The first time I ever had to use four-wheel drive was when I carpooled with a friend to a wedding out of town. Margaret (the name of my vehicle) climbed what seemed like a full 45-degree angle up a rocky hill. I was wearing dress heels, a floral-patterned cutout dress, and had to brush the hair that got stuck in my lipstick to watch all of the other cars behind me struggle to reach the top of the hill where our friends were getting married. It was a beautiful ceremony. However, there is something that happened on the way there that has stuck with me.
My friend and I ended up meeting in Bakersfield since it was in the middle of where the two of us lived. It was easier to meet there since both of our parents were still living in Buck Owens’ paradise. Before getting on the freeway to leave town, my friend pointed out the gigantic Confederate flag that used to wave alongside the busy long stretch of road.
“How does it make you feel seeing that?” she asked, referring to the flag that was designed to represent a divided nation, and that turned into a symbol of hate.
“You know what?” I said, still barreling down the stretch of road out of town. “I don’t like to see it, but I rather see boldness and honesty when it comes to racism than those who are quietly racist behind my back.”
I had let it go for years, but the onslaught of deaths around me finally being publicized made me speak up to you, my friend. I know you will take your time reading this, but understand that this isn’t a message that comes from a place of bitterness and malice. I know that you are afraid, and I understand.
I was fearful too, but having fear doesn’t justify anything. Fear is just a lack of knowledge. The second you understand something is the second you stop fearing it. Through understanding, you find room to grow and begin to share love and kindness.
Once upon a time, before I knew what bisexuality was, I struggled with the thought of having to choose whether or not I would live my life as a lesbian or fake only like guys. It was silly. I had heard of the sexual orientation in high school, but I didn’t really believe it existed until I was forced to open up and discover more about myself in college.
I dove deep into the queer community, educated myself, and have since dedicated a lot of my time and experiences with writing towards activism. I looked at every side, spoke to other people with varying backgrounds, and then came to a more compassionate conclusion. It doesn’t change the fact that I was a complete ass in high school and that I was once very ignorant, but I can do my part now to help facilitate knowledge and introduce others to concepts that are new to them.
I went to work on Tuesday after Labor Day and engaged in the usual banter with my coworkers. We spoke about our weekends, what we did, and about how much we all wanted to be comfortably back in our beds at home. I talked about how I went to the beach before I went on the second hike that I lead as a co-ambassador of Hiker Babes LA Chapter. However, when we circled back onto the subject of water, a coworker made a comment that was a little out of touch.
“YOU—go into the water?” He said to me after looking at dark-skinned appearance all over again. It was as if for the first time he had ever considered that black people went in the water.
“Yes, I go in the water,” I replied. “I love the ocean, swimming in pools, learning how to surf, paddleboarding, kayaking, and sipping beer sometimes on boats wading out in the middle of lakes.”
“Oh, I didn’t think you did.” A bit of confusion washed over his face.
He had rarely seen black people out in the water, but that wasn’t because they weren’t there. It was because those images of black people, both professional aquatic athletes and everyday lovers of H2O were rarely shared in larger marketing campaigns, revealed in popular media, or even reported on in the news. The lack of imagery reinforced the negative stereotype that black people can’t swim, don’t swim, or hate water. When in reality, the truth can only be told by revisiting history.
Although the stereotype can be traced back to the years during the Transatlantic slave trade when black bodies were dumped over the rails of ships as they were dragged from their homes in Africa and brought to the already inhabited lands of the Americas, it is most notably recorded during the Jim Crow Era that followed. Black and white people were segregated, but when it came to the communal public pools, black people were banned, bleached, barred and harassed out of the pool. If black people wanted to learn how to swim in their city’s public pool, they would be risking their safety or even their lives in order to do so. More black people never learned how to swim because they weren’t allowed to do so.
Although it has affected the rate at which black people learned how to swim, it never stopped them. Many fought back and taught themselves in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Other found less violent pools, and what we see now Simone Manuel, Cullen Jones, Nick Gabaldon, Montgomery Kaluhiokalani, Mary Mills, Andrea Kabwasa, Rick Blocker, Michael February, Ashleigh Johnson, and a host of other black aquatic athletes. This wasn’t easy, but as we see more black faces gracing the covers of magazines in these roles formally unseen by the general public, we inspire more black people to enter a world where they were initially barred from completely.
Organizations such as The Black Surfers Collective and Black Girls Surf aim to change that. The group, Black Girls Trekkin, that I went kayaking and to the beach with also try to change the minds of people stuck on stereotypes. I commend artists and influencers such as @wildginaa who go out of their way to make sure black and brown faces are also seen out in spaces in nature. We’re clearly out there. The mountains are also a melting pot of a variety of different people hiking native lands, and yet we are only now barely seeing these faces in popular media. So, yes, black people all over the world swim. It’s just that many people have been led to believe that we don’t.
Louis Armstrong, who was also known as Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana. He is a musician and composer of jazz music, and is known as one of the founding fathers of jazz.
Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. He has an instantly recognizable gravelly voice which allowed him to bend the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was skilled at scat singing and a charismatic stage presence that let audiences fall in love with his music.
Although Armstrong was a popular entertainer during a time in America that was severely racially divided, he rarely publicly politicized his race. However, he took a well-publicized stand for desegregation during the Little Rock Crisis. His artistry and personality allowed him socially acceptable access to the upper echelons of American society that were highly restricted for a black man.