I don’t know if the pool was racially segregated. Perhaps it was just a rumor. I do know that I never saw a black person on the diving board. But for me, the mere possibility of “no blacks allowed” hung over the pool like a ghost.
In retrospect, I should have asked about the policy. I should have demanded to find out if there was a written policy preventing the races from swimming together, even if such a policy couldn’t be legally enforced. Last month’s shooting in Charleston is a brutal reminder that we have to start holding ourselves accountable. We too often turn a blind eye to the racism around us. We pretend it isn’t there, that it’s only a small minority who harbor outdated sentiments toward those who are different from us.
That doesn’t mean we should look for racism where it doesn’t exist. We shouldn’t resort to accusations and confrontation, which wouldn’t help anyhow. But we should stop and talk. Small, racial slights creep into conversation, in our interactions with friends and family members, in the casual comments around the water cooler. It also manifests physically in our institutions, especially our criminal justice system. As Rich Griset details in this month’s cover story, our racially segregated history even penetrates our neighborhood pools.
As a society, we are more integrated, more interracial than we’ve ever been. I’m convinced our kids today are growing up without the same racial divisions that existed when I was younger. No one chooses their skin color. No one is born racist. It’s a learned behavior, which means it can be unlearned.
Dylann Roof didn’t harbor his racist beliefs in secret. There were pictures and a manifesto he’s alleged to have written, on a white supremacist website. Someone, somewhere, should have stopped him and asked why. It might not have been enough. He told police that he almost didn’t go through with it. He gave pause because the parishioners of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were “nice” to him. What if someone, anyone, had gotten to him sooner?
– Scott Bass