Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Acting White: The Swimming/Drowning Gap

Black kids between the ages of 10-14 drown at a rate that is 4.5 times white kids their same age. Contrary to the myths about buoyancy, bone density, and other assorted nonsense, there is no legitimate reason for this disparity.

My sixteen-year old daughter is a varsity swimmer. She and her younger brother have been swimming from an early age, as did I. Although being a competitive swimmer encourages the accusations of ‘acting white’, she is undaunted because she has been taught to think past it.

Interestingly enough, her grades improved when she joined the swim team, although the workouts have given her less time to study. One reason might be that the swim ‘crowd’ is markedly more academic than her other friends, but good exercise feeds the brain too. She continues to like rap/hip-hop music, but has also added alternative rock to her iPod playlist.

It was heartening to see Cullen Jones, a champion swimmer, who happens to be black, swimming in World Championships in Melbourne, on the same team as the phenomenal Michael Phelps. Perhaps the wake of their exploits will encourage black kids to challenge accusations that only thwart their advancement.

I was lucky. I learned to swim at the YMCA some forty years ago, long before my Jesuit educators required it of me. I taught swimming, diving, and lifeguarded as well, on my way to becoming more comfortable with challenges errantly considered the purview of whites. I was rewarded by these experiences one day when I rescued a young girl, a black girl, who was drowning unnoticed in a busy pool.

I hope that Jones’ success, along with courageous kids, like my girl, ultimately bring the drowning and injury toll down for blacks. The sooner, the better. Go Cullen!

James C. Collier


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Anonymous said...


With the new movie "Pride" (see teaser at: http://www.pridefilm.com/site.php) you daughter should have even more support for her love of competitive swimming. The movie looks to debunk one of the popular myths (e.g. black people can't swim, white people can't jump, etc.) and has some great stars AND is a true story!

I agree! GO CULLEN!


Ron Albright

Lola Gets said...

My mother couldnt swim. As a result, she made my sister and I take lessons, seemingly, as soon as we could walk! I cant remember a time when I couldnt swim. Swimming in an excellent skill that everyone should have under their belts; you never know when youll need it.

James C. Collier said...

All the families on my block were working-class poor. Our toys were always second-tier, but us kids had summertime Y memberships, that were cheap ($15-25). Too often it is a matter of priorities.

Jada said...

I am a mother of four.I started all my kids in swimming at the age of three. My teenager has been doing competitive swim since he was 10 years old.My 10 and 11 year sons also have won awards for swimming.My baby girl has started lessons this year.So we are out there swimming our heart out!

Anonymous said...

Wow, you really provide some great insight on your blog. I'm looking forward to seeing Pride whenever I get a chance. Never even heard about Cullen, but I will definitely check him out.

Duchess Of Austin said...

I've been able to swim since before I could walk, and have never had a swimming lesson in my life.

Perhaps the reason your annonymous commenter above couldn't afford swimming lessons is because his/her single mother had too many mouths to feed to be able to give her children the one on one time in the pool that it takes to teach a kid to swim.

I'm so sick of "poor and black" being the excuse for everything. The excuses ring hollow these days.

James C. Collier said...

Duchess: You might be right, but at this distance it is pure speculation, with a bit of editorializing on your part. Objectively, I think the outcome has little to do with the number of children, but rather misplaced parental priorities.

Anonymous said...

Some of the best swimmers in history are African American.

I am sorry to rain on your parade. Perhaps you could educate yourself by watching the following link. The CBS reporter, Shomari Stone, exposes the myths and stereotypes you are talking about on your blog. Copy and paste or simply click on the following link. Take care.


James C. Collier said...

Anon 6:25, Perhaps you can reread the post, more closely. It is about the disproportion of swimming deaths and injuries to blacks, not whether or not they can be champions. Cullen's exploits simply create a forum to consider the greater issue. And what part of my statements about bouyancy myths and other nonsense needs debunking or re-education. Your comments are curious.