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.