Noelle Singleton challenges any swim-cap maker who claims a swimmer’s hair won’t get wet with their caps to send her one. She’ll post a review on social media of her swimming a 100-meter individual medley in it.
Swim caps matter for Singleton, a 30-year-old black swim coach in Georgia with a thick, full-moon-shaped afro. Known on her AfroSwimmers Instagram account as Coach With the Fro, she has been offering swim lessons that target the black community for 16 years. The first question she always gets from female clients, she says, is: “What do I do with my hair?” She gives them tips, including which swim caps to buy. But, “I tell them up front: Please expect your hair to get wet,” Singleton says.
Historically, swimming pools have played a murky part in racial segregation and disparity in the United States. Despite a public-pool boom in the 1950s and ’60s, generations of black people have not learned how to swim. In 2017, a report from the USA Swimming Foundation found that 64.2 percent of black adults said they had no or low swimming abilities, versus 39.7 percent of white people. Among the black parents in that group, 78 percent said their children had no or low swimming abilities, too.
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