February 24, 2015
Black People Can’t Swim
Are black people really incapable of swimming? Swimming is a common American pastime that thousands of Americans have enjoyed for centuries, however, African-Americans have been known as a race that can’t swim. First, to understand the stereotype, swimming can be described as moving the body through water without drowning. Second, in the United States, African-Americans are commonly referred to as black people despite their color actually being shades of brown and not at all the color black. The sum of the two parts means the stereotype that black people can’t swim can be described as African-Americans who are unable to move their body through water without drowning. In recent studies conducted at the University of Memphis, it was found that a shocking seventy percent of African-American children did not know how to swim at all (Irwin et al., 2010). Thus meaning, thirty percent of African-American Children are able to swim. Despite the low percent of African-Americans who can swim, the ability for them to swim exists, so why does the stereotype that black people are unable to swim remain? The stereotype that black people can’t swim in the United States stands because of the effects of slavery and segregation on African-Americans; taking away opportunity to learn swimming skills and adding a fear of water.
Furthermore, the stereotype is accurate to a small degree because there are black people who can’t swim, but it overgeneralizes because there are black people who can swim. Black people can’t swim implies that every person of the African-American race would supposedly not be able to swim no matter their gender or age. The stereotype seems to make its claim because there are more African-American swimmers that cannot swim versus those who can. The stereotype fails to recognize the history of the African-American culture. Many African-Americans originated as Africans who were forced to America because of slavery. Thus suggesting if the black people in America can’t swim, then those of Africa can’t swim either. Lee Pitt states, “Before the slave trade began, Africans living in coastal communities were observed by early European explorers to be excellent swimmers. But as the slave traders invaded Africa, swimming became a dangerous pastime,” (2007). Africans knew how to swim before slave trade and the recreation of swimming was lost when slave trade began. As the Africans came to America the swimming for their race was put to a halt. The slave owners refused to let their slaves learn how to swim because swimming could give a slave a route to escape. The slave owners became protective over their slave property and after hearing of slaves escaping by swimming, they took steps to help prevent losing their property. For example, slave owners would instill a fear of the water by soaking misbehaved slaves in water until they nearly drowned and by creating fear through stories of creatures living in the water (Pitt, 2007). Eventually, the ability to swim as recreational fun for African slaves disappeared. The opportunity to swim was rare because of slavery in America and this explains why the stereotype that black people can’t swim arose in the United States.
The stereotype continued to persist even after America overcame slavery. Seaside resorts became popular in the late nineteenth century and encouraged swimming, but primarily for whites. In the early twentieth century swimming became more popular in the United States as public swimming pools were introduced. However, pools and beaches were segregated, the black people were stuck to swim in poor, dangerous swimming areas unequal to the whites who swam in nice pools and beaches with lifeguards for safety. The opportunity for blacks to swim was limited and more blacks would drown because they swam in unsafe areas. Ultimately, the drowning’s forced more fear into black people causing them to stay clear