Melody T. McCloud M.D.

Black Women's Health and Happiness

Most Blacks Don't Swim. They Need to Learn

Too many children--especially Blacks--can't swim...and many die.

Posted May 29, 2013

"Black people don't swim." I'm sure you've heard that said many times, and, sadly, that is true to a very large degree.

Too many Black people--especially Black women--don't know how to swim and/or avoid the water all together. As a result, most Black children are also non-swimmers...and that can be fatal for some.

Memorial Day weekend--the unofficial start of summer--was just one day in when (already) there was a near-drowning of yet another Black child in a local Atlanta, GA pool. Fortunately an adult began CPR and rescued the four-year-old girl.

In the book, Living Well, the 'Tough Love Prescription...' section includes some startling facts about Blacks and swimming: "USA Swimming--the national governing body for swimming--found that nearly 70 percent of Black children cannot swim; that's a startling number. It is nearly double the 31 percent for White kids." The CDC has similar findings.

I love the ocean and I love to get in it--immerse. Get beaten down by the waves. To ride the waves. To swim. And occasionally I get a little 'free' (see below). When I do this--swim, immerse, frolic, change strokes--I always see others looking at me as if I'm an anomaly: There's a Black woman in the ocean [or pool]? Swimming? Get the heck outta here! I see it on the faces of Whites, and especially Blacks. So, yes, I'll say it: I'm a Black girl who swims...every chance I get...especially in the ocean. I love it. It's freeing. It's dynamic and fluid (literally and figuratively). It releases any stress I may feel, as if it's all sent out to the deep for the sharks to ingest. It's physical and mental therapy. It's fun!

The historical reason why Blacks didn't swim in days hence was many Black neighborhoods didn't have pools, and they weren't permitted in the pools or public facilities owned by Whites. If they were present in some communities, they were often in ill-repair and/or unclean.

But as Black wealth increased and many 'Buppies'--Black Urban Professionals--moved to the suburbs and live in mansions, many still don't swim...even if they own a fancy pool.

Another key reason why many Blacks don't swim is (yes, I'm going to say it), most Black women don't want to deal with their hair after it's all said and done. With women of all races mostly being the primary caregiver and determinant of a child's activities, many Black children are never exposed to a swimming pool or the ocean mainly because their mother doesn't swim (because she doesn't want to get her hair wet, or "mess up her hair."). This really does a disservice to the children.

But I say, ladies, get over it--the 'hair' thing. It's just hair. For the sake of you and your children, get in that water! Immerse! Plunge! But yes, first learn how to swim; it may come in handy one day.

You likely heard of Anthony Ervin and Cullen Jones, two Black men who competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics Swim competition. Jones learned to swm after he almost drowned at age five. He now teaches swimming to others--especially those in underserved communities.

For all readers, to make the best of your summer water fun, when children are swimming, 1) be sure to have chaperones who are responsible and attentive. Repeat: Responsible and attentive. They cannot be poolside drinking, or engrossed with their tech gadgets playing word games, doing puzzles or texting. It doesn't take long for a child to go under and if the parents aren't watching every move of every child, it could be fatal.

Make sure that the chaperones know how to swim, as well, and also that someone is trained in CPR.

Get swimming lessons for you and your child. Swimming is not only fun and good exercise, it can literally save your life, or that of your child. Classes are held in many centers such as a YWCA/YMCA, or other community centers and at nominal cost. It's worth the few dollars to provide a new fun activity and learn a skill that could potentially save one's life.

Be sure you have 'floaties' for all kids, and learn water safety rules. The buddy system is also good.

Assure proper hygiene. Adults and children need to be taught not to urinate in the pool. This is really unsanitary (do you really want to inhale and drink someone else's urine?). Have people use the facilities before entering the pool and perhaps once every hour.

And [to all whom it may concern]...about that hair...? Forget about it! Get in that water. Swim. Laugh. Frolic! Maybe even get a little free and freaky (if you're past a certain age, or a certain bust size, it might be the only time "the girls" sit up perky as they float on the water!).

I say, "Hair is just hair...and that's why they have shampoo, blow dryers and flat irons." So come on in, ladies (and gents), the water's just fine! Learn to swim and enjoy a safe, fun summer.

For more info about this, and how to let your hair down a bit and start having fun, see Living Well, Despite Catchin' Hell, a book about health, sex and happiness, with a foreword by Pauletta Washington, musician and wife of Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington; and endorsed by psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere, HBCUs and others. The book includes current comparative data for Black, White, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women. The book also addresses the effects of negative stereotypes. (print and eBook).

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this post on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page. Bitly: .

It's always time for good relationships. See the latest E-Book: First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers,

More Posts