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Teach Your Child To Swim

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Why Don’t Black People Swim: Race, Stereotypes, & America

How many times have you been invited to a pool party and when you got there… NO ONE WAS IN THE POOL? What is this what prevents African Americans from enjoying the recreational sport of swimming?

This stereotype like many others has been around for quite some time, with statistics to accompany it. According to USA Swimming, almost 70 percent of African American children have limited or no swimming skills compared to 40 percent of White children who don’t.

Of course these are not scientific numbers and probably have room for percentage error, however, it doesn’t take away from the fact of Black children more vulnerable to drowning than other children.

The stereotype of Black people not swimming and the culture of swimming pools go much deeper than swimming. Swimming pools and even the act of swimming has underlying racial and socioeconomic issues that go back to the early decades of the 20th century.

During the 1920s and 1930s, community swimming pools were becoming popular and was a common activity for children and their families;( White families that is.) Pools just weren’t being built in minority neighborhoods and Black children swimming with White children didn’t happen. Whites believed African Americans were easily susceptible to “different” diseases and absurd germs hence the separation of everything.

Did you know in August of 2010 in Louisiana, six African American teenagers ages 13 to 18 all died drowning trying to save each other. There were other people present during the tragic drowning including adults, and not one of them could swim either.

It is important to break the cycle of the fear of the water. Kids need to be equip with the skills that it takes to swim so that if they are ever in a situation where water is involved, they will be safe. Swimming is also a fun way for kids to get exercise and stay cool during the summer.

Olympic swimmer, Lia Neal made history in 2012 as the 2nd African-American female to qualify for the US Olympic Swim Team

in the 2012 London Games (her team won bronze medal in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the London Olympic Games with a time of 3 minutes and 34.24 seconds) she has helped to open up the discussion about the stereotype that African-American children and teens can’t swim.

Here are 8 tips to help teach kids to swim:

  1. Help them feel comfortable with water- Get a small kiddie pool for your yard or purchase water toys to help them develop a pleasant association with water.
  2. Use swim gear- Floaties, goggles, and inner tubes are not only fun, but they will also keep kids safe.
  3. Create trust- Make sure your child knows that you will be there to help them and keep them safe. If using an instructor, make sure he/she establishes a good and trusting relationship with your child.
  4. Take your time- Not every child is a natural when it comes to the water. Let your child take as much time as they need to get comfortable with all aspects of swimming.
  5.  Give positive reinforcement- While you correct and teach, make sure to acknowledge the small things. Celebrate them when they are trying, even if they aren’t perfect yet.

Black Children Need To Learn To Swim

Parents’ responsibility

“Kids are going to be by the water, they love being by the water, and that’s something that we really need to make a priority,”

It should also be a rite of passage to learn how to swim.”

US swimming stats

  • USA Swimming/University of Memphis study found ethnic differences
  • 68.9% of African-American children with no or low ability to swim
  • 57.9% of Hispanic children
  • 41.8% of white children
  • CDC recorded 3,443 fatal accidental drownings in 2007
  • Drowning is second greatest cause of accidental death in children under 14
  • African-American children aged 5 to 14 3.1 times more likely to drown


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About Darlene Dancy

Darlene Dancy is the owner of Affordable and Historical Art. Darlene's goal is to educate, motivate and empower people of African descent to learn the rich history of African culture - past & present. Discover Black History written, researched and preserved by African American Scholars. Lectures, Documentaries & Auto Biographies on DVD's and Historical Black Print/Poster art

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