The Swimming Race (January-February 2010)
by, January 1st, 2010 at 12:00 AM (852 Views)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks drowning as the second leading cause of accidental death among children. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, approximately six out of 10 African-American and Hispanic/Latino children cannot swim. Children in these groups are about twice as likely to drown as Caucasian children. The rate of youth drowning deaths in ethnically diverse communities is two to three times higher than the national average.
These grim statistics have fueled swim programs nationwide – programs with the goal of making sure all kids are water-safe. An article in this issue’s Healthy Swimmer brings us up to date on USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash program, which is providing seed money for learn-to-swim programs in underserved areas of the country. Program spokesperson, Olympian Cullen Jones, completed a six-city tour this past summer to promote awareness and kick-start programs.
Programs and progress are encouraging, but a failure to examine the root causes of problems often creates more problems. The dearth of swimming skills among modern African-Americans has perpetuated a belief that blacks were always poor swimmers, despite evidence to the contrary. Kevin Dawson, assistant professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, contributes some of his research findings in Splashback. Professor Dawson shares accounts of skilled black swimmers dating back to the late 1600s. From the Middle Ages onward, most Europeans did not swim at all. As these Europeans came in contact with Africans, they were amazed at their swimming abilities. So what happened? How did we get to today?
Some believe that slaves born in the U.S. were not taught to swim because they would use it as a means of escape. This may have been true in isolated cases, but Dawson says what happened during Reconstruction and on through the civil rights movement has had a bigger impact. “Bodies of water that were previously used for recreation by blacks were often repositories for victims of racial violence,” Dawson says. Water became closely associated with terror and violence.
When people are afraid of water, their children seldom learn to swim. Ergo, many generations of African-Americans did not learn to swim. In 1969, a now widely discredited study titled “The Negro and Learning to Swim: The Buoyancy Problem Related to Reported Biological Difference,” claimed that, due to heavier bones and muscle mass, blacks were not buoyant enough to swim well. Throw segregation into the mix, with little or no access to public pools and beaches, and the lack of pools in ethnically diverse communities, and the cycle continued.
How does this relate to Masters swimming? USMS is proud to support the USA Swimming Foundation and its efforts to eliminate childhood drowning due to unequal opportunity. The Foundation has a presence in SWIMMER, and many USMS members donate directly. USMS is a supporter of the Foundation’s annual banquet, Golden Goggles. All of us in the swimming community can work together to make sure opportunities to enjoy and be safe in water are available to everyone, regardless of race.