In the past, lack of access to swimming pools and public beaches meant that many black Americans were denied the opportunity to learn how to swim. Intergenerational fear of the water stops their descendants from learning even now.
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 researchfrom 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.
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