In 2009, a Philadelphia swim club was visited by a bunch of African American Kids in a summer program. The kids ranging in ages of 5-12 (I think), were supposed to use the pool but unfortunately their summertime fun was prematurely cut short. Instead what they got was club members asking there were “black kids” in the pool and “are they going to steal from us?” In response the concern of the members, the club asked the summer program kids to leave. Of course, this made the news and I was appalled. Three years have gone by. The swim club has gone under. Declared bankruptcy and come to a settlement agreement with the victims. I am happy. Sad that it happened because those experiences never get erased. But glad that they have come to a resolution. Now, below are some thoughts that have been brewing inside me for the past three years regarding this issue. For those of you that know me, don’t take it personal. I believe in open and honest communication. So, take it with a grain of salt and appreciate the fact that I am sharing it finally. It would be worse if I just let it sit and brew some more. Enjoy!
This swimming pool discrimination article represented a Turning Point in my life because it kind of brought me to the painful realization that “racial injustice” is not a thing of importance to many of the people that I know or that smile at me and call me “friend” whenever they see me in a public settings. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised? I don’t know. I guess I naively thought that most of my friends, especially those who have actively shared life with me as fellow christians, would naturally gravitate towards the sense of “horror, outrage, appall, righteous anger…” that I as an African American felt when I read the story of the awful experience these innocent young kids had to go through. Not only that, I expected that this same circle of “friends” would be absolutely appalled (just like I was), that such actions still “blatantly” occurred in the 21st century. I mean… come on! The last time I heard of such a acts was when I read about the jim crow and the civil rights era. Yeah Apartheid definitely lasted into the 20th century but then, that was not in the good ole… U.S of A…
Still trying to recover from the shock that such overt discriminatory acts actually took place, I posted this article on my Facebook wall in 2009. 2009, A year after the election. A year after “Obama” became the first African American President of the USA. A year of heightened conflict between the political factions in congress. A year when there was such a chasmic divide not only between politicians but between everyone who had an opinion about all the various issues plaguing the nation – Healthcare, the economy, the bailout, Social Security, Taxes.. and oh I almost forgot, the president’s “oh so daring idea” to publicly address school children and give them a pep talk about the importance of education and staying in school. How dare he! (insert sarcastic voice).
I remember all these topics because that year I was intentional with my Facebook article posts. I intentionally posted a myriad of articles on all of these topics in order to stir up a healthy debate (at least I hoped they would be healthy). I enjoyed it. I loved hearing everyone’s thoughts even if I did not agree with them. And trust me, there was A LOT of debate and points of view from people from left, right and center, especially on issues like Healthcare, Taxes and the president audacious act of addressing school kids on national TV (smh!). The spectrum was well covered. I noticed quite a high percentage of participation amongst a “certain” segment of my FB friends and that was great. It was invigorating.
The swimming pool incident happened. As usual, I posted the article. I was still trying to recover from the shock I was feeling after reading it. I felt like I was there. At the pool, with these kids. I felt like one of them. These kids, I could relate to them. They look like me. For some odd reason (or maybe not odd..) although I did not know them I felt their pain, embarrassment, anger, confusion, helplessness, frustration and everything in between. The emotions made my heart burn with pain, and my eyes welled up with tears (I hate when that happens and its not often either) …. as I posted this article on my page and I waited anxiously, ( in retrospect I blame my naiveté), expecting that the same people who were so passionate about their disdain or support for the healthcare bill, the proposed tax changes, the president speaking to school kids…. would for some reason find this issue of blatant racial discrimination towards kids just as important (and dare I say “un christlike”) and worthy of a passionate debate.
But to my utter dismay….
Nothing. There was hardly one substantive comment in response. There were a couple of “minnesota nice” acknowledgements of the situation. The typical “How awful” kinda comments, but nothing noteworthy. No passion. No debate. No outcry. Nothing. Nada.
My eyes were opened to the realities of life and the people that surround me. That day I realized that although many of the people I know claim to stand against injustice, claim to understand history (or maybe not) and the impact it has had on various racial segments of the society, maintain that there is equality and equal opportunity and use that as an argument for or against policies that have been implemented to ensure a more level playing field…, when it comes down to it, they don’t even have enough passion do decry this awful act because they have never had the “privilege” to experience even an ounce of it. That day I realized that my color afforded me the “privilege” to feel the experience of these kids to the depths of my soul and most likely none of my White friends will ever have to experience that. That day, I understood one more meaning of “privilege”. Depending on who you are, its either a negative or a positive. Unfortunately for these kids and for me, we have had the experience and its indescribably painful.
My eyes were opened and I saw things differently. I did not like what was revealed to me but I appreciated that it was revealed. That day it dawned on me that I most likely would be screwed if we were living in the 1960’s and my friends operated with this same manner of complacency. Actually I remember thinking “Crap, we most likely would still be fighting a battle for basic civil rights 50yrs later and we definitely would not have had any Freedom Riders.”
I still think back to that day when realization struck me like a bolt of lightning and the words of Desmond Tutu, a man I greatly admire and respect, come to my mind – “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
And so the next day…
I became a quasi sociologist and experimented by intentionally posting something about Obama…
The passionate conversations reignited.
And for the first time… I was disappointed.
I don’t like what I see but I feel better now 🙂