Wednesdays, Swimming Pools, Philosophy, and More – What I’m Reading Series, #3

Recently I have read several books, and I wanted to share a few details about some of these. 

Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America focuses on the North and explains the evolution of swimming pools in United States history. This book argues that swimming pools are an important mirror and an important microcosm of border society. 

Jeff Wiltse says from the 1890s or so until the 1920s, swimming pools were generally something closer to public baths for people of lower economic classes and were only segregated by class and sex. From the 1920s until the 1940s-1960s, swimming pools exploded in popularity and became as “American” as Football is today. The federal government built or repared hundreds of pools as part of its New Deal programs. Some swimming pools could hold 10,000 people at once!

For the first time pools were segregated according to notions of race. Sometimes there would be a separate pool, other times one pool divided into sections, and other times one day of the week reserved for Black and non-White patrons (after which the water would all be drained and refilled before White customers could return). And in other cases, non-White people simply weren’t allowed to swim. 

Swimming pools were important places for protests, including “swim-ins” and often saw violence. Pools in the North and West desegregated long before the South. This book contends that as pools desegregated the number of visits by White people vastly and immediately declined resulting in pool closures and reduced funding from the city. Additionally, desegregation resulted in a lasting phenomenon of having private, in-ground swimming pools.

In 1950, there were 2,500 private, in-ground swimming pools in the United States.
In 1999, 4,000,000 private, in-ground swimming pools.

While it is likely surprising (and controversal), private in-ground swimming pools (similar to private schools) developed as we know them today as one manifestation of massive resistance, one way to avoid orders for desegregation. Except for some of the very richest people, there was no concept of having a private pool until people faced situations where swimming with non-White people would be required.

Even today, swimming pools are dangerous places, as far as social and racialized tensions are concerned.  

A good conversation about this book with the author can be found here.

Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change recounts the efforts of wealthy White and Black women who participated in the Civil Rights Revolution, specifically in Mississippi during Freedom Summer. They would fly by airplane to Mississippi on Tuesdays, do their work on Wednesdays, and go home on Thursdays.

These women focused on making allies among the wealthy White women of Mississippi. They listed to them and reassured them, based on their own first hand accounts.

This group didn’t make the headlines then (or now) because it wanted to stay very low key. They weren’t specifically involved in protests and were very careful to play by all the rules of the Culture of Segregation.

To learn more about this interesting and totally unique group, check out the book or visit this website. The website has most of the information found in the book. 

The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life basically argues that e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in the United States that involves so-called sex, so-called sexuality, so-called sexual orientation, etc (and the so-called is important to the author’s argument) is based on very deep-rooted, socially constructed notions of shame – that people have a desire to control and “moralize” the irrational and normal – and that all of this is always changing and very modern and new. The author argues that (equal) marriage is harmful toward achieving equality. He also says the term “queer” is better than “gay” (etc) because it focuses on all identities and practices that are not simply so-called heteronormative. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the book because its message can be so quickly distilled, but it was interesting and very much embodied in academic queeriness, semiotics, other theory, and the academic discipline, English. Knowing this book came out in the late 1990s is important for understanding some of its perspectives. 

I am also in the middle of reading several interesting philosophy books, including The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher, 101 Philosophy Problems, Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy, and Philosophy and the Sciences for Everyone Reprint Edition. I’m hoping some of these might provide good materials for teaching purposes. More on these some other day!

I’ll leave you with two recommendations for articles I have recently read: 

The Dangerous Acceptance of Donald Trump – The New Yorker

Review: The new book ‘The Other Slavery’ will make you rethink American history

Andrew Joseph Pegoda