Swimming Pool As Social Barometer of Racism

Swimming Pool As Social Barometer of Racism

America’s swimming pools have a long, sad, racist history

From The Washington Post

Seldom, if ever, is this forum used to present significant societal issues.  The swimming pool is generally associated with fun, relaxation, recreation and exercise, not as a reflection of cultural and societal norms.  This post from The Washington Post takes a different tact on the public swimming pool, illuminating the fact that perhaps no other vehicle better mirrors the societal attitudes towards race and racism better than the local public swimming pool.

Here is an excerpt from the post:

Swimming pools have long been contested spaces where Americans express social prejudices that otherwise remain publicly unspoken. (Though the McKinney pool isn’t open to the general public, it was being used by a resident to host a party with friends from outside the neighborhood, like someone might do at their own neighborhood pool.) They provide insight into the state of social relations in America, both past and present.

The earliest public pools were built in large northern cities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They served mostly poor and working-class boys (both black and white), and reveal the class prejudices of the time. In 1910, for example, the proposal to build a large municipal pool in New York’s Central Park generated intense opposition from the city’s middle and upper classes, because it would attract large numbers of immigrant and working-class kids into their oasis of genteel recreation. “I should consider it disastrous if the only swimming pool belonging to the city was put [in Central Park],” one critic told the New York Times. “It would attract all sorts of undesirable people.” The paper agreed and recommended that municipal pools be located underneath the Manhattan and Queensboro bridges. These locations would have effectively secluded working-class swimmers, protecting the city’s class-segregated social geography.

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