Walking down the street one sunny afternoon, my housemate and I were discussing the children’s antics that day at work, while trying to avoid passing out from still being in our jeans from work in the 100+ degree heat. It was still amazing to me, that summers are survivable without a pool or a beach. As a child, I spent all of my free time at the pool. Like many other lighter-haired children, this also meant that by July, it was time for my mother to invest in the Paul Mitchell shampoo–you know the one I am talking about, white bottle with black lettering, it was a slightly greenish looking clear shampoo, and the smell will forever remind me of swimming in the Forest Lakes Pool in Charlottesville. Now that I am older, I understand that the shampoo was simply a clarifier to try and reduce the green-ish tint of summer: too much time in the sun (making my hair blonder) and too many hours in the pool (making my hair greener).
I suppose I never really thought about it, but not everyone spends their summer as I did. Not everyone goes to the pool in the summer, not everyone goes to the beach, not everyone spends all day in the sun, swimming, playing pool basketball, trying to flip off the boards (most attempts resulting in accidental back flops and leaving me wondering why I ever tried in the first place!) and of course, liberally and often applying sunscreen to their very sensitive Irish skin (and pulling off the lobster look when I didn’t and resorting to using a half a bottle of chilled green aloe vera gel before I could think about moving!) All kidding and jokes aside, nothing like this ever occurred to me until I arrived in Marvell. To me, summer and long days at the pool, or at least hours squeezed in around summer jobs and training, went hand in hand.
Arriving in Marvell, I learned not only was this not the norm, it was essentially an impossibility. Remember when I promised that post about the pools? Well, entirely too many months later, here is it. Better late than never, they say, so thanks for being patient!
Marvell has one pool. It is small, with a diving board, some chairs, and happens to be situated off a gravel-ish road, in the middle of a row of houses, and with nothing but field and a clear view of the “highway” running through the town to the rear. The first week in Marvell, while exploring town after work, I never understood why the pool was deserted. There were at most, 5 kids there at any give time. Now of course I asked some of the interns we were working with why the pool was not more popular, in an area of the country that to me, was painfully hot already (and it was only just past Memorial Day!). I approached this subject and the possibility of swimming there, while driving a co-worker from Marvell home from work one day, with two other Shepherd interns in the car as well. His answer confused me at first, as he explained, the right side of the car could certainly go and ask about a guest pass of some sort for our time here, but the left side would simply be wasting their time. I suppose my facial expression displayed my utter confusion, because he further clarified, the pool was not black friendly and he has used the metaphor of our current seats in the car to try and explain that.
It seemed to me like something from the Civil Rights era, when, thinking back to history textbook chapters, you could easily imagine a sign saying “Marvell pool-Whites Only.” We’ve all seen these as children in history classes, whether referring to water fountains, bathrooms, restaurants or something else equally ridiculous. Yet, since it is the year 2010, this explanation, for lack of better or more proper wording, blew my mind. How was this possible? It couldn’t possibly be legal, and yet, the more people I spoke too, the more seemed to confirm it. There was even a picture hanging in my work place, from a photo-project children had done the summer before, of a plastic pool from Walmart with a caption saying “The Black Pool.”
My housemates and I spent a lot of time discussing this, particularly the one gentleman who is currently attending Law School, and we all agreed legally, this could not be correct. However, we’d learned early on that in Marvell, legality isn’t all that can create this impression and divide of races. While the discussion of only whites being allowed, may not have been accurate, “whites are more welcome than others” certainly would have been. The pool is privately owned, run as a sort of country club that sells memberships. The high cost of dues completely dissolved any chance that most families could join the pool, including black families. Between white and black households in Marvell, white households had income levels approximately 2 times, or 49% higher, than black or African American households in 2008. (http://www.city-data.com/income/income-Marvell-Arkansas.html) More interesting than the income differences leading to a nearly pure white membership, was that there were some black families who owned pool memberships, but never used them. These families were hard working (not that others are not) and had chosen to buy a pool membership, but then rarely, if ever, did they dip a toe in the water, let alone cannonball off the diving board.
To me, this made me realize that is was never about income, but that there was a stigma, an un-stated agreement, that this was a white establishment and, even those who tried to challenge this, or make a point, could not do so successfully. Perhaps because they were afraid of what other members might say or do, or afraid their friends and neighbors may think they were turning against the rest of the black community. Either way, the more I think about this, and about Marvell, (as I have done a lot of in the past few months, hoping to better digest everything I experienced to say what I really want to say) I realize how little progress is apparent in Marvell. Yes, I know progress has been made since the Civil Rights Era, and no, I am not trying to disparage Marvell, or the attempts to better the race relations that I know have and continue to occur. I just realize, that compared to the places I am from, and every place I have ever lived and visited (a lot considering my dad is military), Marvell is decades behind. It is a town that will need a lot of workto try to catch up to modern day race relations and keep their head above the water because I don’t believe the current attempts to doggy paddle will work for much longer.