Swimming Pools Are America’s Unknown Hotbeds Of Racial Segregation

Jessica Renae Buxbaum
The American pastime of swimming is tainted with an ugly racially charged history of segregation.

police brutality video

This week a video of white police officer body-slamming a bikini-clad, black teenage girl to the ground went viral as millions of viewers were shocked by the horrifically violent and inappropriate incident.  

The graphic scene was ignited when police responded to a fight that broke out when a white woman told the group of black teenagers at the community pool to go back to Section 8 housing.

While many see the backstory of the footage as part of a chain of ongoing racial profiling and brutality by police, the swimming pool setting points to an underlying racially charged history that has turned the American summer pastime of swimming into a striking modern-day example of racial segregation .

Between 1920 and 1940, swimming was the ultimate American pastime with nearly 2,000 municipal pools spread out across the U.S. But by the 1960s, public pools were a thing of the past. Desegregation caused many whites to prefer having their own private pools set up instead of swimming next to their black neighbors. Many whites feared that the intimate contact swimming pools provide would provoke black men to unleash their assumed uncontrollable sexual desires and prey upon white women in the interracial waters.

And so with integration, came the downfall of municipal pools and the rise of residential pools and private pool clubs. Bolstered by residential segregation, the segregated format of today’s last remaining public pools (like the one in McKinney) have allowed the indirect and subdued racial segregation to thrive.

This privatization of public pools gives residents the full authority to dictate who can swim where. Even if the swimmer is a black neighbor down the street or an invited guest, as the video's story poignantly demonstrates, pools have maintained this clear pattern of racial segregation and hostility so that the presence of black teenagers in a generally white environment causes enough offense to generate a chaotic uproar.

Read more: Texas Policeman Resigns After Video Shows Him Toppling Teen