The Government Wants Black Folks To Learn How To Swim

May 25, 2012  |  

Black folks and water don’t mix right? Well one government safety group says it’s time to get to mixing because that’s the only way to reduce the disproportionate rates of black and Latino kids drowning in pools.

In it’s new campaign, called “Pool Safely,” the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission points out that black children between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children in the same age group. They also show data from the USA Swimming Foundation which indicates that up to 70 percent of black and 62 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim.

“We are focusing on minority children because the data show they are most at risk for drowning,” safety commission chairman Inez Tenenbaum told CBS news. “It’s a cultural issue, because many of the African-American and Hispanic children have parents and grandparents who never learned to swim.”

The safety commission is working with the Y, the American Red Cross, public schools, and other community organizations to boost access to free swimming lessons, which is really the only choice the group has. If parents are willing to let their kids go in the water unsupervised when they don’t know how to swim they’ll just have to try to convince children otherwise. That really isn’t their job but it appears someone has to do it.

What do you think about this initiative? Do you know how to swim?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • Negress

    When I was 18 I signed up for a class at the local community college. I made a point of learning how to swim. I even know how to wash, condition, and style my hair afterwards thanks to taking that class in the winter.  I just don’t like can’ts. They bottle neck the flow of your life. Don’t let hair, fear, or ignorance block you from one of God’s greatest gifts. He created water before he created man. He created earth 1st so we’d have some place to stay.

  • Co-Co Diva

    I lived up the street from the Y, loved the water but never learned how to swim. Not sure why….to afraid I guess

  • Candacey Doris

    This is definitely a good idea. I think it’s ridiculous that people don’t now how to swim. There are places that give swimming lessons free! I don’t know where that black people and water not mixing came from, but it needs to stop. Knowing how to swim could save your life or even someone else’s life. 

  • Anonymous

    I think we make a big deal out of everything. We complain about hair getting wet, don’t have the body, ashy knees, these are excuses. In addition to that, we are very self conscious, we think of what others will say or think. It’s even worse because we are very good at poking fun at each other, which needs to stop. I remember growing up, my mom took us to swimming every Friday. We were the only black people there. I used to be a little embarrassed that my hair looked different from the other girls. But after a while, I got used to it and didn’t care anymore.

  • Klynnfun

    I think this is great.  When the slave owner went to Africa and captured the people on boats.  Many of them jumped ship and swam back to their lands.  The slave owners on the boat began to chain many together and drowned them in order to frighten the other from fleeing.  This caused black people to teach their children to stay away from the water because they feared for their lives.  This has been passed down from generation to generation.  The white pople dominated the water which is why years ago black people were not allowed on the beaches.  Our ancesters before slavery were great swimmers and the first to practice serfing, this was also taken over by white people.  I am very happy to hear more black children are learning to swim.  I’s a gift given to us by God many centries ago.

  • IllyPhilly

    Wait a minute, Black folks can’t swim!? 

  • Sookiiee

    why we’re over here now lol if ya can’t swim don’t go to deep into the water and you’re guaranteed to come back out…breathing.


    Great idea!  I’ve been a fish since birth….I love the water.

  • Sweetrose78

    I tried to learn how to swim when younger, I went to summer camp and my parents tried to teach me…but it just never took off for me.

  •  Men are not so weak as you think. They can always
    leave anybody or any place without a pang – if they find another person
    or another place they like better. If they feel pricks and scruples it
    is merely because they cannot make up their mind that the chan

  • A.J.

    I think that it’s actually a great initiative, and a very important one.  I’ve always loved the water, but I actually learned to swim relatively late (I’m 21).  During slavery, Black people were discouraged from swimming because the slaveowners didn’t want them to escape.  Encouraging young Black children to swim, lecturing them and their families about the safeties and dangers of the water, would correct this legacy, and introduce people to fun way to exercise.

  • Ddww14

    I took swim classes as a child at the Y in Chicago and almost drowned because the instructor wasn’t paying attention to me. I walked on the bottom of the pool back to the shallow water. I was always scared of the deep water after that incident. However, I can back float and swim a little, but could never tread water. So, no I can’t swim to this day,but I can back float. I also took four years of swim in High school to no avail!

  • Ddww14

    I took swim classes as a child at the Y in Chicago and almost drowned because the instructor wasn’t paying attention to me. I walked on the bottom of the pool back to the shallow water. was always scared of the deep water after that incident. However, I can back float and swim a little, but could never tread water. So, no I can’t swim to this day,but I can back float. I also took four years of swim in High school to no avail!

  •  I had a white roommate last year that was convinced black people could not physically swim and that was the reason why black people don’t swim. Because she grew up around black people (she was from a rural most black community) I guess that meant she knew more about black people and swimming than I did. Oh yea, I’m black and know how to swim. Go figure.

  • Arsvita734 Blacks have historically been denied access to publicly funded pools.

  • Learning how to swim is on my to do list.  

  • Jaida Bang

    unless I go down in my own bath tub, I am okay. because I don’t mess with the water and it it don’t mess with me.

  • i remember reading this story where a family had an outing by a lake or river  and some of the teens drowned. it started by one person falling in the water , and then when he started drowning others tried to go and help and drowned. NOONE knew how to swim. i can’t remember how many drowned but i think it was atleast two.

  • when i was about six i almost drowned in a swimming pool. i’ve been afraid ever since. i still went to pools but stayed in shallow water. there was a public pool up the street from my house and they gave swimming lessons , my younger cousin learned how to swim at age six . i should have went and learned too.

  • Treacle123

    I have no desire to learn how to swim and I live on a tropical island. 

  • FromUR2UB

    I’ve taken swimming lessons four times in my life, and still can’t swim.  It was required in high school, so I managed to pass the swim exam, but still wasn’t a swimmer when I finished.  I wasn’t afraid to go under water, but I couldn’t tread water…always sunk like a lead weight.

    • Jaida Bang

      four times! that is a shame. maybe five times the charm

      • FromUR2UB

        Yeah.  That’s what I’ve always said: what a shame!

  • wveronica7

    Living in Miami, when I was in elementary school the government had the same initiative. for six weeks we had to take swimming lessons during P.E. I went to a black school and we did not have a pool so they used one of those pools above the ground and placed it in the cafeteria. I was in 1st grade but I loved the lessons and am now a great swimmer. 

  • Melissarose10166

    I’m about to be 24 and cannot swim. I think this is a good idea, everyone should be able to swim. I’m not afraid of water; I will get into a pool and walk around and splash water. I’ve come to realize that my issue is I don’t trust anyone enough to teach me how to swim. When you get into a pool, there’s always the fact that you could drown, things happen. I have yet to trust someone enough for me to put my life in their hands. Shoot, my aunt almost let me drown one time and I think that’s what just did it for me. But, I think this program is a good idea.

  • Ms_Sunshine9898

    I’m glad. When I was in military school, swim class was mandatory, and it was shameful that we all lived up to the stereotype of black people can’t swim, and a lot of black folks at my swim lessons used to act a fool because they didn’t want to get in the water. Has it ever been considered that most black people don’t swim because pools aren’t widely accessible in some black communities?

    • jason vorhees

      Where have you lived that there wasnt a Y or a public swimming pool.  Ive lived in baltimore, dc and detroit.  Public pools are everywhere

      • Ms_Sunshine9898

         and those are major nothern cities. they don’t have stuff like in the south in rural areas or small towns. even cities like Jackson, New Orleans, Birmingham, and Atlanta didn’t have really any public pools except maybe one if that. Inner city people from major cities always complain they have nothing, but fail to realize just how many resources they actually do have around them. . .

        • Papillon

          Thank you! Some people think every black person lives in a metro area. I, like most of my family, grew up in rural areas where there was no public pool so I never learned how to swim. Same for my peers in those areas as well.

          I’d love to learn now, but all the programs seem to be for children only.

      • Charla

        I think the problem stems from our parents and/or grandparents not having access to public pools during segregation. As a result, many didn’t gain those skills so they were unable to pass those skills to their children. Pools are prevalent in urban areas but it does no use if no one shows you how to swim. Most black people just play in the water.

        • real rap

          public pools are not the only water sources. whatever happened to ‘goin down to the crik’, stream, or pond?

          • Charla

            I lived in urban areas my whole life so there were no “creeks,” streams, or ponds. Besides, people who can’t swim shouldn’t go to those anyways because the depths quickly change and the danger of rip tides and such. FYI, I DO know how to swim. My previous comment was a general statement based on facts about segregation. So I don’t see why your comment is necessary…

    • IllyPhilly

       Now this I can agree with slightly. Pools were accessible, but we had a lot of “accidental” drownings because of excessive ghetto (yeah I said it!) damn kids horseplay and the lifeguards being too late. It got to the point that a lot of pools only allowed certain age groups on separate occasions.

  • Mrsadkiah

    Lol my mom made sure we knew how to swim because she can’t swim and is petrified of water. She used to say that we needed to know how to because if were we’re drowning all she could do was scream “help!”. I really don’t know where this whole Black people not swimming thing came from

  • Mzcali

    It really is crazy the amount of black people that cant swim. I live in California, Los Angeles to be exact and a lot of people that I know have pools and still can’t swim to save their lives. My dad was straight old school in teaching me how to swim. He just threw me in the pool. No lessons no floaties just the my will not to drown and guess what, I became a damn mermaid swimming all the time. We still have a pool but I don’t swim as much I hate messing up my hair. But not being able to swim limits you. Its so many things I want to do with my best friend but can’t because she doesn’t know how to swim and I will not be on Baywatch duty trying to save her big headed self LOL. Its about time more learn how to at least doggie paddle. You never know when that skill may come into use.

  • LippyLiz

    Me and my sister were like fish growing up, and it all started by being thrown in the pool by our Mother, who is actually afraid of being in water above her knees. I guess she didn’t want us to harbor the same fear. My children swim, and also take swimming lessons to know the basics, and professional levels of swimming. They go to The Y, and it is very affordable. 

  • Ms K Jones22

    I think this is an excellent idea…I’m 26 and I’ve always wanted to learn how to swim, I think its a great skill to have as well…the government can pay for me to take swimming lessons, I’ll go lol

    • WTH

      Why are you waiting for a government handout to save your own life.  You’re too old to not to know how to swim.  So instead of getting your hair done pay for your own swimming lesson.  Priorities peoples.

      • Ms K Jones22

        First of all, it was a joke, I wasn’t expecting for the government to pay for anything.  You do not even know me like that to make such a ridiculous assumption.  I’m not one of these basic chicks out here that wants the government to take care of me.  I can understand how the comment could have been misconstrued but that’s not me.  I’m college educated, I work two jobs, I pay for eveything on my own, and I’m working hard to get into medical school.  My priorities are in order, thank you very much.  Stop being so serious about everything, and please know what you’re talking about before you judge someone you don’t even know except through a comment that was made on the internet.  You have a blessed day.

        • SuthernHummingbyrd

           Nice reply MS K.

  • jason vorhees

    Well MN most black americans know why the majority of sistas dont want to go swimming right?  (((slowly pointing to my head area)))  :O)

    • IllyPhilly

       I was pointing to my ashy knees, but that works too.

      • Trisha_B

        Put on baby oil before going into the water! I never go to the beach/pool w/out a bottle lol

      • Sabrina

         LOL! Girl, as soon as my feet touches the sand, I can already foresee the amount of ash that will accumulate on my legs. I pray for those who fail to have at least a bottle of lotion on deck.

  • Ay

    I can swim *dougies*

  • Cha Cha

    I want black folks to learn how to swim… It’s 2012… let’s stop being afraid of water. Maybe it’s because I grew up on the west coast, but everyone in my family knows how to swim, even my grandmother loves to get in the pool.

  • Stragi25

    I think this is very interesting considering I’m 25 and just began my swimming lessons this week….I think it’s a great idea and sheds light on the fact that our kids need to get those lessons as well!

    • MissK

       This article is funny and sad at the same time.  My mom made sure her three
      children had swimming lessons when we were little.  I remember my mom
      being the only Black mother who could volunteer as a lifeguard on our
      class field trips.  Most of the GROWN Black men I know have admitted
      that they can’t swim.  It shocks me every time!

  • Swim Fan

    I swim two or three times per week.