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Scared of love, love and swimming pools.
July 11, 2007 9:29 PM   Subscribe

The racial and sexual history of the American public swimming pool.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (50 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks, that was an interesting read. I had just recently heard that when a number of municipal pools were forced to integrate forty years ago, they closed down instead. Interesting to find out that segregation only came about in the first place once women were allowed to swim with men.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:04 PM on July 11, 2007


That was an interesting read!

Especially because I have been going to my local pool a lot. I'm grateful that I haven't had to face too much gawking or people not swimming or changing near me (being the only white person there usually) - but here many pools will still not allow people with tattoos to swim. My local pool however has decided to turn a blind eye to that in regards to me.

A group of us were however turned away at a local spa recently.

So it was fascinating to compare the book excerpt to my own current experiences.
posted by gomichild at 10:15 PM on July 11, 2007


hmmmmmmm, thanks
posted by Viomeda at 10:20 PM on July 11, 2007


Unavailable for comment.
posted by Poolio at 10:27 PM on July 11, 2007


Thank you, great good bear. I tend to believe that parental worries and social bias over miscegenation are at least partially responsible for incredibly high drop-out rates among young black men at university. But this pool segregation thing is pretty upsetting as well I guess...
posted by litfit at 10:35 PM on July 11, 2007


Interesting link--thanks.

[ot]And is Jasper Friendly Bear a reference to Dead Dog Cafe by any chance? That is a great radio show![/ot]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:25 PM on July 11, 2007


Thank you, great good bear. I tend to believe that parental worries and social bias over miscegenation are at least partially responsible for incredibly high drop-out rates among young black men at university.

Could you flesh that out?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 12:13 AM on July 12, 2007


And on the entire Jeff-Wiltse-and-swimming-pools-on-NPR thing, Jeff Wiltse was also on NPR's On Point show for an entire hour. It was a great show... you can listen to it with Media Player or Realplayer here or if you subsribe to the podcast over here you can look for the June 22nd show.

Check it out if you want to hear more.
posted by switchsonic at 1:07 AM on July 12, 2007


Race, Sex and free access to pools were thrown into turmoil yet again in a burgeoning new realm - the virtual - in 2006, when the pool in Habbo Hotel was closed due to AIDS.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:53 AM on July 12, 2007


Could you flesh that out?

Coeducation pushed suburban white girls and urban black boys into the same educational institutions, and now they're pulling double duty, trying to provide welcoming environments that appear safe and tidy to the parents of those girls, at the same time toeing the pc line of diversity. Problem is, upper-middle class parents pf white girls are are a much stronger constituency and most public schools are doing a dismal job of graduating the African-American males they matriculate. The same isn't true of African-American females.

The only conclusion I can come up with is that, because minority men have greater economic incentives to stay in school than minority women (it's generally assumed that non-minority women spend more time in school than their male counterparts because they stand more to gain from earning a degree), that the reason they fare so poorly since the advent of coeducation, is parental fear of big black cocks and little brown babies.

Enough flesh for you tastes? I could add more.
posted by litfit at 1:54 AM on July 12, 2007


Race, Sex and free access to pools were thrown into turmoil yet again in a burgeoning new realm - the virtual - in 2006, when the pool in Habbo Hotel was closed due to AIDS.

Habeeb it.
posted by litfit at 1:55 AM on July 12, 2007


Liftit, that's an... interesting reading of the situation. I'm am in awe that it is the "only conclusion" you could come up with. I wish big black cocks were the first and only thing that jumped into my mind when I thought about stuff.

I mean, I usually consider things like a strong anti-intellectual culture amid urban black youths and a socio-economic situation that pushes young black men towards making unfortunate life choices. Maybe throw some good old fashion historical legacy of racism into the mix.

But I wish big black cocks and young white women were the only thing I could come up with.
posted by Justinian at 2:01 AM on July 12, 2007


But I wish big black cocks and young white women were the only thing I could come up with.

Seriously, I'm boiling it all down to simplest terms, and I suspect you're missing the point (and the joke) intentionally. Young women on college campuses, and their parents, and the administrators are afraid of violence, sexual and otherwise. They tend to project those fears onto the usual suspects.

I mean, I usually consider things like a strong anti-intellectual culture amid urban black youths and a socio-economic situation that pushes young black men towards making unfortunate life choices.

Your counterproposals seem to be, "it's your own damn fault, as a race and a culture."

Maybe throw some good old fashion historical legacy of racism into the mix.

Enjoying my Freudian perspective a bit too much, but isn't sexual prowess and miscegenation the root of much of what we recognize as the historical legacy of racism?
posted by litfit at 2:13 AM on July 12, 2007


liftit is probably correct - didn't I read somewhere about the first black aide in the White House who wasn't allowed to be alone in a room with any female employees in case of sexual attack?

thanks google, here from the BBC,

White secretaries refused to work with him; and he was prohibited from being alone in the same room with any female employee, lest he sexually molest them.
posted by infini at 3:12 AM on July 12, 2007


oopsie that's litfit, sorry!!!
posted by infini at 3:13 AM on July 12, 2007


The less I know about the sexual history of the pool I'm in the better.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:04 AM on July 12, 2007


...and then they all got Polio. The End.
posted by Eideteker at 4:12 AM on July 12, 2007


Very interesting article—thanks for the post!

All due respect, litfit, but you're taking what is at most a subsidiary element and blowing it up into the One Big Explanation. The fact that when people disagree with you you can retort with "ha ha, you're afraid of Freud!" doesn't make you right.
posted by languagehat at 5:05 AM on July 12, 2007


Fascinating article/

I'm puzzling over what litfit said: Coeducation pushed suburban white girls and urban black boys into the same educational institutions...

Coeducation? Why that and not desegregation?

/off to drink more coffee
posted by rtha at 5:36 AM on July 12, 2007


The fact that when people disagree with you you can retort with "ha ha, you're afraid of Freud!" doesn't make you right.

Okay... I didn't write anything even resembling that statement.

Coeducation? Why that and not desegregation?

Well, my understanding of the desegregation of postsecondary institutions (leaving aside some southern and elite private schools) is that it happened a good many years, in some cases 100 years or more before coeducation was instituted in those same institutions. Anyway, here's a reading list.

Anyway, off topic, but: Cleveland Public Schools is experimenting with separate classrooms at the moment and the ACLU is starting work on challenging the practice. To be quite honest, I think they're being reactionary and I'll withhold judgment until there's data on the question of whether it improves learning outcomes.
posted by litfit at 6:14 AM on July 12, 2007


"parental fear of big black cocks"

Because of course white cocks are harmless, however big they are!

As far as litfit's "explanation" goes, it sounds plausible to me. I remember as a youngster hearing about a Jewish girl that got "jumped" in the park and people were saying "I hope they get that 'n-word'/schvatze that did it!" before they'd heard anything about the color of the alleged assailant. IIRC they arrested and convicted a dude of Irish extraction (and not even "black Irish").

And litfit, separate classrooms? They finally decided to segregate the racists (of whatever "race") from decent folks?
posted by davy at 6:16 AM on July 12, 2007


SEX-segregated schools? I'd never have finished 7th grade if I hadn't had Ilene's fulfilled sweater to gawp at. I predict a generation of undereducated boys (regardless of color) unless you start letting them drink free beer at sports-team practice.
posted by davy at 6:20 AM on July 12, 2007


What I found most interesting was the switch from racial desegregation/gender segregation to racial segregation/gender desegregation, and now I wonder what other institutions also followed this pattern.

hurdy gurdy girl: Yes, Jasper Friendly Bear is from the Dead Dog Café/Dead Dog in the City. I was listening to it when I signed up for MetaFilter. I really miss that show.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 6:32 AM on July 12, 2007


I had just recently heard that when a number of municipal pools were forced to integrate forty years ago, they closed down instead.

In Raleigh, NC, a handful of black teens integrated the pool in Pullen Park by jumping in. There are some great photos of the time in the Raleigh City Museum. The pool closed, of course, but when it reopened, it was an integrated pool.

I love those kids.
posted by mediareport at 8:14 AM on July 12, 2007


"The fact that when people disagree with you you can retort with "ha ha, you're afraid of Freud!" doesn't make you right."

"Okay... I didn't write anything even resembling that statement."

from before:
"Enjoying my Freudian perspective a bit too much."

It resembles it to me.

I doubt the conclusion that private pools were the response to desegregation of public pools. Private pools correlate with suburbanization. There were plenty of public pools around the country that were never segregated and there were quite a few nearby suburban housing developments that private pools.

When people are on the steamroller of self-rightiousness, however, it is hard to get in their way.
posted by eye of newt at 8:26 AM on July 12, 2007


Well, my understanding of the desegregation of postsecondary institutions (leaving aside some southern and elite private schools) is that it happened a good many years, in some cases 100 years or more before coeducation was instituted in those same institutions.

If you're talking elite (Ivy and 2nd tier) colleges and universities, sort of kind of...if by desegregation you mean "admitted one black student and three jews" every other year. But even today, only a tiny tiny portion of the population ends up at these schools, and a tiny tiny portion of that portion is black. I think that the potential fears of white parents that their daughters will hook up with a black guy is, really, the least of the problems faced by college-bound black kids today.

Here's a list of institutions and the dates they went coed - among the earliest to go coed (if they weren't that way from the start) were the state schools, where a majority of college-bound students would go (in the time period we're talking about - 1940s/1950s). I'd bet that while most of them might have technically been desgregated at the time, in practice the actual number of blacks admitted was extremely small. In those decades, African Americans who were bound for college were almost certainly going to go to a historically black college rather than a (non-black) private or state school.
posted by rtha at 8:28 AM on July 12, 2007


I doubt the conclusion that private pools were the response to desegregation of public pools. Private pools correlate with suburbanization.

And of course, suburbanization has *nothing* to do with race... ;)
posted by Slothrup at 8:31 AM on July 12, 2007


this was an interesting post, but i've been doing a whole shitload of research into the Nadir (as labeled by James Loewen) of race relations in the US for teaching and the book I'm writing, and the following struck me as glaringly incorrect:

The social reconstruction of municipal pools between 1920 and 1940 marked a fundamental shift in northern social values and patterns of social interaction. During the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, the difference between people with "black" skin and those with "white" skin was a less significant social distinction than class. ... That changed during the 1920s, when race emerged as the most salient and divisive social distinction.

the integration of the races in the US had only a brief sort of relief after the Civil War, and started to unravel in quite serious ways around 1890, not nearly so late as 1920, and in fact in the Red Summer of 1919, there were at least 23 race riots (where white people were burning down black neighborhoods, lynching black men and driving families out of towns altogether, often in the middle of the night) around the country--sort of the peak, to my mind. There were hundreds and hundreds of race riots and lynchings around the turn of the century, so to say that there was semi-happy or unconscious integration until just after WWI seems to ignore completely the realities of what was happening.

It makes some sense to me that because the swimmers were male children, that the segregation in pools hadn't begun yet in earnest, and that the gender integration brought the separation to the fore--but just because that was the case at the swimming holes and pools, doesn't mean that the racists weren't freaking out and frothing at the mouth all over the country at the same time.

isn't sexual prowess and miscegenation the root of much of what we recognize as the historical legacy of racism?

very much yes, but also keep in mind the "animalistic" nature that was (and still is) attached to the black male, that he would not control himself, and that he was determined to sully the bastion of pure white womanhood. black men didn't just have big black cocks, they were *subhumans* with big black cocks and they couldn't wait to stick it in your innocent little lilywhite daughter.

it takes only a surveyed reading of newspapers starting in around 1900 to see what was going on in the minds of white amerikkka about black men. the articles are eerie in their repetition, and once you read them you will never question again whether racism has at its root sexual fear.

if it wasn't sexual fear, then why punish the whole black side of town when a black man is accused of rape and lynched? it's because his sexual transgression (true or not) is viewed as endemic to the black community as a whole and has to be eradicated or exterminated, as it were. the nature of how towns got to be whites-only tells a tale of how thoroughly willing people were to believe that.
posted by RedEmma at 9:06 AM on July 12, 2007


When people are on the steamroller of self-rightiousness, however, it is hard to get in their way.

Have you read the book? Because the author didn't come across as self-righteous in the interview. As slothrop points out, White Flight as a cultural shift is not just a product of a fanciful imagination.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:06 AM on July 12, 2007


"alludes to" is more accurate than "points out"...
posted by oneirodynia at 9:08 AM on July 12, 2007


I doubt the conclusion that private pools were the response to desegregation of public pools. Private pools correlate with suburbanization.

Dude, do you know *anything* about the history of how suburbs were formed and why?
posted by RedEmma at 9:08 AM on July 12, 2007


I remember a friend telling me that her neighbor was afraid of having black people at her pool because she thought they'd leave a dark ring around the pool.
posted by doctorschlock at 9:39 AM on July 12, 2007


Interesting post and discussion. I have been somewhat aware of the interaction of pools and race for some time. In his 1948 Dixiecrat speech, Strom Thurmond mentions pools: "I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches." As far as private pools, here in Augusta, GA, there were privately owned pools that were open to the public that did not admit blacks as late as the 1980s, and of course there were pools at segregated country clubs long after municipal pools were integrated, as well.

As for the relationship between miscegenation and racism, there are many who support the thesis that fear of miscegenation is behind racism and I think they are right. Even some people who are relatively openminded on race here in GA get upset whenever they see a mixed-race couple, more so if the woman is a member of their own race. Of course, this goes back to old testament times, when it was apparently standard practice for the victor in tribal warfare to kill the men and children and enslave and rape the women. Also relevant is the fact that many men who would just as soon kill a black man as let his daughter marry one apparently had no problem with raping the black help, as reflected in the old joke " A redneck is someone who will fuck a black girl, he just won't go to school with her." (I don't think Jeff Foxworthy uses that one.) The issue is mentioned in this essay.
posted by TedW at 9:43 AM on July 12, 2007


Very, very strange fact about the small town public swimming pool where my parents live in France.

The enforced dress code insists on tiny close-fitting trunks for men and boys in the pool.

It can't be entirely about about discouraging cut-off jeans/casual ad hoc swimwear. Even the smartest baggie-style US swim shorts are banned.

Both my own sons and a teenage nephew were told to leave the pool even after having a slightly roomy version of the tight-style French trunks specially bought to replace their forbidden American and British baggies.

The new trunks were still ruled not sufficiently brief.

(I'll probably go to my grave never figuring this one out...)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:54 AM on July 12, 2007


The swimming pool at a park down the road from my college (formerly Randolph-Macon Woman's College, now Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA) was filled in with dirt in either the late 1960s or the early 1970s in order not to integrate it. Funnily enough, although the school itself was integrated at that point, the protection of RMWC's white women was one of the many racist reasons given for not integrating the pool.

As of my last visit to the Burg (last year), it hadn't been restored, and none of my resident friends had heard of any plans to do so. There is now a public pool in Lynchburg, which presumably is open to everybody.
posted by LiliaNic at 9:58 AM on July 12, 2007


Jody Tresidder, see this AskMe thread.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:48 AM on July 12, 2007


Fiercecupcake,

You have my thanks forever:) Just brilliant!

(Now I'll just have to learn the french for "actually, their swimshorts have a mesh gusset"...)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:05 AM on July 12, 2007


Enjoying my Freudian perspective a bit too much, but isn't sexual prowess and miscegenation the root of much of what we recognize as the historical legacy of racism?

I don't think so. In America, you see similar motifs of 'brutish, sexually voracious males' in sterotypes of Italians, Irish, and other ethnic groups associated with the laboring classes. It's not unique to blacks, and, of course, it has nothing to do with reality, either. In America, historically, the difference between ethnic groups has been more of degree than kind, witness views of Irish immigrants, among others. (Ever the joke "What does a Jewish girl do when she's attracted to a black guy? Dates an Italian.")

Racism did not spring from fears of sexual prowess and miscegenation, but from a divide and conquer method of preventing worker solidarity. Blacks have been physical laborers, in the historical imagination, and, laborers have often been percieved as more honest, earthy and sensual, at best, or brutal, unthinking, rapacious and sexually animalistic at worst. This labeling enforces a divide between the laboring classes and classes where physical labor is less prevelant, or nonexistant. Blacks may be more obvious targets of this class distinction, but it's not unique to them.
posted by Snyder at 12:02 PM on July 12, 2007


In America, you see similar motifs of 'brutish, sexually voracious males' in sterotypes of Italians, Irish, and other ethnic groups associated with the laboring classes.

uh, except no one else was commonly killed because of it, and whole neighborhoods of Italians and Irish weren't burned to the ground to stop them. so it may not be unique to black men, but judging from the residual feeling amongst the working class (and those descended from them) in today's world, it was clearly a much stronger feeling in the case of blacks. people don't still commonly get into violent altercations over their daughters dating Italians or Irish.

Racism did not spring from fears of sexual prowess and miscegenation, but from a divide and conquer method of preventing worker solidarity.

while it is true that the White Power Structure used this fear of sexual prowess and miscegenation *in order to* divide and conquer the working class, fomented it, encouraged it and otherwise was happy it was happening, the facts and words of the past do not support your separation and disavowal. those fears were not created by the WPS--they were already there. They just exploited that fact and stirred it up whenever possible.

remember that the party of the working class has always been the Democratic party, and that they were also the party of racism until the 50s. That the rich were Republicans, and although they were clearly not anti-racist, they commonly had no issue with hiring blacks to work for shit wages in their mines etc. it was the workers who reacted against working with blacks, and far more violently than they did against other new ethnic groups whose naivete was used to keep wages down. other white scabs were soon brought into the union fold, but not blacks. the workers fought against that long and hard.

if a bunch of italian immigrants were brought into a town, the workers would stop the train, there might be some violence--even a riot--but the whole italian neighborhood would not be burned down or whole families turned out and the entire ethnic group kept out for decades, as they were in the case of black strikebreakers. and too many of those strikebreaking episodes are tied too closely to accusations of sexual misconduct to forget that one nastier piece.
posted by RedEmma at 1:27 PM on July 12, 2007


uh, except no one else was commonly killed because of it, and whole neighborhoods of Italians and Irish weren't burned to the ground to stop them

In Canada, not so lucky. Our country's shameful history includes internment camps, forced migration, taking children, and such. Horrible things were done to Natives, Ukranians, Hungarians, Japanese, the Poor, and maybe more.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:01 PM on July 12, 2007


Opps, forgot to reference an article about it.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:02 PM on July 12, 2007



Here's a list of institutions and the dates they went coed


Ignorant bastards left out Berea.

we now return to our regularly scheduled programming...
posted by dilettante at 2:27 PM on July 12, 2007


well, i guess it's obvious that in the US all kinds of people were horribly discriminated against and murdered. but we were talking about it being partly on the basis of sexual fear.

i've been reading account after account of american lynchings and riots for the last few weeks. i'm deep into hundreds and hundreds of pages of court testimony (the words of the lynchers and the police, for instance)--and what has really disturbed me is the depth of the subtext connected to the words and acts of these people that is clearly sexual in content. they were deeply deeply afraid of black men's sexuality, and would do anything at all to rid themselves of the "danger." yes, it was also an excuse to, say, steal their property, but it all just *reeks* of sex.

so i tie that to my day-to-day witnessing of barely suppressed racial feeling toward black men ("those people coming into our town from Chicago and Detroit, living off my tax dollars, selling drugs and ruining the lives of young girls"--this is typical in my community, and they don't mean young black girls). see those fears didn't just *disappear*; they are clearly present among us in diluted form.

and i once worked in a porn shop. porn is a very interesting reflection of society. black/white interracial porn is a very telling expression that reflects the history of attitudes toward black folks and sexuality.

i guess the pool history is yet another indication of this: there was a time when people would *move away* (or eradicate their black population) rather than let a black young man sit next to their white daughter in school, never mind see her in her bathing suit or having the same water touch *his* and touch *hers.* remember that a black boy in the wrong part of the beach in Chicago is what precipitated the riot in 1919. A more detailed account.
posted by RedEmma at 2:32 PM on July 12, 2007


There was an interesting short story I read somewhere about a few little white girls who lived in a place where the pool was getting segregated. They went to the pool at night with one of the little girls, who was very sick, and ended up infecting and even killing a lot of the black children, and forcing the pool to be shut down. Does anyone remember this?
posted by sweetkid at 2:34 PM on July 12, 2007


uh, i was directing that to fivefreshfish, initially.
posted by RedEmma at 2:37 PM on July 12, 2007


We have cops shooting Natives or abandoning them in snowbanks. That seems pretty hateful. There are also some schools back east (maritime?) that have some deep-running racist problems, a lot of fighting between a few groups of kids. Out here in BC our biggest problem seems to be intra-racial: drug gangs fighting within an ethnic population to dominate that scene.

We had a period where Native children were forcibly removed from families and raised in what were effectively school internment camps, where they were to be "broken" of their language, culture, and history. That was astoundingly cruel.

Much the same approach was taken with East European settlers. Especially during the depression, where anyone poor -- ie. these new immigrants -- were swept up off the streets and forcibly migrated to labour camps.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:09 PM on July 12, 2007


remember that the party of the working class has always been the Democratic party, and that they were also the party of racism until the 50s. That the rich were Republicans, and although they were clearly not anti-racist, they commonly had no issue with hiring blacks to work for shit wages in their mines etc.

Do you know anything about the history of the parties?

those fears were not created by the WPS--they were already there. They just exploited that fact and stirred it up whenever possible.

They were already there...why? Why was there such fear of black males sexual power? I think we can agree that there is no unique, innate black sexual prowess or appetite. It probably sprung from the same sterotypes and slurs that working people are more animalistic and uncontrollable. Sexual fears, (the kind we are discussing,) are almost always based on the suppossed "animalism" and "brutality" of the ethnic group, and are part and parcel of such sterotypes.

Sexual fears were and are not limited, look to WWI propaganda for the same rape-fear iconography that is and was applied to blacks. We even have similar propaganda about immigrants today, discussing their "out-breeding" "native-born" Americans. While I won't argue that this is still a prelevant sterotype, I don't see any evidence that it is unique to blacks in it's strenegth or as an origin of white on black racism.

On preview: well, i guess it's obvious that in the US all kinds of people were horribly discriminated against and murdered. but we were talking about it being partly on the basis of sexual fear.

Italians were often attacked and lynched, and again, there were and are many sterotypes based on Italian racial fecundity and animalism, as well as other, nativist prejudices.

And of course, fff, violence against Asians, natives, and Eastern and Mediterrean Europeans is not at all unique to Canada. We had similar events that you describe through-out our history, some of it very little known (the internment of Italian-Americans during WWII, for example.) Doing unbelievably hateful and violent things to minorities and out-groups, even ones that presently don't have as much sexual fear associated with them, (such as Asians, although miscegenation and other fears of "white slaves" and whatnot were very common in the past, significantly less so now,) shows that sexual fear is not an predicate of how a minority is treated by the majority.
posted by Snyder at 3:29 PM on July 12, 2007


Interesting. I'm not sure if Australian pools were racially segregated in the past, but over the last few years there has been a bit of an outcry about the introduction of women-only swimming times in areas with high Muslim populations. Is this happening in the US? Have pools been desegregated to be segregated again?
posted by goo at 12:58 AM on July 13, 2007


Fascinating.

Municipal swimming pools were extraordinarily popular during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Cities throughout the country built thousands of pools—many of them larger than football fields—and adorned them with sand beaches, concrete decks, and grassy lawns.

It's astounding at how huge these pools were, and how the segregation of people changed from class-based differentiation, to race-based. It's as if the working class white Americans woke up one day to find themselves being accepted by the uppercrust of society and then decided to dole it out to the African Americans.
posted by hadjiboy at 10:12 AM on July 13, 2007


A pool as bit as a football field? Unless there was some smokin' good engineering on that, I imagine they'd have been bacterial cesspools.

If you're right about the class-based to race-based differentiation, hadjiboy, I'd be wagering we're going back to class-based. As far as I can tell we are becoming a society of extraordinarily affluent people, and extraordinarily poor people. The rich are not going to want to hang out with the likes of any of us on MeFi.

Rich being, of course, say greater than about $10M in your bank accounts.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:49 PM on July 13, 2007


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