I have a habit of reading news articles and blog postings in the morning. It’s my way of staying abreast of “hot” topics and I get to hear others’ opinions on issues that I deem relevant. So imagine my surprise when I saw @BlackInformant tweet of a blog posting entitled, “Hair or History: What’s Behind African-American Views on Swimming?” I thought, “Oh, someone is taking a look at why African-Americans (largely) don’t swim.” I clicked and immediately became disappointed. In keeping with the current trend to garner readers and generate hits to blogs, this author immediately took the spin that African-Americans don’t swim because women are afraid of their hair reverting to its pre-relaxed state. *yawn*
Before I get into my opinion on this matter and offer to you all a different perspective as to why African-Americans don’t swim, I’ll say that this is tired. This angle (let’s lambast African-American women and their choices about themselves) is old news. Can we let it go already? Please.
To begin with, my initial reaction to this piece was negative. Since when did African-American women become synonymous with African-Americans (as a whole)? Our designation, racial or otherwise, includes two genders: male and female. This point alone cannot be argued and the fact that the author chose to focus only on African-American women devalued whatever point they wanted to make. In keeping with the misleading focus, the only “historical” evidence is the connection drawn between the European standard of beauty (e.g., straightening one’s hair so that it’s less African). In my opinion, this perspective, while valid in a sense, is indirect and doesn’t lead to a critical analysis of the topic at hand.
Now the question is, “What should have been said surrounding this issue?”
It is true. African-Americans, in large part, do not swim and our children are put at an increased risk of “accidental drowning” (a death that is very preventable). According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), “in 2007, there were 3,443 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging ten deaths per day; more than one in five fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger; and the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans across all ages was 1.2 times that of whites.” Studies also show that 6 out of 10 African-American children are unable to swim. This is the reality that we live with today, but why?
In taking note of our historical record in the United States, it is no surprise that we are largely unable to swim. I’m of the opinion that children do as their parents have done – if a parent can swim, there is an increased likelihood that you can. This seems common sense to me. So why haven’t our parents learned to swim?
If we examine largely segregated neighborhoods TODAY, we’ll see that many do not possess the facilities that would allow daily, or even weekly, swimming. Our high schools, by and large, do not have swimming pools, so there is no need for a swimming team or the need to swim. If a child does attend a school where there is the requirement that they swim for Physical Education credit (and subsequently a passing grade), there are ways to get around this issue and many educators/facilitators of this class readily sign slips because it’s hard to teach a person how to swim.
If we examine the racial housing practices in the 80s, we see that a large number of African-Americans were relegated to “red-lined” neighborhoods (this practice had gone on for quite some time but it was brought to prominence as the Black middle class began to grow). Again, these neighborhoods, while a step up, may have lacked the facilities.
If we examine the practices of Segregation in the 60s (and before), we see that community pools prohibited African-Americans on the grounds that allowing a non-White person to swim in the pools would lead to water contamination. I commend the author of the original article for mentioning this briefly, but more has to be said about this.
I’ll pause here and note that I’ve already gone back about 3 generations. So is it fair to say that African-Americans don’t swim because of something as simple as “hair care” issues? Isn’t that “blaming the victim” in some ways? Back to my argument.
If we examine racial tension prior to the 1960s and dare to go back to slavery, we’ll see that there was no reason for African-Americans to swim. Largely, we were not given the opportunity for free time and I’m pretty sure that there weren’t very many swimming holes in the South…that were safe. For any person that is familiar with the landscape of the South (or the North before industrialization), you’ll realize that swimming holes were in isolated places…and it was never a safe bet for a Black person to be caught alone and/or having fun during these times.
I think that I’ve made my point, but in the even that I haven’t, I want you all to take a few points with you:
1. We should encourage our Youth to learn how to swim properly. There is nothing more exciting in the summer than to cool off at a local pool and given the rates of accidental drownings in African-American youth, the ability to swim is a necessary skill.
2. Don’t reduce (or mislabel) a topic that applies to an entire diaspora to one sect of that population. If you want to write on African-American women, be up front about it. If it’s your intention to generate critical thought about the racial group as a whole, then speak on the group as a whole. I speak for many women when I say, we’re sick and tired of being the scapegoat simply to generate hits to your blogs/articles.
3. Finally, if you wish to analyze an issue historically, then do so. Provide evidence that backs you up. Provide anecdotes from older people. Look up statistics, it’s not that hard.
But remember: be pure about your intentions. As a writer, the only thing that you have is your name.
Original article: Hair or History: What’s Behind African-American Views on Swimming?
Center for Disease Control and Prevention – http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Water-Safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html
Despite Olympic Gold, Swimming Statistics Are Grim. Author: Tara Parker-Pope