The Accommodation Is The Supremacy

Republicans are killing their own constituents by the thousands, and their constituents love them for it. Wonder why? Look to the swimming pools.

The Accommodation Is The Supremacy
A white police officer in plain clothes jumps in to arrest protesters integrating a pool in 1964. Credit...Horace Cort/Associated Press
Note: this essay was originally published on Revue on December 6, 2021.

Today I’m thinking about the swimming pools.

When my kids were little, we lived by a park. The park had a small and little cared for playground. A couple basketball courts. Some picnic tables. Also, a large cement floor next to a little house.

The floor is in the shape of a swimming pool. The house is a pool house.

Was a pool house.

The cement floor was a cement plug, filling what had been a public swimming pool in a public park.

What happened? I don’t know the particulars of this particular pool, but we know what happened to most of them.

In the 1950s and 60s in America, municipalities started to integrate their public swimming pools, in part due to legal mandates, in part perhaps because of the fact that segregation is cruel and unjust, and people have always known that, no matter what people say now about “a different time.”

So, municipalities—whether voluntarily or not—made public spaces available to everybody. A simple thing. A good thing. The right thing.

What happened was this: white people violently rioted.

In her book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” Heather McGhee writes:

On June 21, two hundred white residents surrounded the pool with “bats, clubs, bricks and knives” to menace the first thirty or so Black swimmers. Over the course of the day, a white mob that grew to five thousand attacked every Black person in sight around the Fairground Park.

What happened after that was this: municipalities closed the swimming pools.

It was a choice.

Cities could have left the pools open, and used law enforcement to put down the violent rioting of white people willing to fight for injustice. But they didn’t, because the cities were oriented to accommodate the psychological and physical comfort of white people, even if what the white people wanted was morally indefensible, obviously illegal, and clearly made things worse.

We could use a word for that phrase: “when cities accommodate one group over another, even if the preferred group’s preference is for harm.”

How about this word: supremacy.

I want you to pay attention to an important distinction; it’s one that’s usually purposefully missed.

The violent white people were supremacists, but the violence of the white people wasn’t the supremacy.

The decision of people with the power to accommodate them anyway—that was the supremacy.

The accommodation is the supremacy.

The accommodation is the supremacy.

So, because of the supremacy of white people, public swimming pools withered and closed—and not just pools. We could be talking about schools. We could be talking about many things. Because of the supremacy, they withered and closed.

In fact, the courts decided, if supremacist white people want to harm the community, elected officials should be allowed to deliver harm.

Draining public swimming pools to avoid integration received the official blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. The city council in Jackson, Mississippi, had responded to desegregation de­mands by closing four public pools and leasing the fifth to the YMCA, which operated it for whites only. Black citizens sued, but the Su­preme Court, in Palmer v. Thompson, held that a city could choose not to provide a public facility rather than maintain an integrated one, because by robbing the entire public, the white leaders were spreading equal harm.

Now, it wasn’t true that the harm was being spread equally, but it was the position of white supremacists that the harm was being spread equally, and our systems were oriented to accommodate the abstracted stated intentions of white people as accurate, even if that position, when put into practice, is observably false. And so, because of the supremacy of white people, the courts agreed with their little white lie, which was that white leaders were spreading harm equally.

We could be talking about access to the vote. We could be talking about many things. Because of supremacy, the courts agreed.

And so, these days, most cities don’t have public swimming pools. Instead they have cement floors in the middle of public parks; parks abandoned by white people who wanted a less functional society, a less valuable public commons, and moreover were willing to pay for it, who wanted inequality and injustice, and moreover were willing to fight for it; supported by a city oriented to accommodate their desires.

There was no legal remedy to counter this. It’s not illegal to close public swimming pools, after all. And it’s not illegal to pay for a private club, even if the cost of that club acts as a lock on a gate.

Over the next decade, millions of white Americans who once swam in public for free began to pay rather than swim for free with Black people; desegregation in the mid-fifties coincided with a surge in backyard pools and members-only swim clubs. In Washington, D.C., for example, 125 new private swim clubs were opened in less than a decade following pool desegregation in 1953. The classless utopia faded, replaced by clubs with two-hundred-dollar member­ship fees and annual dues. A once-public resource became a luxury amenity, and entire communities lost out on the benefits of public life and civic engagement once understood to be the key to making American democracy real.

I guess the reason I’m thinking about the swimming pools today is because, as you may have noticed, elected Republican officials are killing thousands and thousands of their own constituents, and moreover doing so seems to be a prerequisite for these officials, if they want to retain the loyalty of the people they’re killing, and a lot of us are curious why.

It’s a curious thing, that’s for sure.

Just to state the facts: we’re entering year three of a global pandemic. In year one, the Republican President¹ told everyone it was a hoax. He disbanded the pandemic task force. He downplayed the coming severity even though he had been told better. He suppressed the numbers of infections. He decried the use of masks. He fought with governors who tried to take the recommended precautionary steps. He withheld needed supplies. He suggested junk remedies. He caught the virus and made no attempt to not spread it. He promoted news services that spread outright misinformation designed to increase the spread.

Hundreds of thousands of people died.

And a large and vocal minority of mostly white people didn’t just support him despite it, but because of it. They loved him, and still do.

Right now, as year two wraps up and we enter year three, by Google’s count we’ve got 777,000 dead in the United States alone. This year, there have been, thankfully, vaccines, which prevent transmission in most cases and death in almost all cases—at least until a variant pops up (as one might just have) that can circumvent the vaccines. And, of course, if we continue to accommodate the preferences of people who would rather not get the vaccine, then eventually we will get such a variant, and back to square one we’ll go.

And that’s exactly what they all seem to want.

Republican elected officials are doing everything they can to prevent the vaccine’s spread, and to sabotage our new president’s frequently imperfect responses in favor of a worse response, preferably no response. They cast endless dispersion and doubt on the vaccine. They oppose all mandates and regulation related to public health recommendations. They fine businesses that require vaccines for entry. They promote disinformation sources and junk remedies.

And, increasingly, it is their constituents who cause our schools to close, who choke our hospitals past the breaking point, who die on social media broadcasting their swan songs of regret, and yet they don’t stop, because the large and vocal minority of mostly white people who vote for them don’t just support them despite it, but because of it. They expect it. They demand it. They seem to want the societal collapse that pandemic brings, and they are willing to pay an increasingly steep price for it, and in order to justify this preference are willing to leave our shared reality to such an extent that it has become almost impossible to interact with them in order to justify this preference.

Dying from the virus has become optional. A large and vocal mostly white conservative minority is exercising that option.

And the question you might be asking is: why?

Why does this large and mostly white conservative minority want to spread a deadly virus? Why are they willing to sacrifice knowable reality and even their own lives and the lives of their loved ones in order to accomplish this?

My guess is, it’s the swimming pool.

I’m a middle-aged white guy with a lot of privilege, so forgive me a moment of almost impossibly naïve reverie here, but … there was a point not so long ago when we really did seem on the verge of potentially trying something new—a system built on real equality and justice, where space would be made for all.

I mean, we’re not there yet and never have been, and we’ve never even really been close, but it did seem like we might be making a try at it. We had for decades a functional Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, abortion rights, gay people could get married, we’d integrated even the military in most ways … it was things like that. We all agreed that Nazis were bad, and that anyone who suggested they would make good presidential advisors was suspect. There was that, at least.

It was a fool’s hope, perhaps, but there did seem to be a hope, a belief that there might be a possibility that we’d actually create a pluralistic society where the answer to people who were different from you could never be “make them not exist,” or “make them have to be somewhere else where I am not,” a society where people who wanted to see harmful and morally indefensible things done to other people wouldn’t have those desires given preferential accommodation, simply because they had been baptized in the supremacy of whiteness or maleness or Christianity.

But … even if it didn’t seem likely we’d ever fully achieve this possibility, we knew there existed a large, vocal, mostly white conservative minority, who believed the possibility of an equal society was very real, who saw the coming possibility that society might no longer be arranged to give maximum accommodation to them and their desire to oppress others, and experienced that possibility as not only fearfully oppressive, but an existential threat to their fortunes and identities—to their supremacy.

But now we all also know—if we’re still willing to see reality clearly—that that large and vocal minority is willing to do literally anything, no matter how destructive to public good and even to themselves, to prevent any part of that possibility from coming to pass.

They’re ready to cement it over.

They’re willing to fight for their supremacy, and they’re willing to pay. How much are they willing to pay? Anything, it turns out. Even their lives.

A question: Do you want an equal society?

Another question: What are you willing to pay for it?

Again, I’m a middle-aged white guy, very privileged, so I’d say I first became aware of the fact that white conservatives not only were opposed to an equal society, but would literally rather see society collapse than see it come about, around the time we elected a Black man as president.

I realize this reality must have been detectable long before, but I do think that when Barack Obama was elected, something significant shattered in the conservative psyche. To my perspective, it feels like we elected a Black man as president—a very conservative, very status quo, very steady-as-she-goes Black man, but a Black man nonetheless—and white conservative America perceived that the exclusive swimming clubs of power and influence they had created as a fortification against the rising tide of equality had been irreparably breached; decided it was time to take the swimming pool of American civic life and cement the whole thing over.

Why do conservatives want to spread Covid even though it collapses our shared society? is the wrong question.

The right question is this: What is it about the total collapse of our shared society that conservatives now want?

I think the answer is the shared part.

It’s the same reason they no longer participate in our shared reality.

They don’t want to share.

I think they want the system to collapse. Hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, infrastructure, government, democracy—the whole “American experiment,” whatever the hell that means. Anyway, whatever their intention, it’s certainly what they’re doing.

They are supremacist.

Our political and social systems still accommodate their desires.

And so, to one extent or another, do most of us.

Which is the supremacy.

I presume many white conservatives actually think they’ll survive the coming hoped-for systemic collapse. I expect white conservatives are so used to having their physical and psychological comfort accommodated above any demands of justice or peace or stability, that they on some level truly believe that, even after society crumbles, reality itself will bend to serve their needs. I presume they believe there will exist some private swimming club for reality itself, to which they, rugged individualists all, can buy membership, where the unjust and harmful society they insist upon will have not collapsed, which will go on serving them and only them.

And maybe so. It’s admittedly true that our supremacy-oriented society is likely to give them a preferred shot at survival. The wealthier these white conservatives are, the better the chance that they will be able to find some island upon which to perch after the flood takes it all away. But in my opinion, they’d do it anyway, for the sake of supremacy. They want their society that caters only to them, and they’d rather see it all fall than lose that privilege, and they’re willing to pay for it. They’re willing to kill for it and die for it. They expect their leaders to do it, as a prerequisite for their ongoing loyalty.

So that’s what their leaders are doing, on their behalf.

Again, according to our law, there exists no legal remedy for an elected official who decides to deliver harm and death and destruction—other than removing them in elections, that is. But perhaps you’ve noticed that the large and vocal mostly white conservative minority is also hard at work destroying the apparatus of elections, and, again, there exists no remedy for an elected official who decides to deliver destruction, even destruction of elections.

We can’t stop supremacists from breaking the rules, because the rules, which are supremacist, won’t allow it.

The remedy, in my opinion, is an uncomfortable one. At long last, to the extent that we do, we all have to stop participating in supremacy.

At all.


By any means.

Which means we’ll have to become people who refuse to accommodate it, and are willing to accept the discomfort that comes with it.

Too often, if we are comfortable people like me, we want comfortable relationships with people who demand their antisocial desires be given priority as a prerequisite for our own comfort, and I think the answer is, we have to stop doing that, and accept that we’ll become less comfortable as a result.

They expect us to participate in their supremacy—in the reflexive act of giving first priority to the accommodation of their abusive desires, no matter how harmful or morally indefensible. And too often, we choose the mutual comfort of giving that accommodation.

We accept the quickening destruction of the commons.

We accept the privatization of what should be publicly available, the profit-ization of things that should never be subject to profit motive.

We accept the premise that they are licensed with permission for change; that in order to affect change, they and only they must first be convinced that change will favor them.

We accept the idea that division and polarization is the real problem, not the abuse that caused it; that the real problem is caused by refusal to accommodate their abuse, rather than by the abuse itself.

The people who want to collapse society mustn’t have their desires accommodated, if we want to avoid societal collapse. Their insistence on creating an alternate reality and making the rest of us live in it mustn’t be accommodated, either.

We can’t let them shut it all down.

We have to shut supremacy down instead.

And remember, supremacy is the accommodation of the supremacist desire.

We start with ourselves.

Shut the supremacy down—within yourself. Stop accommodating, and—this especially—stop demanding accommodation.

Don’t make your personal comfort a prerequisite for supporting those who are fighting for equality and liberation. Get comfortable with discomfort. Be willing to hear challenging words from marginalized people. Be willing to accept disruptive actions designed to disempower the large and vocal mostly white minority who are acting as civic terrorists and vandals. Be willing to suspend your preference for order over justice, to support leaders who will use extreme means to abrogate the rules that prop up supremacy. Be willing to create uncomfortable relationships with people in your lives who want to support or accomplish unacceptable things. Resist the urge to tell people whose perspectives deserve no respect that you respect their point of view. Make it clear to supremacists and their enablers that they can’t keep their preference to destroy our shared society and still share in society. Make it clear to them and their enablers that their false reality is not something we will be entertaining.

A large and vocal mostly white minority is willing to fight for their supremacy, and they’ll pay for it with their lives if they must. It’s why they get their way. It’s why we accommodate them.

They’ll cement over our shared society, if we let them—and we’re letting them. We’re accommodating them.

I’d say it’s time for us to take their supremacy and cement that over, instead.

You want a society of equality? Good. Me too.

We need to be willing to fight for it—and to pay the cost of the fight.

Or we’ll pay the steeper cost of accommodation.


¹ Who, believe it or not, before becoming a world leader, was actually that dipshit fatuous long-tied television rodeo clown we all knew, famous for starring on that dumb reality show where he pretended to be a dumb billionaire who paid people to tell him he was the biggest best wealthiest genius, and we all laughed and laughed, until we realized how many people were taking his transparently bullshit schtick seriously.


A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places. He’s getting rather old, but he’s a good mouse.