Watch this excellent video of Olympic Swimmer Cullen Jones, who won a Gold medal in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, talk about both his personal experiences swimming and that of African Americans in general.
A write-up of the entire segment is available at MSNBC, but I have to say that what struck me the most about that video was what Jones and researcher from the University of Memphis discovered was the number one reason blacks didn’t know how to swim: fear.
Jones said, “We always thought this was an income thing and then we started talking to more and more people. It’s the fear aspect. You have parents that have had traumatic instances in their lives and they project it onto their children and then they treat the water life fire-[it’s] hot, stay away.”
University of Memphis Professor Carol Irwin who has conducted the first ever on minorities and swimming said,“It has been a legacy of fear. Parents have passed it down generation after generation and that came out loud and clear in our focus groups because we’d have grandmothers and mothers sitting right next to each other, you know, mother and daughter, and we’d find out that the grandmother didn’t allow the mother to learn how to swim because she was fearful herself,” Irwin said.
A legacy of fear has been passed down among black women from grandmothers to mothers. Where have you heard that before?
One of the commenters on MSNBC shared an interesting personal observation about black people swimming at a water park:
It’s funny he should mention Dorney Park, because that’s instantly what I thought of when I read the title of this article.
My girlfriend and I went there a couple years back and were ASTOUNDED by the amount of bla-, er, African American parents that were letting their kids go on the water rides that couldnt swim. We were next to the bottom of a pool where they would land on inner tubes and water slides into about 4-5 feet of water, and it was like a skit out of SNL.
They would flip off the tube, or get dumped into off a slide, and then start doggy paddling and gulping water and the lifeguard would have to hit an alarm and dive in after them. The worst part about it was, the parents that were in line for those rides had to stand there as part of the section of the line, so its not like they didnt know what was coming!
The wave pool was even worse! As soon as the alarm would sound to start making the 1-2 foot high waves, someone would start drowning as soon as the first one hit, and thrashing like crazy, and the lifeguards had to dive in and shut down the wave pool. It was the craziest thing we ever saw.
Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed many African Americans allowing their children to play near deep water despite the fact that the children couldn’t swim. I’m guessing that these parents either underestimate the risk of drowning, are unaware of just how deep the water is, or think that a lifeguard or other adult nearby who can swim will help out in case of an emergency.
Those who are interesting in learning how to swim can check out USA Swimming to learn where swimming lessons are available.