Monday, September 1, 2014

Pools and a Splash of Racism

First, let me start off by saying I am Bengali American. People usually assume I am Indian but my dad is from Bangladesh, my mom is from England, and I was born and raised in America. We are Muslim although my father is the only religious one in my family. Today we took what we thought would be a nice trip to Bogan Park Aquatic Center in Buford, GA. My aunt and her two children are visiting us from England where the weather sucks pretty much year-round. Needless to say, they don't do much swimming normally. When I told my cousins we were going to a water park they were practically jumping for joy.

We get to the facility and were greeted—or rather interrogated—by the lady at the front desk. She asked us if we were wearing swimming costumes so naturally, we looked at each other confused and said yes. I mean who asks if people are wearing swim suits when they clearly are going to an aquatic center and are carrying bags overflowing with towels? Now keep in mind that right before us, a family of six Caucasians paid for entry and were not asked any questions although they were wearing dresses and shirts just like us. Now you may ask what does being Caucasian have to do with any of this? Well, that becomes clear in the next question she asks which was, “Do you understand? Do you know what a swim suit is?” I wish I could have recorded this because the way that she said this was incredibly rude, as though she thought she was talking to the stupidest people on the planet. Anyways, I immediately answered slightly annoyed, “Yes we know what swimsuits are and we said we are wearing them.” The lady looked at me and then said, “Well we need to make sure so can you please show us what you are wearing underneath?” I had no problem removing my dress and showing that I was indeed wearing a swimsuit and not hiding bombs or something under my dress. My aunt, however, is very conservative and looked appalled. She was wearing a waterproof tank top, swim shirt, and swim pants. So first, I showed the lady that my cousins were wearing swimsuits as well. She made them take everything off too. Remember this is in waiting area where other families were watching us because they had nothing else to do but wait. Then I said, “My aunt is wearing swim pants and a swim shirt.” The lady replied, “That does not look like a swimming costume.” “Well, she got it from the SWIM section of Target. All the clothes she’s wearing are waterproof and made for swimming.” I replied back. The lady called a man over, who made my aunt even more uncomfortable, who said, “Sorry that is not appropriate attire so she can’t go into the pool.” Just because it isn’t a standard American swimsuit doesn’t mean it’s not swimwear. Do you not know what swimwear is? As annoying and embarrassing as this situation was we went to the pool and my aunt just sat on the side and watched.

An hour in, a pool attendant walked up to my aunt with a South-Asian child who was lost. The attendant asked my aunt if the child was hers which I think was inappropriate to begin with. I mean if a white child was lost would you walk up to every white looking family and ask if they were their child? Not to mention the child could be adopted or mixed. Anyways my aunt replied, “No sorry.” Then the attendant asked my aunt, “Well could you take him and help him find his family?” My aunt didn’t even know what to say. “But he’s not with me…” she said. Then the attendant asked, “Well that family over there doesn’t seem to speak English well, could you at least take him over to them and see if he is theirs?” At least? The family she was referring to was speaking in Hindi, which doesn’t mean they can’t speak English, maybe they just preferred to speak in their native tongue. My family speaks Bengali; we aren’t even from the same country. Suddenly all brown people speak the same language and are responsible for each other’s children? It’s like asking an American if they can help translate for an Italian family. I was in shook that this even happened but I pointedly interjected saying, “They speak a different language from us and it is your job to find this child’s parents not ours.” The attendant looked annoyed and shook her head at me and then went to do the job that was hers to do in the first place.

Every hour, this aquatic center had a ridiculous 15 minute drill where everyone had to get out of the water. All the kids get restless in this time and aren’t even allowed to dip their feet in the water. So, I took my cousins and my sister over to the pool on the other side which was deeper. I just let them dip their feet into the pool on the stairs. I was the only one completely in the pool. We were in there for maybe two minutes before a lady (who did NOT work there and was NOT swimming) said, “You have to be over 18 to swim in this pool.” A pool attendant came over and said the same thing. I said okay and told my cousins they needed to get out. Then I told my sister, who is hard of hearing and didn’t understand what was going on. I had to lean into her ear and shout for her to hear me. Obviously I did this in the water and was going to head out right after. The attendant walked away but the woman said very rudely, “Do you not understand English? You have to be 18 to swim in this pool. If my kids can’t swim here, then you can’t either.” I have never had anyone so ignorant talk to me in this way. I turned around and said, “Listen lady, I have been born and raised in the U.S. and I understand. We are getting out. Mind your own damn business!” The woman was shocked into silence momentarily at my amazing ability to “speak English” and that was just enough time for me to herd my cousins and sister back to the main pool.

I don’t think I have ever dealt with racism so directly and first-hand before. I know it exists everywhere but sometimes I am optimistic enough to forget. But racism is STILL A PROBLEM, even in America. What should have been a nice day at the pool turned into a nightmare that still makes me mad thinking about. But I know being mad won't get me anywhere. I honestly feel sorry for some of these ignorant people. Stereotyping and race profiling limits you from really seeing the beauty of culture. I just hope one day they will wake up and educate themselves. I will not be going back to this aquatic center EVER. 

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