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Does it Matter If Blacks Can Swim?


So I’ve been running around for the last two months trying to figure out how to get my triathlon camp for minority/low-income/at-risk and disabled kids up and running. (Yeah, I know that’s a mouthful. I’m gonna’ have to think of a snazzier description of my demographic without labeling them. How can you label without labeling? Mmmm. That’s a post of another ilk I guess.)

Anyway, my brilliant idea was to hook up with USA Swimming which has a healthy program outreach to minorities. They’re trying to overcome a long-held belief and long-standing myth that blacks can’t swim.

It’s seems the subject of black aquatics is quite popular.

Witness the rerun of an episode of TAL,(This American Life for the uninitiated) where a Jewish ad man has to write an ad campaign for the military that would sell the “principles of America,” to the hostile Arab world. He likens the experiment to writing a commercial for a soda client for it’s “urban,” – read black – market. He comes up with an ad  that uses a pool as a backdrop.  And the ad agency’s  managers spend weeks pondering one thing, “Do black people swim?”

It’s a question I know floats around not only board rooms but the projects, the highest eschelons of black middle class and in the sporting world. As a 35-year-old black woman I have yet to meet another person in my age group who can swim. OK, I take that back. My friend John, who grew in Chicago like I did swims. But he’s the diversity coordinator for USA Swimming so he doesn’t count.

I mean I know a lot of blacks who “play in the water,” but as far as swim not really. Does it matter? USA Swimming will tell you it does. As Scott over at Timed Finals points out drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death among children. And black children are twice as likely and up to five times as likely – depending upon age – to die from drowning.

So since blacks go to the beach, the pool, the lake and everywhere else it would behoove them to learn how to swim.

I always have to smile when people – including black people – say that black people don’t swim. I wonder what that makes me.

I started swimming when I young – like four. I would go to the park around the corner from my house and it had a 50-meter pool. Since I had unprocessed hair – read nappy – I didn’t care about getting it wet. So I swam. And fell in love with it. I even competed during day camp.

Learning how to swim became my saving grace when I ballooned up to 260+ pounds and couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs. It was the only exercise I could do without killing myself. It was swimming that introduced me to triathlons. And allowed me to shed a whole person in my quest to become an Ironamn.

So back to my title question. Does it matter if blacks can swim? Yes.

1. We all need to learn how to swim so we don’t drown. Global warming says we’ll have lots more beach front property than we do now.

2. Swimming can fight the scourage of childhood obesity that cuts the lives short of minorities everyday.

3. You have to swim to do triathlons. And we all know that being a triathlete is one of the best ways to lose and keep off weight.

That’s it. Rant over.

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