black. They were a powerful duo but obviously, the one who was black had the most in common with me and we quickly became friends.
Amidst our many conversations, one that sticks till today is that of race. Natasha, who has worked for my city, for years, was actually assistant manger. Despite her experience working in pools with “troubled kids” and living in the community, Natasha didn’t believe Emma, who didn’t have as much experience should be Natasha’s boss.
As our conversation progressed, I could see Natasha maybe, for the first time becoming aware of her disadvantage as a black women working for the city. Natasha, black and fat, could never stand a chance against the Cheery and Preppy Blonde that Emma was. Its a story all too familiar for black women in the work force.
Today I go to work and the pool is still as loud as it was when I was 16. There are black children barely containing their excitement running up the stairs, the lifeguards whistling at them to stop. Children playing the color game, and toddlers reluctantly jumping into the pool from the grates. The atmosphere is always full of energy, whether that be positive or negative.
Of the many comments I get working at a pool in the intercity, the worst comes from my coworkers; the lifeguards. Miller Pool lifeguards are paid 2 dollars more than regular lifeguards, as incentive for working in the “ghetto”. My city is severely segregated. The parents of every suburban neighborhood obviously would never allow their children to guard in such a dangerous area. This means, Miller Pool attracts older kids, who may or may not live in predominately white areas but nonetheless are white. The way they talk about these kids, is disheartening and very dehumanizing. Without considering their bias and accessing their environments white lifeguards mock the way black children talk, they collect barrettes as trophies and parade around the pool as if they are warriors carrying the heads of their colonizers, but most blaring and disarming is the constant whistle blowing that is directed towards children who are just… children.
I constantly have to decipher if these lifeguards are talking about children, or criminals.
Its quite clear that lifeguards are not aware of their unconscious bias and are enforcing their own deep-seated fear of black people and continuing to criminalize black children.
The racial disparities between white and black children doesn’t end once school is over, it begins when pools open for summer. Our pool has the most banned and barred children of any other pool in my city. Similarly, black children are more likely to be kicked out or suspended from school than any other race of children all over the nation. It’s not a matter of if black people (or children) are inherently criminal, its an issue of awareness and giving these children what they need. Many participants don’t have access to swim lessons, goggles, or pool toys. Some of them can not even afford to buy swimsuits. Im not even sure if they are fed everyday.
Politics follow us everywhere and its ignorant to turn colorblind when it comes to learning what these children need. My pool is black when there is an incident that requires security but suddenly race should not be taken into account when buying extra goggles or swimsuits to alleviate the problem is brought up.
We are doing a disservice to these kids if we do not put them first. Their safety, their comfort, and and most importantly their humanity.