What This White Mother Saw Happen to Her Black Child at the Pool

Naomi was swimming happily under the watchful gaze of a lifeguard, her mother, and another adult when a woman approached her and demanded she justify her presence in the neighborhood pool.

It was Saturday night and summer had finally arrived back in middle Tennessee.  My family was enjoying night swimming with out-of-town friends before the oh-so-dreaded bedtime.

Naomi was happily splashing around in our neighbor pool in Franklin, and my friend and I watched from the side and chatted about old times.  Suddenly, I noticed a woman talking to Naomi.  This happens sometimes.  She’s cute, she has yellow beads in her hair, and she smiles a great deal.  People say hello.

But this conversation went on for too long.   I could overhear part of the dialogue, and the adult’s tone was adamant.

“I know your mother’s right there,” the lady said to Naomi’s pal Emma Jane.  “But where is her mother?”

“She’s right there,” Emma Jane said, pointing to me.

“No, who does she belong to,” she stressed.

I walked over to Naomi and her inquisitor, worried that Naomi had done something wrong I’d somehow missed while I was chatting with my dear friend.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“I just care about safety,” she said.  “Is she with you?”

“I’m her mother.”

“Well, I just wanted to make sure she was supervised.  I couldn’t tell who was watching her, or who she was with,” she said.

After the lady walked away, I was infuriated.  There were probably thirty kids in the pool – all of them white except Naomi.  My child had a fluorescent green band on her arm, indicating we’d come in the front entrance like everyone else.  We live a couple streets away from our community’s pools.

We belong.

If the woman were truly concerned about “safety,” she would’ve asked the white kids about the whereabouts of their parents.  Plus, as you can see from the photo I snapped right after she left, a lifeguard kept watch within just a few feet of her.  (You can also tell from the photo how close I was to the kids.)

It’s clear to me that the woman wasn’t concerned about “safety,” but rather she was concerned that there was a little black girl swimming in her neighborhood pool.  Though she didn’t say anything that was ostensibly rude, her urgent questioning demanded  my five year old justify her presence.  Her words were more than a simple request for information; they were camouflage for her deeper suspicions.

You are different, she implies.

You are a potential problem, she believes.

You are not safe, she assumes.

You don’t belong here, she insinuates, before walking off and leaving me standing there angrily fighting back tears.

This is not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last.  But it hurts every time someone assumes my child is an issue merely because of her skin color.

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About Nancy French

Nancy French is a three time New York Times Best Selling Author.

  • Desert Mama

    It sucks. I am sorry Nancy this happened to you and your daughter. I have to add this “white privilege” stuff is getting old. This is being blown out of proportion. (not your story Nancy but “white privilege is”. Privilege(prejudice) is everywhere …I have lived in a couple cities when I was a girl where they were predominantly African american…and I was taunted and teased and called “cracker”….which i didn’t know what that was at the time…I never viewed people as different…I always thought of all as ,Children of God. I learned later in life what it was and was mortified, sad and disappointed. After all I had no part of what ancestors or how history happened. I am proud of my ancestors…one worked along side by side with Harriet Tubman (he my ancestor, was white) That many of my ancestors fought to free slaves in the civil war. Racism does happen….but I think there are more good and kind hearted people in this country than the mean spirited ones. My bad experiences didn’t make me jaded to African Americans…it just made me realize how human we all are. It made me realize we need to love more and walk forward together as much as possible and be the example to those that were raised to judge…we need to teach them the better way in life. Peace and Love :)

  • UWIR

    Maybe that woman has a sincerely held religious belief against racial mixing. How dare you violate her religious freedom by disagreeing with her moral beliefs!

    Parents who take children to the pool might have to answer unwanted questions about race-mixing on the way home from the pool.

    Everyone needs to leave this woman alone for expressing his beliefs. I think it’s so hypocritical how the race-mixing community expects every single flippen person to agree with their life style. This flies in the face of what makes America great – people can have their own beliefs and own opinions and their own ways of life.

    I hate how the race-mixing community says it’s all about “love” and “equality.” However, if you don’t agree with their lifestyle, they spread the most hate. It is so hypocritical it makes my stomach turn. They need to learn how to respect others’ opinions and not just jump to the conclusion that everyone who doesn’t support race-mixing and mixed-race marriage is racist.

    The above are quotes from you and your blog, slightly modified by replacing “homosexuality” with “race-mixing”.

    Is it only with gay people that it’s okay say “You’re different”, “You are a potential problem”, “You are not safe”, and “You don’t belong here”? I feel sorry for your daughter, that she has to have fleeting experiences with strangers’ bigotry, but I feel even more sorry for her that she is being raised with constant exposure to her parents’ selfishness and bigotry. You insist on being given the equality that you refuse to give to others. You aren’t objecting to this woman’s behavior out of some principled objection to bigotry. You aren’t opposed to bigotry in general, just bigotry that harms you or people you care about (and “people you care about” is clearly a category that does not include gay people). There was a time when your “race-mixing lifestyle” would have been seen as a sin, and I quite doubt that any amount of “love the sinner but hate the sin” blather would have made you feel okay about that. While I have sympathy for your daughter, I have none for you. You deserve every bit of discomfort, every bit of alienation, every bit of frustration and anger, every bit of sorrow as you experience the same bigotry you insist on inflicting on homosexuals. I hope you feel this pain over and over and over again, until it finally gets through your thick skull what it’s like to be gay in America.


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