An African-American woman says she and her daughter were exposed to "blatant racism" when a man asked them if they had taken a shower before going swimming at a Pasadena hotel pool.
The incident occurred Monday, when the woman was with her 5-year-old daughter and other relatives at The Westin, a 350-room, AAA-rated three-diamond hotel on Los Robles Avenue. The family was visiting Pasadena from Texas.
The woman, who only wanted to be identified by her last name, Wheeler, alleges that a man claiming to be with the "health department" asked her if she and her daughter had showered before entering the pool.
He said he did not want to have to shut the pool down.
A spokeswoman for the Pasadena Health Department said the man in the video is unknown to city health officials, and she said there weren't any health inspectors at The Westin on Monday or in recent days. Further, inspectors would only contact the business operator, not pool patrons, if there were any sanitation issues, the spokeswoman said.
Health inspectors do not make contact with swimmers to ask whether they've showered, Pasadena Health Department spokeswoman Adrienne Kim said.
According to Wheeler, the man continued explaining to her that people often carry diseases into the water. Family members took the girl away from the scene as the altercation continued, Wheeler said.
"I let him know that being black is not a disease and showering would not wash the BLACK off our skin," Wheeler said in an email to KTLA.
She described the incident as “deep-rooted,” citing the history of racial segregation at public swimming pools in the U.S. dating back to the Jim Crow era.
Wheeler’s relative recorded part of the altercation on cellphone video, which shows the man wearing a stripe polo shirt and track pants – not any kind of uniform.
“I am not trash, and I am not dirty,” Wheeler told KTLA in a phone interview. “I have to teach my daughter that no matter how educated we are and how successful we are in life, there are people who will treat us like this just because the color of our skin.”
The video was posted on Facebook Wednesday night, and has been viewed more than 340,000 times by Thursday afternoon.
A hotel employee tried to intervene by telling the man that his question was "inappropriate," the video shows. Then the manager arrives and asks the man to walk away, telling Wheeler and her relatives, who remain concerned, to enjoy the pool.
"I don't want to call the police. And if I do, it's going to be a big headache for everybody," the manager says in the video.
The manager promises to go talk to the man, whom he describes as a guest at the hotel.
The Westin comped Wheeler for one night of her stay, she said. Representatives from the hotel released a statement saying they had no comment but are "investigating everything."