Swimming and Race

A recent national, first-of-its kind survey found that approximately six out of ten African-American children are unable to swim, nearly twice as many as their Caucasian counterparts while fifty-six percent of Hispanic and Latino children are unable to swim. The study by USA Swimming, the National Governing Body for the sport of swimming, found that the significant gap in swimming between races was due mainly to parental influence and socioeconomic factors.

Recently, Bruce Wigo, CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, spoke on Swimnetwork.com’s ‘Chlorination’, episode seventeen stating that less than 1% of all competitive swimmers are African American. “For the first fifty years of the last century, blacks were entirely excluded from our pools.” Swimming has been engrained in generations of white families and has not diversified into other ethnic groups. Seventy-seven percent of African-American women do not know how to swim and would be less likely to bring their children to a swimming pool.

The USA Swimming Foundation is actively trying to break this cycle and the disproportionately high drowning rate amongst ethnically diverse populations with their Make a Splash initiative. One of their spokespersons is Cullen Jones, the first African-American swimming world record holder and Olympic hopeful in the 50 free. Here is more on his story.

Another good article about the few African-American elite swimmers breaking barriers in their sport can be read on ESPN.

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2 thoughts on “Swimming and Race

  1. Another great post, Mika. Re: indigenous Australians and swimming, this is a different racial/political context again, but one in which swimming plays an important part. At least, insofar as the provision of, and access to, swimming pools has been a big ‘carrot’ in Australian governments’ approach to motivating aboriginal populations in rural Australia in a range of areas (from school attendance, to the Fred Hollows inspired ‘wash your face and hands’ initiative in desert communities, where access to clean water is not a given). Likewise, and more controversially, denial of access to pools is the ‘stick’ in such government programs.

    It’s clear that swimming pools have a premium value in these communities; and if access is given, there is no problem getting aboriginal people to use them. There has also recently been some thinking about this outside of a punishment-reward model, but rather in terms of health, where the results have been promising: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/05/19/2248514.htm

    In urban areas, however, this is more difficult to measure. A report into the health of urban indigenous Australians carried out in Queensland (http://agencysearch.australia.gov.au/search/click.cgi?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Finternet%2Fmain%2Fpublishing.nsf%2FContent%2FBEC813B25F60C18ECA256F1900046982%2F%24File%2Findigenous.pdf&rank=3&collection=agencies)
    suggests that when measuring outcomes it is best not to ask about things like cycling or swimming, as these are activities that, for social reasons, aboriginal people are less likely to participate in. Here is an apt quote from the study:

    Participants also reported some apprehension about public swimming pools, which is summed up
    buy this comment “If they do go to the swimming pools you know watch these black ones because they
    will cause trouble here. It is like that…any entertainment things the kids, our kids just stay away…they
    are singled out straight away… so they don’t do anything” –female participant.

    Examples that were deemed more appropriate to measuring physical activity were team sports like football and netball, as well as throwing around a ball with the kids, or mowing the lawn. So swimming laps in Australia pretty much lands into the white middle-class bracket as well.

  2. Pingback: What’s Hot at What Sorts « What Sorts of People

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