Humans of SWFL

Swimming in the Black Community

It’s a known fact: Black children do not know how to swim, about a good 70%.

While doing a story about SWFL swim caps that feature black and brown children in their designs, we questioned that fact. Why isn’t swimming more popular in the black community?

In a study sponsored by USA Swimming and conducted by the University of Memphis , about 70% of African American children reported they were not able to swim. Hispanics were reported at 60%, and Whites were reported at 42%.

With drowning causing about ten deaths per day in the United States, those numbers are scary.

Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America says those numbers are linked to the Jim Crow Era. In an interview conducted by ‘ The Take-Away – WNYC ’, Jeff noted that Blacks weren’t allowed to enter public places like swimming pools in the 1920s to 1940s.

By the time segregation in pools ended in the 1940s, White swimmers responded by leaving public areas and swimmings in places that were still segregated. Following whites, developers didn’t build pools in black communities until the 1960s. And even then, the pools was only three and a half feet deep. That couldn’t accommodate swimming at all. So Blacks never learned.

Black children drown at rates 5.5 times higher than their white peers according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention

In 2010, six Black Louisiana teenagers drowned. They were all trying to save one person who waded too deep in the Red River in Shreveport. None of them knew how to swim, and all but one died.

Instances like that, remind us why stories like Swimmie Caps are so important. If Black kids see they’re faces on swim caps then maybe they’ll want to be those faces. If they see representations of themselves in the Olympic pool, like Simone Manuel, Anthony Nesty, and Maritza Correia, they may want to learn how to swim. And if more blacks learn how to swim, they’ll be less black drownings.

So let us know if you identify with the black community do you know how to swim? And if you don’t, now that you know the history behind it, will you learn?

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