My niece almost drowned: A story for our time

My niece almost drowned.

Well, not exactly. 

My 8-year-old niece was wearing flippers and full-face goggles to rival any serious snorkeler. She was hanging out in the deep end in her blue inner tube— the kind with the hole in the bottom. 

My mom (who does not swim, but has eagle eyes to account for her grandchildren while in the pool) started yelling “Help her. Help her! HELP HER!” and rushed to the poolside while pointing. 

In the pool, our snorkeler was now only visible as flippers pointed skywards in her inner tube. 

I jumped in. I arrived at her side about the time as the other children in the pool did and just as I was about to push her up out of the inner tube, she popped her head up and said, “What? I’m fine” (with quite a bit of sass, I might add). She was just enjoying the sky view.

As I lay awake tonight, I feel that this, my friends, is a metaphor. English teachers love metaphors. 

  1. There were so many adults there; it would have been easy for none of us to pay attention. If it were a true emergency, it would have been terrible hindsight to say, “I thought you were watching her.”

As white Americans, are we standing silent on the sidelines because somebody else will “do it”? As white teachers, are we waiting for an underrepresented group of teachers of color to do this work for us? We cannot hesitate. We cannot wait until we feel comfortable or until we have all the answers. 

     2. My mom wanted more for her kids, so she took us to swimming lessons. And not just one year to make sure we could swim, but Every. Single. Summer. We passed all the guppy, minnow, fish, flying fish, and shark levels that the YMCA had to offer. The most basic instinct as a parent is to want more for your child.

How can we begrudge black mothers the opportunity for their children to have a better place in this world?

Also, I must acknowledge the privilege that came from having these swimming lessons. I was given the best that our area has to offer and not just until I was proficient, but until I excelled. My privileged experience as a white woman has been exponentially easier than if I were a POC. 

This privilege was not earned in any way, but was given to me because of the systems in tweet smithplace in schools and the workplace. This is systemic racism. Black people are figuratively drowning in the systems that have been put in place for housing, healthcare, and public policies. 

     3. I jumped. I also hit my ankle pretty hard on the slope of the pool as I entered. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but I was going to get the job done. 

During this struggle, don’t just talk about it. Take a measurable, actionable step. Consider joining a local, established organization as an ally. In Danville/Pittsylvania County that may be Virginia Organizing or the Pittsylvania County chapter of the NAACP. 

  1. My mom had the most important role as she sounded the alarm, but our roles were different. 

foot on the gas

Maybe your role is to take to the streets. Maybe your role is to have some hard conversations with family members. Maybe your role is to pray for our country and be a better neighbor. Maybe your role is to donate to a bail fund. But everyone, every single one of us must LISTEN first. 

I jumped in. And so would you. So, white folks, if you would jump in to save Leah…and I know you would…let’s jump into this work. 

For me, this work looks like working on myself (participating in book studies on White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi), working on my classroom (closely examining reading lists and how I can #DisruptTexts), and becoming a listening ally in a community group. Your work may look very different from mine. 

See something. Say something. Do something. 

Jump in. And stay in. We have a lot to do. 


3 thoughts on “My niece almost drowned: A story for our time

Add yours

    1. Thanks for reading. I feel that will not be the case based on some positive conversations that I have had this week. This is an area of my personal growth, and I am willing to be an ally where I am needed.


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