"Pour up (drank), head shot (drank), sit down (drank), stand up (drank), pass out (drank), wake up (drank), faded (drank), faded (drank)." -- Kendrick Lamar
The 20th Century struggle for racial justice, equal access and equal protection under the law known as the American Civil Rights Movement unfolded over many decades and upon multiple planes. Most commonly, however, when the masses reflect upon these struggles, the planes of struggle considered are public schools, lunch counters, and buses. Yet, one of the most significant planes upon which this critical history unfolded were places of recreation: beaches and swimming pools.
From the Atlantic waters of Myrtle Beach to the Pacific waters of Santa Monica, to public pools in municipalities throughout our nation, the opposition to the integration of these public places was fierce. In some cases, lives were lost, even if an integrative act was unintentional. A 1919 race riot in Chicago resulted from the stoning and subsequent drowning of African American teenager Eugene Williams who violated the unwritten segregation of Lake Michigan after he mistakenly swam into "white-only" waters.
Among the primary historical motivations for standing in defense of beaches and pools against integration was that these settings were perceived as highly-sexualized environments. It was believed that white women in bathing suits would be harmed if allowed to interact with the hyper-sexualized Black male. Therefore, the virtue of white women, as well as concern for the perceived uncleanliness of Black bodies, which purportedly would bring disease to the water, was enough to support and encourage strong, even violent opposition to the desegregation of beaches and pools.
Now, in the 21st Century, as disturbing video of African American teenagers in McKinney, Texas, many donning bathing suits, continues to spread rapidly throughout all media, swimming pools, once again, emerge as a place of struggle. First verbally, then physically attacked by adult civilians, these teenagers, many who reside in the community, were made to sit on the ground by police. Some of these teenagers were even handcuffed while their white counterparts meandered about without any police interference.
As an officer slammed a teenage African American female to the ground, drew his gun on those concerned for her well-being, then placed the full weight of his body upon the young woman's back, history has repeated itself.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once recounted one of his most difficult experiences as a father; the day that he had to tell his children why they would not be afforded entry into a popular, yet segregated amusement park. It is always difficult when young people are terrorized, unfairly excluded from the joys of life. Unfortunately, time and time, again, we have borne witness to this exclusion. The impetus for this is one of the greatest threats before us as a nation -- civilians and law enforcement officers drunk off of their own errant perceptions of racial superiority and power.
One of the first lessons given a beginning swimmer is not to drink the water. Drinking pool water will make you sick. The same is true for those who continue to drink from the long polluted pools of racism and xenophobia. Without question, the videos of the incident in McKinney reveal those who have drunk their fill of the pool, now inebriated with the fear of others, stumbling and fumbling through life, placing our safety and security at risk.
Interestingly, bodies of water, both natural and human made, have set the stage for divinely-inspired acts of liberation. From the waters parted at the Red Sea that set a nation free to a providential encounter with Christ at the pool of Bethesda that healed a man of a lengthy illness, water holds great significance to our freedom narrative. May then the McKinney pool serve as the water of baptism for a new generation of activists committed to the liberation struggle.
It is still far too early to tell what will ultimately emerge from all of this. Painfully, this generation knows all too well that just because an incident is captured on camera does not mean that justice will be served. While awaiting the findings, not only of the McKinney investigation, but of countless police-involved incidents across the country, it is clear that American justice needs to be checked into rehab.
Prayerfully, then we can once and for all drain this polluted pool.