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June 15, 2015 2

Swimming Pools and Segregation: A Long History

Universal Pops / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 Public swimming pool in Raleigh, NC closed by the city after four black males went swimming with two white companions in 1962; this demonstration was part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Uni­ver­sal Pops / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Pub­lic swim­ming pool in Raleigh, NC closed by the city after four black males went swim­ming with two white com­pan­ions in 1962; this demon­stra­tion was part of the Civil Rights Move­ment efforts.

The lat­est police inci­dent caught on video cap­tures a police offi­cer out­side a com­mu­nity pool who appears to be wav­ing his gun at young par­ty­go­ers who approached him as he tried to sub­due and even­tu­ally hold down a teenage girl. She was wear­ing a bikini because she was at a pool party.

The party was held at the com­mu­nity pool in the Craig Ranch North sub­di­vi­sion, which is pre­dom­i­nately white although McK­in­ney, Texas is racially diverse. A group of African Amer­i­can teens heard about the party on social media. Not long after they arrived, allegedly a nearby white res­i­dent, began to harass the teenagers and one woman told them to “go back to Sec­tion 8 hous­ing.” In a state­ment, the Police Depart­ment said offi­cers arrived at the pool respond­ing to a call about a “dis­tur­bance involv­ing mul­ti­ple juve­niles at the loca­tion, who do not live in the area or have per­mis­sion to be there, refus­ing to leave.” Sev­eral adults at the pool report­edly placed calls to the police.

After the inci­dent, Eric Case­bolt, the police offi­cer, was placed on admin­is­tra­tive leave and resigned a few days later. The video and story went viral. The sig­nif­i­cance and sym­bol­ism of it not only res­onated because of the larger con­text of polic­ing and race rela­tions, but also because it revolved around a pool and Black and white peo­ple swim­ming together in that pool. It is a teach­able moment.

Pub­lic swim­ming, race and seg­re­ga­tion have a long and dif­fi­cult his­tory in this coun­try, dat­ing back to the early 20th cen­tury. Between 1920 and 1940, swim­ming as a pas­time became increas­ingly pop­u­lar and the num­ber of pub­lic pools being built sky­rock­eted. By the 1960s, Amer­i­can use of pub­lic swim­ming pools declined dra­mat­i­cally. Accord­ing to Jeff Wiltse, author of Con­tested Waters: A Social His­tory of Swim­ming Pools in Amer­ica, this decline was the direct result of deseg­re­ga­tion.  Although some white peo­ple were com­fort­able with the deseg­re­ga­tion of cer­tain pub­lic domains, it seemed the major­ity of them—both from the North and South—shared the belief that swim­ming pools should be exempt from racial integration.

Swim­ming pools are unique in that they do not just require swim­mers to share a space—rather, swim­mers must share an inti­mate space. In addi­tion to con­cerns of “con­t­a­m­i­na­tion,” whites had a deep and wide­spread fear of inter­ra­cial romance and dat­ing. Despite laws against seg­re­ga­tion, African Amer­i­cans were often met with angry and some­times vio­lent crowds of white peo­ple when try­ing to use a pub­lic pool. Although these crowds had some ini­tial suc­cess in deter­ring blacks from swim­ming, even­tu­ally inte­gra­tion laws were more strictly enforced and whites had to go else­where if they wanted to avoid swim­ming with African Amer­i­cans. With this dra­matic decrease in swim­mers, many pub­lic pools closed and white Amer­i­cans joined pri­vate pool clubs where the gov­ern­ment did not yet enforce inte­gra­tion. How­ever, even in 1973, when a court order man­dated an end to racial exclu­sion at pri­vate clubs, white Amer­i­cans con­tin­ued to avoid swim­ming with blacks by build­ing and solely using res­i­den­tial swim­ming pools.

Even though the United States has com­pre­hen­sive civil rights leg­is­la­tion which deems seg­re­ga­tion ille­gal, overt and implicit bias con­tin­ues to make its way into our schools, vot­ing places, res­i­dences and other pub­lic and pri­vate spaces.  Laws are crit­i­cal but they are not enough to fun­da­men­tally impact the hearts and minds of our citizens.

For edu­ca­tors, fam­i­lies and oth­ers who inter­act with chil­dren and youth, you can:

  • Talk with young peo­ple about the his­tory of racism, seg­re­ga­tion and the strug­gle for equal rights, using the Civil Rights Move­ment as an exam­ple of how activism can bring about change through leg­isla­tive means.  Talk with them about the civil rights issues today and what can be done to reverse those injustices.
  • Teach and talk about the ways that implicit bias con­tin­ues to per­me­ate our insti­tu­tions, seg­re­gat­ing peo­ple along racial lines and cre­at­ing advan­tages for some and dis­crim­i­na­tion for oth­ers through polic­ing and the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, our schools, vot­ing rights and more.
  • Find real oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple of dif­fer­ent racial and eth­nic groups to work, study and play together.  Research shows that when peo­ple of dif­fer­ent racial/ethnic groups inter­act with each other reg­u­larly, stereo­typ­ing and prej­u­dice are dimin­ished. Sim­i­larly, expos­ing stu­dents to accu­rate infor­ma­tion about other groups allows them to learn about sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences and they are less likely to take on biased atti­tudes and beliefs. There­fore, it is impor­tant to include dif­fer­ent peo­ple and per­spec­tives in your class­room cur­ricu­lum and expose chil­dren and teens to dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple through books and other media.

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April 27, 2015 5

We Are Family: Making Classrooms Inclusive for All Families

?????????????????????In Stella Brings the Fam­ily, a recently pub­lished children’s book, a young girl’s teacher announces that the chil­dren can bring a spe­cial guest to school in cel­e­bra­tion of Mother’s Day. Stella frets—at first silently and then publicly—because she doesn’t have a mother and every­one else does. Stella has two dads. Her teacher unin­ten­tion­ally causes pain and stress for Stella and her class­mates won­der aloud who does all the things for Stella that moth­ers typ­i­cally do. The story ends well because Stella finds a solu­tion by invit­ing her Dads and mem­bers of her extended fam­ily to the festivities.

As we enter the sea­son of Mother’s and Father’s Day, it is impor­tant to remem­ber that Stella’s sit­u­a­tion is famil­iar in class­rooms across the country—both because there are many kinds of fam­i­lies and because most teach­ers often default to tra­di­tional con­cepts of fam­ily (i.e. two-parent, het­ero­sex­ual house­holds), not always real­iz­ing the harm that causes. Unfor­tu­nately, many of these sit­u­a­tions like Stella’s do not resolve hap­pily as her story does. Mak­ing the assump­tion that most chil­dren reside in one kind of fam­ily is prob­lem­atic on many levels.

Assump­tions about fam­i­lies often aren’t accu­rate. Less than half (46%) of U.S. chil­dren under 18 live in a home with two, mar­ried, het­ero­sex­ual par­ents in their first mar­riage. Accord­ing to the 2010 U.S. cen­sus, 220,000 chil­dren live in same-sex cou­ple house­holds. More than 24 mil­lion chil­dren live in sin­gle par­ent house­holds, rep­re­sent­ing 34% of total chil­dren. In 2013, 402,000 chil­dren were liv­ing in fos­ter care and 7% of all chil­dren lived in the home of their grandparents.

Despite these num­bers, well-meaning edu­ca­tors reg­u­larly make assump­tions about children’s home lives. These incor­rect assump­tions can cause chil­dren like Stella and oth­ers to feel badly and send an inac­cu­rate mes­sage to all young peo­ple about the cur­rent real­ity of our nation’s fam­i­lies.  Whether teach­ers have none, one, some or many chil­dren in their class­room who don’t fit the “tra­di­tional fam­ily” per­cep­tion, it is impor­tant to be inclu­sive and accu­rate about what fam­ily means.

For preschool and ele­men­tary age chil­dren, fam­ily is a huge part of their lives and often an inte­gral part of the cur­ricu­lum. For Mother’s and Father’s Day and through­out the year, it is impor­tant to be thought­ful about how to cre­ate class­rooms where all chil­dren feel included, affirmed and com­fort­able to be them­selves. Here are some sug­ges­tions for mak­ing that happen:

  • In dis­cus­sions about fam­ily, actively dis­cour­age the con­cept of a “tra­di­tional,” “aver­age” or “nor­mal” fam­ily. Work to broaden children’s def­i­n­i­tion of fam­ily, empha­siz­ing that fam­ily is not based on struc­ture or spe­cific mem­bers but rather, liv­ing arrange­ments, love, shar­ing home respon­si­bil­i­ties and com­mon activ­i­ties and tra­di­tions. Begin­ning at a young age, acknowl­edge that there are many kinds of fam­i­lies and bring that into your dis­cus­sions of home and fam­ily. Use books and other media in your class­room that fea­ture many kinds of fam­i­lies.
  • As a school, eval­u­ate the mes­sages you con­vey through lan­guage, poli­cies and pro­ce­dures. Re-think forms, per­mis­sions slips and other pro­ce­dures that explic­itly ask for “mother” and “father” iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion. Instead, change these des­ig­na­tions to parent/guardian across the board. In talk­ing with chil­dren, use terms like par­ents and guardians or adult fam­ily mem­bers rather than moth­ers and fathers. Think care­fully and find alter­na­tives to “father-daughter” dances and sim­i­lar activities.
  • In early child­hood and ele­men­tary class­rooms where these hol­i­days are typ­i­cally cel­e­brated, teach­ers should get to know their stu­dents and fam­ily sit­u­a­tions to avoid mak­ing some chil­dren feel left out. If you are going to com­mem­o­rate Mother’s and Father’s Day, con­sider mak­ing the day more gen­eral like “Fam­ily Day” or “Parent/Guardian Day.” If you decide to go ahead with the lan­guage of Mother’s and Father’s Day, be more inclu­sive and allow chil­dren to include other female and male fam­ily mem­bers or friends such as aunts, uncles, grand­par­ents, fam­ily friends, etc. If chil­dren have two moms or two dads, allow them to cre­ate two cards/gifts for these occasions.

Rather than caus­ing dis­tress, hol­i­days and obser­vances should be an occa­sion for bring­ing chil­dren together, shar­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences and help­ing every­one feel included.

 

 

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April 16, 2015 3

Yom Hashoah: The Renewed Importance of Remembering

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Holo­caust Remem­brance Day is com­mem­o­rated each year a week after the end of the Passover hol­i­day, a day when the world pauses  to remem­ber the Holo­caust, the mil­lions who died and those who lived on, many to tell their sto­ries to a gen­er­a­tion born more than half a cen­tury later. To the younger among us, the Holo­caust can feel like ancient his­tory. Why is it impor­tant that we remem­ber? And why do we con­tinue to utter the man­date of Never Again, when the real­ity is that geno­cide has occurred again and again in parts of the world today.

It is often said that our youngest gen­er­a­tion will be the last to meet and hear sur­vivors tell their own sto­ries, and those that have this priv­i­lege are unlikely to ever for­get it. There are impor­tant lessons to be learned from sur­vivors’ words and expe­ri­ences, lessons that still have rel­e­vance to stu­dents’ lives today. One impor­tant les­son is about the ten­dency of hate to esca­late when it is unchecked.  When we wit­ness every­day acts of insen­si­tiv­ity, bias or intol­er­ance, it’s easy to turn our backs and walk away, to avoid get­ting involved. Many did just that in Europe sev­enty years ago, and that sub­tle bias was able to grow and fes­ter like a can­cer.  A wise per­son once reminded us that the Holo­caust did not begin at the gates of con­cen­tra­tion camps. It began with words – words that grew into prej­u­dice and then acts of dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias-motivated vio­lence and finally genocide.

We remem­ber the Holo­caust because of our hope that the world will never go through dark­ness as deep as that, but also because we know that the mil­lions who did not sur­vive to tell their sto­ries took with them a world of lost pos­si­bil­i­ties. They would want to know that they were not for­got­ten. And because today’s youth will be the last to hear sur­vivors speak in per­son, there is a renewed impor­tance to find­ing new ways to keep their sto­ries alive.

But how do we do that?  And how do we inspire in one another the moti­va­tion to make Never Again the real­ity the world longs for?  We can begin by tak­ing a moment wher­ever we are to remem­ber those who died. We can be wit­nesses who carry on the sto­ries we have heard to oth­ers.  We can ensure that stu­dents today have oppor­tu­ni­ties to reflect on the lessons of the Holo­caust and to hear the sto­ries of sur­vivors, resisters and res­cuers.  And we can take the time to stop and take a stand against the insen­si­tive, biased and intol­er­ant words and acts that hap­pen around us. Work­ing together, we may even turn the hope of Never Again into a global reality.

Yom Hashoah will be observed on the fol­low­ing dates:

Thurs­day, April 16, 2015 Thurs­day, May 5, 2016 Mon­day, April 24, 2017 Thurs­day, April 12, 2018

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