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Swimming In The Black Community: How Racism Is Drowning Us

Leeda.the.Paladin

Well-Known Member

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Summertime is here, which means that pool parties and beach days are bound to be had. However, while many of us may be sporting a two-piece on the sand, very few of us will be jumping off a diving board anytime soon. Why? Because, according to research from the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis, 70 percent of African Americans do not know how to swim.

So what’s to blame for this alarming statistic? Of course there is the obvious issue of chlorine and the effects it has on our hair; but the true origin of our underrepresentation in the water is attached to deeper historical and generational roots—historically, segregation; generationally, fear.

As University of Montana professor Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, puts it, “It is because of discrimination and segregation that swimming never became a part of African-American recreational culture.”


Put differently: Lack of access to swimming pools and public beaches meant that many black Americans were denied the opportunity to learn how to swim; and intergenerational fear of the water stops their descendants from learning now.

In fact, recreational swimming only became popular in the U.S. during the 1920s and 1930s. It was then that many municipal pools began to pop up across the nation. By the time swimming became recognized as a sport in the 1950s and 1960s, segregation in the U.S. was also recognized, widening the racial and economic divide that left many African Americans to drown—literally and figuratively.

This leads us to today’s reality: If your grandparents weren’t able to learn how to swim, then they didn’t teach your parents. And if your parents didn’t swim, then you might not know how to swim, either.

In fact, the USA Swimming Foundation study shows that “if a parent does not know how to swim, there is only a 13 percent chance that a child in that household will learn how to swim.”

“My mother didn't know how to swim and had a bit of a fear of the water. That fear was pushed on us, so we didn't learn how to swim,” says Ty Alexander, author of Things I Wish I Knew Before My Mom Died. On the other hand, “My son knows the basics just because he's a millennial … they are more daring and willing to jump in the water without fear,” she adds.

Then there is the opposite: black parents who did know how to swim. Parents like former University of Texas at Austin competitive swimmer Kelley Robins Hicks. “I never remember learning to swim … as far as I know, I’ve been able to swim my whole life,” she says. Her parents both swam in high school, and her father also swam in college. “All of my cousins, aunts and uncles swim, too,” she adds.

This “family business,” as Robins Hicks puts it, ultimately afforded many other black children in Houston the opportunity not only to swim but to swim competitively during the late ’80s. Her father teamed up with both her godfather and the city’s commissioner to create a swim team for inner-city kids that would be free. A major inclusion, since, despite its racially divided beginnings, swimming was and still is an expensive sport.



Despite both historical and current impediments, many young black people love being around water. And to circumvent the constraints of a racist society—from segregation to affordability and accessibility—some black parents took their children swimming in local lakes, rivers or oceans. The negative side to this is the danger that these bodies of water can present.

Take the six African-American teenagers from two families who drowned in a single incident in Louisiana in 2010, for example. Sadly, the teens’ friends and family, who watched in horror as they drowned, couldn't save them because they couldn’t swim, either.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. has more than 3,500 accidental drownings every year. That is almost 10 a day. And among these alarming numbers, this: The fatal-drowning rate of African-American children ages 5 to 14 is three times that of white children.

So while discrimination may have played a significant role in our lack of water skills in the past, and fear is an undeniable factor, we will need a change in our mindsets toward swimming in order to tackle this disparity in our culture today.

Unlike in the United Kingdom, where learning to swim is embraced within the national curriculum, the ultimate responsibility for this mental shift in the U.S. often lies with parents.


"I would love to make it a rule like they have in the U.K.," says Cullen Jones, a gold medalist in the freestyle 100-meter relay in Beijing, and a spokesman for USA Swimming's Make a Splash campaign. After he nearly drowned at a theme park at the age of 5, his mother immediately enrolled him in swimming lessons. By the time he was 8, he was swimming competitively. Today the Make a Splash campaign is geared toward all nonswimmers and their parents, but there is a particular focus on ethnic-minority families.

So if you have children, the key is to start them young. Are you grown and can’t swim? Well, it is never too late to learn. “I'd love to be able to swim about freely with my friends who have learned how to swim. I'd also like to be prepared in the event an accident happens and I need to save my own life,” says Alexander.



Ultimately, there is room for us in the swimming community, both recreationally and competitively. So it is time that we dive in, black people.
 

Leeda.the.Paladin

Well-Known Member
It's summer and the time is ripe for drownings. I just heard of an 11 year old black boy that drowned at a family reunion, which was near a lake. He was standing on a dock and fell in unnoticed. They found his body the next day :( It breaks my heart that this could've been avoided.

A lot of parents don't think their kids will ever have a need for swimming. But our planet is mostly water. Chances are that they will, at some point, come into contact with water deeper than they are tall. Kids need to learn to swim or at least be able to float until help comes.
 

Thump

Scorpio Queen
My sister is the only person that I knew growing up that did not know how to swim. My brothers and I have known how to swim since age 4. There was nothing else to do in my hood growing up but swim. I swam everyday all day long except when it was thundering and lighting. We even climbed the fence at night and swam. All of our kids/grandkids including my sisters how to swim. We were project kids with a pool right around the corner. No one taught us, we were thrown in and had to figure it out. I lived in an all black neighborhood.
 

Leeda.the.Paladin

Well-Known Member
My sister is the only person that I knew growing up that did not know how to swim. My brothers and I have known how to swim since age 4. There was nothing else to do in my hood growing up but swim. I swam everyday all day long except when it was thundering and lighting. We even climbed the fence at night and swam. All of our kids/grandkids including my sisters how to swim. We were project kids with a pool right around the corner. No one taught us, we were thrown in and had to figure it out. I lived in an all black neighborhood.

I think that y'll were the exception. What part of the country do you live in?

That's great though. I grew up afraid of it and that fear was very hard to overcome.
 

MzRhonda

Well-Known Member
My sister is the only person that I knew growing up that did not know how to swim. My brothers and I have known how to swim since age 4. There was nothing else to do in my hood growing up but swim. I swam everyday all day long except when it was thundering and lighting. We even climbed the fence at night and swam. All of our kids/grandkids including my sisters how to swim. We were project kids with a pool right around the corner. No one taught us, we were thrown in and had to figure it out. I lived in an all black neighborhood.
Sounds like where I grew up we were in the pool everyday. My cousins and neighbor friends would sometimes jump the fence at night too! Lol
 

Thump

Scorpio Queen
My mom and many of the black parents I knew signed us all up for swimming lessons every summer growing up.

That's nice, we didn't get any lessons. Other kids threw you in and you had to figure it out. There was always lifeguard on hand but I only remember him having to go in only once after someone was thrown in. It was sort of a ritual, looking back it was dangerous as hell though lol. The pool was owned by the city and they would not allow lessons unless you paid and went to the "white" pool for the lessons. We were too poor to pay for lessons.
 

niknakmac

Well-Known Member
My family loves the water. Vacations for us always included a beach growing up usually on a Caribbean island. My sister and I took swimming lessons all year long as kids. Even in the dead of winter in Canada. I had rd in the pool taking lessons once she turned a year. Idk anyone in my family and extended family that doesn't swim.
 

OhTall1

Well-Known Member
My mother has a fear of water and it transferred to me. I took swimming lessons the year I turned forty. I am more comfortable in water now.
Same here. And her parents had the same fear so none of the aunts and uncles on her side of the family swim. They were poor in rural Virginia so no access to pools and no nearby bodies of water.

I contacted a swim coach for personal lessons but things got busy this year. I'll probably try her again in the fall.
 

Coilystep

@imperial_acquisitions
Same here. And her parents had the same fear so none of the aunts and uncles on her side of the family swim. They were poor in rural Virginia so no access to pools and no nearby bodies of water.

I contacted a swim coach for personal lessons but things got busy this year. I'll probably try her again in the fall.
My mom is still very resistant. I sent this article this morning. She said nice article swimming still not for me.
My mom was born and raised in Buffalo NY and so was I. So there was definitely access to water.
I hope you definitely find time to get with the swim coach this year. It is so worth it.
 

Shiks

Well-Known Member
Someone wrote a book about Nairobi(Kenyan) and this white man Nic Cheeseman who is a 'respected African expert' said it was clearly fiction because there are no black people who swim in Nairobi,which is a lie. I don't know if it is being on here but I get so annoyed by things like these;white people putting their crap/how they think we should be on us as if it is fact. Many public schools have pools and we have country clubs full of wait for it black people.
 

Leeda.the.Paladin

Well-Known Member
My mother has a fear of water and it transferred to me. I took swimming lessons the year I turned forty. I am more comfortable in water now.

I took lessons when I was 24 and I was happy that there were so many other black folks in the class. I know a lot of them had kids and didn't want to transfer that fear to them. There was even a 70 year old woman who said she'd never been in water deeper than a bath tub. I really admired her.
 

nysister

Well-Known Member
I've taken swimming lessons and I've swam in a pool, but I still wouldn't say I swim. It's a skill like most things that has to be done repetitively. We've thought of putting a pool in but haven't. I've friends with pools and I should practice there, but I haven't. At this point I know it's on me. I come from a family of non-swimmers.
 

Leeda.the.Paladin

Well-Known Member
Ya'll I'm not saying that a lot of black people DONT know how to swim. I think it's been observed before that LHCF is not the average in a lot of areas.

Anecdotal evidence aside, the fact is that a higher rate of black (and Hispanic) kids drown than white kids.

My own anecdotal evidence where girls are concerned: A lot of moms don't want the kids hair getting wet, which I can totally understand. When I ran my hair blog, a lot of people didn't want to swim for exercise because their hair would be a wreck afterwards. I have to admit even now I will avoid swimming if my hair has just been done.
 

MzRhonda

Well-Known Member
I think that y'll were the exception. What part of the country do you live in?

That's great though. I grew up afraid of it and that fear was very hard to overcome.
Philly and then Va.
Virginia for me.
My 2 kids took swimming lessons as well. I couldn't take chances that they did not know how to swim when we live so near the beach and other water....plus when they get older and leave home I need to make sure if they are around any type of water they can swim......so many older people are drowning in pools and beaches. :nono:
 

MzRhonda

Well-Known Member
It's part of our school curriculum. If you can't swim by grade 6, you will not be moved up to grade 7.

DS' preschool gives the kids swimming classes, but he's not swimming well yet. We'll work on it this summer and have fun at the same time. I love water.
Wow interesting. Where are you located?
Here the swim teams in high school are majority yt and most also swim in neighborhood leagues.
 

Leeda.the.Paladin

Well-Known Member
It's part of our school curriculum. If you can't swim by grade 6, you will not be moved up to grade 7.

DS' preschool gives the kids swimming classes, but he's not swimming well yet. We'll work on it this summer and have fun at the same time. I love water.
I know that in UK, swimming is a part of the curriculum. Here, some kids aren't even required to take physical education, so swimming is basically on the parents
 

BillsBackerz67

Well-Known Member
I like the concept of those specialized swimming classes for drowning prevention in toddlers. I forget the exact name of it but by the end of these specific lessons they are able to swim and be able to float wearing their clothes, shoes, and diaper. Its so freaking cool, adorbs, and fascinating at the same time.

I learned to swim when i was 3 thanks to my stepmother.

My bother is 26 cant swim. mom also can't swim.
 
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