Friday, February 19, 2010

#5 Blacks And Not Swimming

This post is about keeping kids alive. Yesterday, I saw an old friend taking her three year old daughter to a swim lesson.

I swim a mile three times a week, so I’m a magnet for questions like why so few Black folks swim – even from Black people. These kinds of questions frequent the time of the winter Olympics because so few Blacks compete at the highest level in the winter games. I, for one, don’t need to ask why fewer Whites compete in the traditional Olympics, given the latitude of Greece and the running nature of events of the summer games. No rocket science here.

So why can only 30% of Black people swim? How about, ‘they ain’t supposed to be swimming in the first place’. This is what you would hear on comedian Dave Chappelles, “I Know Black People”. You don’t see Africans swimming do you? Not with all those crocodiles and pythons just waiting months for some silly fool who thinks a little dip would be refreshing’. And it’s got nothing to do with buoyancy. Not swimming is embedded in 150,000 years of genetic survival coding. Swimming is the lunch bell for Crocs.

Fast-forward to recent times, there are two ways to learn to swim. Either from a relative, who already knows, or you learn at a local public pool. Blacks had no evolved base of swimming-ready relatives to teach them, and Jim Crow did not locate pools and programs near Blacks, therefore fewer Black swimmers. There is also the embarrassment factor driving current adult-age folks to deny or ignore this inability and treat pools as purely social settings, where getting wet is optional. And let’s not forget how swimming jacks-up Black hair.

These obstacles, whichever you like, have created a situation where Black kids in the US drown at 3X the national average. But we are in America, not Africa, where jumping into bodies of water can be relatively safe and commonplace. So the next time you see someone you care about lacing-up for a little round ball or putting on their dancing shoes, take some time to emphasize how important, and fun, swimming is and offer to sponsor them at the nearest YMCA. This just might save their life too.

James C. Collier


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BigmacInPittsburgh said...

Swimming is on that list of mine of things black folks should do more often.

Undercover Black Man said...

The racial disparity in drowning deaths is an issue in South Africa as well. I discovered this while listening to South African talk radio via the Web.

James C. Collier said...

Hey David, I wouldn't be surprised if the end of apartheid resulted in an increase, as off-limit pools and beaches became available. How did they explain it?

Anonymous said...

Well Caribbean black folks swim. I grew up in Barbados and have been swimming since I knew myself. Its one of life's pleasures. Wish more blacks in this country would do it. And another thing we didn't care about the hair thing, which is ridiculous.

uglyblackjohn said...

I swam competitively for eight years.
We had two pools in my cul-de-sac and one in our backyard.
So yeah... I'd say having a place to swim was important.

Undercover Black Man said...

James: I don't recall any explanation tendered as to the South African race disparity in swimming fatalities. Just recall the disparity being noted.

Since read on the internets that swimming deaths aren't a focus of attention in S.A. because of the more pressing lethal concerns of crime, AIDS and traffic accidents.

James C. Collier said...

David, I found this of interest,

"Dollman [South African Safety Officer] agrees, especially as his team in Gauteng have picked up on the fact that most of the drowning incidences they have been called out to involved the children of people who are not used to being around swimming pools."

Also, the article said that for every death, five survive and are left with brain damage.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a predominantly BLACK African country and I started swimming as little as 2. Swimming has always been second nature, so this sounds like news to me.

Raja3000 said...

I know I am a bit late to join the fray but my daughter swims for a team here in KY and I guess it's so unusual that coaches pretty much ignore her. She happens to be a formidable opponent too. So not only does pool access and availability count but also coach receptiveness.