Text—I Samuel 3: 1 – 10 and Psalm 139: 1 – 18
Rev. Kathryn Nelson
January 15, 2012, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Service
I drove Hannah to school early on Friday.;We had the radio tuned as we often do to Mix 108 and their daily piece idiots in the news came up. Besides the story of an 18 year old girl whose high heels got caught on her accelerated causing her to crash int a court house, there was the story of a land lord who posted a public swimming pool, whites only sign on her complex’s pool.Now that a real idiot Gene the radio announcer proclaimed.
Wondering if it was really true I went to my computer and sure enough there was an Associate Press story . A Cincinnati landlord who claimed a black girl's hair products clouded an apartment complex's swimming pool discriminated against the child by posting a poolside "White Only" sign, an Ohio civil rights panel said Thursday in upholding a previous finding.
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission voted 4-0 against reconsidering its finding from last fall. There was no discussion. The group found on Sept. 29 that Jamie Hein, who is white, violated the Ohio Civil Rights Act by posting the sign at a pool at the duplex where the teenage girl was visiting her parents.
The parents filed a discrimination charge with the commission and moved out of the duplex in the racially diverse city to "avoid subjecting their family to further humiliating treatment," the commission said in a release announcing its finding.
An investigation revealed that Hein in May posted on the gated entrance to the pool an iron sign that stated "Public Swimming Pool, White Only," the commission statement said. Several witnesses confirmed that the sign was posted, and the landlord indicated that she posted it because the girl used chemicals in her hair that would make the pool "cloudy," according to the commission.
The girl's father, Michael Gunn, in brief comments Thursday, described his shock last spring when venturing out for a lunch break by the pool.
"My initial reaction to seeing the sign was of shock, disgust and outrage," Gunn said. He also told the commission that his daughter was saddened months later to learn the reason they moved from the apartment complex "was in a way related to the color of her skin."
My heart was so saddened to hear that this child wonderful made child of God had to be subjected to this in our time. It also struck me deeply because of my deep love for swimming, but realizing in so many ways we are still as a nation swimming in a sea of racism.
I serve on the board of the YWCA which has been working on the Unfair Campaign with 14 other community partners including the City of Duluth, UMD, UWS and Lake Superior College. The church council also voted to be a partner in the UnFair Campaign. The tag line of the campaign is “It’s hard to See Racism When You’re White”. It is hard . . . it often isn’t as obvious as the sign posted outside a pool in Cincinatti, but is there . . in so many ways, and in so many pools.
The goals of this campaign to end white priviliege are: See it, Know it,Stop it. I was asked to speak about when I first was aware sort of white privilege, where did I see it and it came back to a swimming pool. In my highschool in the mid 1970’s there were not many sports for girls – title nine had just been passed. But my highschool of over 2100 students had a girls swim team. A huge team of over 70 girls. Only one of those girls in our fairly racially diverse highschool joined the team. Anita, and she was fun, but not a very good swimmer.
The lack of access to pools and swimming lessons, which I had from a very young age made this an inaccessible sport to many kids of color. And this has tragic consequences An article from the New York Times states that Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death among children. But the most worrisome statistics involve black children and teens ages 5 to 19, who are 2.3 times more likely to drown than whites in this age group. For children 10 to 14, the rate is five times higher.
Nearly 6 out of 10 African-American and Hispanic children are unable to swim, nearly twice as many as their Caucasian counterparts, a concern often highlighted by U.S. Olympian Cullen Jones, who is African-American and swam the third leg of the winning men’s relay this week. The Wall Street Journal profiled Cullen Jones and his efforts to raise awareness about swimming among African-American children. In that report, Mr. Jones said members of his own family still ask him why he chose the sport. “They’ll say, ‘Don’t you know blacks don’t swim?’ ”
Yes, we are swimming in a sea of white privilege. Called to see it, know it, stop it. To see all God’s children as Psalm 139 says so beautifully as fearfully and wonderfully made . . . all children, all people. We do have so much work to do .It is hard to see racism when your white. But our baptisms, the water of love and forgiveness challenges us to move out and form Beloved Community. We are called to speak like Samuel . to answer God’s call when it comes in the night .
Peggy MacIntosh did. She wrote a piece called unpacking the invisible knapsack, which lists many of the privileges which come to us just by the viture of our fair skin color.These came to her at night, after a time of prayer, she got up each time and without turning on a light wrote them on a piece of paper by her bedside, afraid that if she didn’t listen and write them down right away they would be gone from her. Some of these privileges include:
1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and in which I would want to live.
3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
6. When I am told about our national heritage or about civilization, I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.
10. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
We are all called to see the Unfair in our world and to do something to stop it , to change it. Martin Luther King, Jr did. He was a new preacher in Montgomery, Alabama, at age 26. When in December 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on the city bus. As a result of her arrest, a bus boycott had been called by the local NAACP and young Martin was asked to lead the effort. That call changed the course of his life and the history of our nation.
His dream still challenges us . .when all children are not judged by the color of the skin but by the content of her character.” Water of grace, pools of justice . .. Let us see it , know it, live it. Amen.