CRAZY: African Americans More Likely to Drown Due to Slavery

October 5, 2015

According to a first-of-its-kind survey, nearly 60 percent of African-American children can't swim, almost twice the figure for white children.

Experts suggest the problem is linked to slavery. When Africans were brought to America, neither they nor their children, were allowed to swim for fear they would escape.

Later, segregation at beaches and pools kept African Americans out of the water. That compounded with the fact, that few pools were built in African American communities, and they were not encouraged to swim resulted in a disproportionate number not being able to do so. source

Stark statistics underlie the initiative by the national governing body for swimming. Black children drown at a rate almost three times the overall rate. And less than 2 percent of USA Swimming's nearly 252,000 members who swim competitively year-round are black.

To alter the numbers, USA Swimming is teaming with an array of partners — local governments, corporations, youth and ethnic organizations— to expand learn-to-swim programs nationwide, many of them targeted at inner-city minorities. One of the key participants is black freestyle star Cullen Jones, who hopes to boost his role-model status by winning a medal this summer at the Beijing Olympics.

As part of the initiative, USA Swimming commissioned an ambitious study recently completed by five experts at the University of Memphis' Department of Health and Sports Sciences. They surveyed 1,772 children aged 6 to 16 in six cities — two-thirds of them black or Hispanic — to gauge what factors contributed most to the minority swimming gap.

The study found that 31 percent of the white respondents could not swim safely, compared to 58 percent of the blacks. The non-swimming rate for Hispanic children was almost as high — 56 percent — although more than twice as many Hispanics as blacks are now USA Swimming members.