Saturday, July 10, 2010

Black Water

Summer is here, a time that many people often associate with water sports and swimming. Many people, but not me, since I don't really swim. People here in Slovenia always react strangely when I tell them I don't really know how to swim and that I did not learn how to swim as a child. In fact, my mother and brother don't know how to swim and most of my black friends growing up did not know how to swim either. This doesn't mean black people can't swim*, it means that many of us simply never learn. The reasons are manifold, and many are outlined in this useful article from WNYC and this (more lengthy) survey report from the USA Swimming Association. From disinterest to fear to concern about damaging one's hairstyle, the reasons range from serious to inane and I have heard or been the deliverer of many of them, but I think the biggest issue is not learning as a small child, which is often the outgrowth of having parents who never learned or are afraid, no or limited access to a swimming people, and concerns about the costs of and time for swimming lessons.

Black Olympic gold medal winning relay swimmer Cullen Jones

In the past, I've posted about Cullen Jones, the black Olympic gold winner in swimming and his efforts to develop swimming education for young black American children (who are 13 times more likely to drown than white**), and I've also written about my efforts in learning to swim (efforts I'll maybe pick up again in the future), but I think it bears much more repeating. Not only to build awareness, but also to encourage tolerance and understanding in places where swimming is more the "norm" and action (by someone other than me!) in places where we can make a difference.

*Black people CAN and DO swim. All over the world. I have to say this explicitly, because I know some stupid person might read this and otherwise get the wrong idea. I've seen how quickly ignorant racist ideas fly around this country. BTW, here's a bonus to those same dummies, black people DO feel heat just the same as white people.

** Turns out a near-drowning was the impetus for Cullen himself to learn to swim!


pika said...

See, I think this is because in Slovenia everyone learns how to swim - as kids we have obligatory swimming classes in school or even kindergarten. So almost everyone, except perhaps some elderly people, would know how to swim.

However, even if you just cross the border to Italy, it's different. There, there is no such culture of teaching all children to swim. I have friends my own age (in their early 30ies) from places like Torino, Milano, even Genova (which is on the sea!), who do not know how to swim. If you go to the beach in places like Tuscany, the majority of people won't go more than knee-deep in water, because they don't know how to swim.

I suppose it's a cultural issue and perhaps you just had a bit of a bad luck to end up in a swimming-savy country. :-)

Camille Acey said...

@Pika - I had a bit of bad luck here -- and not just on the swimming front! Yes, there are places in America also where there are obligatory swimming classes, I just didn't live there. :( That said, I have met some adults here who don't know how to swim either and I know the gym here offers some courses for adult beginners (always on the wrong day for me) so I am not the only "weird" one!

'Drea said...

I took my first swimming class about two years ago -- barely set foot in a pool as a kid. A few males (including my brother) knew how to swim. None of the women in my family are swimmers.

Now that I know how to get around in the water, I try to make up for lost time. It's such a joy and I wish that someone had put me in the pool so much earlier...

Anonymous said...

it's always the right time to learn swimming, so go right ahead.
as for swimming lessons for children in slovenia: in a country with so many random bodies of water, it would be foolishly dangerous to not have them.

Viajera said...

And there's also the assumption that all white people know how to swim. I've met people here in Canada (young people) who don't know because their school was too poor to have a pool.

Great post.

Nikita said...

I took a swimming class in Hong Kong this past April and wrote about the experience on my blog:

To be honest, I always thought that swimming was a "white thing"- very few of my Black friends know how to swim, and I'm not too sure why. At any rate, it is so important, so kudos to Cullen for raising awareness. Excellent post.

Sika said...

Growing up on the coastal areas of Ghana, West Africa we were not allowed as young girls to spend time on the beach with the boys, where most of them learned how to
swim,since swimming pools we were not a common cultural phenomenom.
Since this was the case, most parents were fearful about the risk of their children drowning as the ocean can be rather rough. There are Ghanaians living overseas today who will not step onto any type of sea faring vehicle because of the fear they have for any body of water except the one in their bathtubs!!

Leslie said...

Saw you on black girl with long hair. I am subbing to your blog. It is really interesting.

This Time Now said...

Wow. We are just 20 minutes from the ocean and one of the most popular beaches in the country. I never thought swimming was a "white" thing. My fear was about being attacked by something swimming under me or behind me. Once I got over the fact that the fish and other things were busy living their lives I enrolled myself in swimming classes at the age of 18 and it was a life-changing experience! I love to swim and now my family and I have passed on the love of the ocean and swimming to my 8 year old niece. Whatever you're afraid of doing, that's the thing that you need to do. You'll amaze yourself and inspire others. Good luck!