African Americans and Swimming

Debunk myths and reclaim swimming.

There was once a notion that African Americans’ bodies were denser than caucasians’ bodies and that this gave African Americans a disadvantage in learning to swim. This notion was debunked, but word still hasn’t gotten around. Banish that thought. It doesn’t matter, anyway.

Whether someone is a floater or not, whoever they are, it needn’t be an emergency. For anyone who is a sinker (few people are), sinking is not dangerous. Panic is not necessary. Many or most of the Olympic swimmers have bodies that are so dense that they don’t float! But obviously, they are safe, good swimmers.

There’s a rich heritage of African and African American swimming. A history of West Africans’ water proficiency is beautifully told in Ken Dawson’s Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the African Diaspora.

Team U.S.A.’s Simone Manuel was the Gold Medalist in the Rio Olympics 100 Meter Freestyle and 2019’s double Gold Medalist in the two sprint freestyle events at the World Championships in North Korea. No one has ever won both before. She writes.

Cullen Jones was Team USA’s Gold Medalist in sprint freestyle events in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Maritza Correia was a three-time world champion and the first African American woman on the US Olympic Team in 2004. These athletes draw light to the fact that blacks can not only learn to swim, but can be the very best.

Messages like, “We don’t swim” circulate in the African American community but it doesn’t have to be that way. Adults can set an example for youngsters by learning to swim and teaching others that in fact, everyone can learn.

Hair Care Challenges

“Yes, we all want to look good. But if you’re struggling in deep water somewhere, hair will not be your concern. Surviving will be the issue of the moment. Knowing how to stay in control, tread water, or float calmly on your back will make the difference when it comes to controlling your own destiny.

Think about it. What would you say to braids or corn rows, or short hair for a few months, or getting your hair done the day after class, so you can become safe in water at last, for the rest of your life? So you can enjoy the water with your kids or grandchildren?” -Jo Beverly, Miracle Swimming Grad

Pete is part of our Learn to Swim Show podcast, Episode 11
Michelle, Miracle Swimming Grad