A Florida lawyer is the latest black person to have her family get harassed for using their pool by a white person who never got the desegregation memo.
Nadia Policard and her kids were reportedly enjoying quiet time by the pool when a white woman approached and informed them that the pool was for residents only.
“So the kids and I are at the pool today minding our own business. I’m on my computer WORKING,” Policard wrote on Facebook. “Ask my son to snap a photo of me (for the Insta) when lady pictured here asks me where I live and tells me this pool is only for residents! So I tell her I am,” she wrote.
“Then she asks me where I live. I ask why she thinks I am not a resident. Then tells me they’ve had “a problem with non-residents bringing truckloads of people to the pool.” So I ask her, “Do the three of us look like a truckload to you? What is the real issue?” She tells me she’s the “Queen of the Pool” and has never seen me here.”
The two had a stand-off. “And we stare at each other. I can tell she is deciding what to say next. THEN, she tells me if I don’t live here I should leave,” Policard wrote. “And I tell her that I already told her I was a resident. She asked me for my building number but I ignored her. She persisted so I told her. And she storms off!! I wish I had a truckload of friends who could show up right now. And by friends, I mean my friends of color because we all know this is what is going on here.”
“I guess we can’t even enjoy pizza and the pool with our kids. I was made to feel like a criminal and a trespasser in my own neighborhood. And I should add, this is a gated community, with a security guard 24/7. They are thorough. Truckloads of people are NOT coming in.”
Jeff Wiltse, a historian focused on the social, cultural, and political dimensions of American public life, tells Raw Story that pools have a unique place in US race and class history. He has some ideas about why white people keep panicking when they see black people using a pool.
“I think there are two things that explain why incidents like this are happening this summer. One is that swimming pools are intimate public spaces,” he says. “They’re visually intimate, in that people show themselves and see others unclothed. Pools are also physically intimate—it’s the same enclosed body of water with other people. Swimmers intuitively sense they’re sharing same enclosed body of water is tantamount to physical contact with other people.”
“And there’s a social intimacy to pool use,” he notes. “People socialize, chat, flirt. For all these reasons historically Americans have been very protective of kind of the social use of pools,” Wiltse says. “We’ve policed who’s allowed to use pools, who’s not allowed to use pools… we pay careful attention of who’s using pools because of intimacy involved.”
Wiltse runs through the fascinating (and unsurprisingly awful) history. In the South, pools were officially segregated through much of the 20th century. In the North, you had de facto segregation: pools were policed with the threat of violence. “It was white swimmers using intimidation and violence to intimidate black swimmers using a pool for whites,” he says. Cities also built public pools in places too hard for black people to access.
When blacks began to migrate to North America’s urban centers in the Great Migration, they were forced to take the worst industrial jobs and so were swiftly deemed “dirty” in the imagination of urban whites. It didn’t help that around that time, white America became obsessed with the idea that black men wanted to rape white women (see: “Birth of a Nation).
“At the time, whites did not want black men to have the opportunity to interact with white women in such an intimate space. There were fears of interracial marriage, because pools is where you’d do socializing or making a date,” Wiltse says.
In the 1950s and 1960s, as middle class white people fled the cities, urban public pools were essentially left in disarray. Meanwhile, white people started private clubs where they could access pools while denying the privilege to Jews, people of color—whoever happened to be deemed undesirable.
So what does this have to do with 2018? Wiltse tells Raw Story that due to a confluence of social, racial and culture factors, Americans tend to engage in recreational activities with people of the same race and class. So seeing someone that doesn’t seem like they “belong” in an otherwise white leisure space triggers anxiety.
By the way, that doesn’t just apply to proud racists. Well-meaning liberals tend to like diversity in theory, Wiltse points out, but when they see someone that doesn’t seem to ‘belong’ in the same place as their own kids, the abstract value of tolerance and diversity tends to fly out the window.
“Social separation today is not nearly as pervasive today but it’s still there. There’s a lot of social separation. Go to a private club in the suburbs: you’re unlikely to see someone who’s not white.”
The racist history of pools is deadly. Because many white people learned how to swim as a matter of course, black people are far more likely to drown: black kids are more than five times more likely to die in the water.
“We have an ideological commitment to diversity—which a lot of Americans have—and a different actual social experience with diversity, both with class and race.”