It's summer, and families are enjoying pools and beaches. It is also the time of year that concerns turn to the large number of black youth who don't know how to swim. Black children aged 5 to 19 are 3-5 times more likely to drown compared to their white counterparts. For years, racists have had a field day using bogus studies to describe changes in bone density and buoyancy in blacks to explain the differences in swimming ability. Racists need something to latch onto to feel superior.
The most likely cause for the lack of black swimmers in the United States is lack of access to swimming pools. Lack of swimmers makes the most sense given the history of segregation in other sports. Blacks were felt to be incapable of possessing the mental skill to play thinking positions in football like quarterback and middle linebacker. When blacks were given the chance they excelled. Similar lack of access to tennis courts and hockey rinks created a lag in participation in those sports. Blacks have entered the arena of Grand Prix racing and won championships there as well. In the ranks of coaching football and managing baseball, blacks have proven their mettle once they were given a chance.
Swimming is different than other sports because knowing how to swim can save your life and the life of someone else. There are programs that target black youth to encourage learning how to swim. The children have a host of role models that can serve as inspiration. Black Olympic champions and top caliber swimming teens put the lie to the racist meme of abnormal black bodies accounting for the low level of swimming ability in the black community.
The history of access to swimming in the United States is tainted by racism and segregation. Prior to slavery, West Africans often were better swimmers than whites. In fact many sailors could not swim. During slavery, a slave who could swim was an escape threat. Swimming was forbidden. After slavery there were attempts to regain swimming skills. A century ago, there were black beachfront areas from the Chesapeake to Mississippi. This is documented in "The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South" by Andrew W. Kahrl. As the land became more valuable, Jim Crow laws and racist businessmen and politicians schemed to take the beachfront property from blacks. Opportunities for swimming were limited. The story of first the creation of municipal pools, the segregation of those pools, and the abandonment of the pools when blacks moved in is told in "Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America" by Jeff Wiltse.
Efforts continue to encourage black parents to teach their children to swim. We have witnessed black men and women win medals in the Olympics and other competitions. The racist nonscientific bilge about black buoyancy is a much of a relic as the other racist memes that floats around. We continue to work to save lives.