A black woman was at a California pool on vacation. Then, a man insisted she shower before swimming.
Carle Wheeler was doing what one does on a vacation in the sun, hanging with her 5-year-old daughter at the pool at the hotel they were staying at in Pasadena, California, when a man approached them.
The man, who is white, asked Wheeler and her daughter, who are black, if they had showered before getting into the pool, Wheeler wrote on her Facebook page, “because people carry diseases into the pools and he doesn’t want the health department to shut the pool down.”
He then approached again, claiming he worked for the Health Department, Wheeler wrote, at which point she said she confronted him on what appeared to be “blatant racism.”
“I let him know that being black is not a disease and showering would not wash the BLACK off our skin,” Wheeler, a software engineer and single mother from Texas wrote. “I think it’s awful that ANY man would think it’s okay to essentially ask a woman and a little girl if we took off our clothes and scrubbed our naked bodies before getting into a hotel swimming pool.”
The incident, the end of which was captured on camera in a video that has been seen more than 2 million times, is the latest in a long line of episodes to draw scrutiny to the way in which black people are treated as objects of suspicion by others while doing seemingly quotidian things in public. In recent months, episodes in which black people were questioned or had the police called on them - while renting an apartment Airbnb, barbecuing, falling asleep in a common room at Yale, or sitting in a Starbucks - have drawn wide attention, much of it fueled by strong emotions on social media. The incidents have given rise to the hashtag #LivingWhileBlack and some had only been resolved after the people were questioned or arrested by police.
The video of Wheeler’s incident begins as she and the man, who has not been identified, discuss the conflict with a woman who works at the hotel, the Westin.
“I simply asked them if they showered,” the man tells the hotel employee. “Because that’s part of the rules. And I don’t know about you guys but I’m tired of getting into pools that people consider baths.”
“You didn’t ask anyone else,” a voice off camera retorts.
Wheeler said that the man continued to “taunt” her young daughter as she was being led away from the argument, which had grown heated. In the video, the man says “It’s only a shower young lady, don’t worry,” as a little girl is escorted inside.
A hotel manager arrives and threatens to call the police, before asking the man to leave. Wheeler said she was upset that the manager let the man walk away while asking her to step to the side to talk to him, though the manager did say on the video that he planned to talk to the man later.
“Only after speaking with the white bystanders who corroborated our story did [the manager] instruct the other hotel managers to review the tapes to find the man he had just let go!” Wheeler wrote. She said he does not believe that the man, who the manager said was another hotel guest, suffered any consequences for his behavior.
The hotel’s manager, Carl Sprayberry, released a statement that expressed regret for the way Wheeler was treated by the man.
The Pasadena Health Department told the television channel KTLA that the man is not a health inspector, nor had there been any at the Westin recently. An inspector wouldn’t confront patrons if there had been any sanitation issues at the pool either, the spokeswoman said.
Wheeler told KTLA that she was given a free night’s stay at the hotel.
“It’s sad that I had to explain to my beautiful little five year old brown skinned girl why in 2018 a white man would think it’s OK to ask a little girl and her mom if we showered our presumably dirty black skin before entering a swimming pool,” Wheeler wrote on Facebook. “I have to teach my innocent child that no matter how much we educate ourselves with degrees, no matter what career we choose, no matter if we own a nice home in a gated community, or drive a nice car there are still people in this world who will not like us just because of the color of our skin.”
Even worse, she wrote, was the feeling that people in positions of power “will not stand up for us when they know it’s wrong that we are treated that way.”
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