In the aftermath of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the Black Lives Matter movement, racism touched my family at the Jersey Shore.
When I was a kid, my parents took us on beach vacations. Experienced beach bums, we were used to being the only Black people joyfully surfing the waves and sunbathing.
My sister, a Black woman married to a white man, with whom she has two brown children, has followed in my parents footsteps, summering at the same family resort in Wildwood Crest for at least six summers. Her family lives in Washington D.C. and my brothers and I visit her at the shore when she vacations.
A few Saturdays ago, I spent the day playing in the ocean with her and the kids. Afterward, we jumped into the resort’s pool. While the parents arranged the dinner plans, my brother unexpectedly joined our group. He did not go in the pool. Instead, he spent the time catching up with friends and family on the patio.
Everything seemed fine until members of the homeowners association began whispering to my sister’s husband excitedly. I was too busy keeping the children from drowning to engage with the adults, but luckily, my brilliant brother-in-law kept everything moving smoothly. No one would have known there was a problem.
After we dried off and got ready for dinner, it was suggested that our group move off the main concourse to eat, drink, fly kites, and continue to enjoy our evening. At the same time, my brother left, muttering some excuse about traffic.
Later, while the children were occupied, my sister told me the real reason behind my brother’s sudden departure. I was shocked and appalled to find out my brother left our gatherings because of racism: we had been singled out because of our blackness.
It happened while I was in the pool. The HOA members approached my sister’s husband with the “rules.” There was a “no outside guests” policy. My sister had two guests with her: my brother and me. The other people in our group, who were also staying at the resort, were white and had multiple guests with them.
The “pool occupancy” code was also brought to our attention. As the only Black adult in the pool, I was the volunteer lifeguard, surrounded by white adults and children.
To be clear: there were three Black adults at the resort, including my brother, and two Black children, my seven-year-old nephew, and my three-year-old niece. Just as when we were kids, my family was at the shore—surrounded by white people.
I could feel the shame and embarrassment from our friends when they realized the rules were being used to make my family feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
This form of racist hypocrisy was something I never expected during a weekend at the shore. A derisive occurrence so subtle that I wanted to deny it was actually happening. Unfortunately, for Black people, denial is a luxury we cannot afford. It has been a historical fact that when a white person chooses to take offense to a Black person’s presence, the threat of humiliation and danger is close.
That evening, I found a parallel between our nation’s racial divide and our afternoon at the resort. In an interview with the news and opinion website Vox, Professor Carol Anderson discusses her book and the phenomenon of “white rage.” Anderson explains there has been a systematic creation of “policies that undermine African American achievement and advancement. These policies sanction the violence that accompanies white rage to make that environment look legitimate.”
The HOA tried to legitimize their fear and anger by enforcing rules they typically would not have enforced under the disguise of normality. Just as with “voter ID laws… [and] the rage that fueled the insurrectionists that stormed the Capitol on January 6 in an attempt to dismantle America’s multicultural democracy…”
In my desire to understand why racism and white rage were present at our 2022 summer vacation, I discovered a few interesting facts and opinions.
Nationwide, since 2018, the white population has experienced a 35-percent decline according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Additionally, the book Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America by William Frey reveals that by the year 2045 white people will no longer be the majority demographic in America.
The idea that a group of people who held the majority since the birth of this nation will no longer do so in about two decades must be frightening. Especially when being the majority is equated with having power. Power, described by Anderson, to create policies to legitimize white rage and fear, especially fear of the changing demographic landscape.
I cannot condone white rage or racism but I can understand the various emotions a human can feel when faced with the idea of powerlessness and change. However, it is important for humans to do better by treating everyone equally, respectfully, and with kindness.
Today, my family rallies against voter suppression by participating in every election. And I have re-committed myself to creating light in the dark spaces.
My sister has also developed two ingenious ways to rally against racism in this beachfront vacation town.
First, she and my brother have discussed purchasing units at this resort, adding diversity to the homeowners association. In America, the color of true influence is green. Using our money to level the economic playing field will add value and hope to all communities.
Second, my sister will be sweet, fun, understanding, and trustworthy to all the children and adults when she visits the resort. When those families remember their vacation, they will remember a woman who saw, heard, and valued each one of them. She will be a human who did not discriminate on the basis of skin color.
I will continue to visit the Jersey Shore and this resort, refusing to let personal fears or the fears of others dictate how I live. In addition, I keep sharing my opinions, no matter how uncomfortable or unpopular they may be. My hope is that something I say or do will give someone the courage, hope, and strength to join the movement to make this nation a better place for everyone.