From when I was a baby my mum has always championed swimming. Frankly, I hated it. There was so much involved in having to get my hair wet, making sure it was plait so the swimming cap could fit on my head so detangling later wouldn’t be too crazy and the whole submerging yourself into a giant puddle! For years I (somewhat reluctantly) went from swimming class to swimming club to diving team. All the while I knew, thanks to my sporty mum, the benefits swimming has on the body are the best. It’s a sport that can support up to 90% of the body’s weight in the water, so when you have injuries or have a disability you can take part without putting much strain on your body. When you’re in the water and gliding along you’re actually toning so many areas – much more than other sports which tend to target upper or lower areas of the body more specifically. Plus, the water is really a whole new world for you to zone out sans ability to be reached by notifications or alarms.
But then there’s the stereotype. Black people can’t swim. And my mum and I were having none of that. In class, I could see myself as the only black girl at the deep end of the pool and it both pushed and perplexed me to carry on in the water. This stereotype is rooted in racism. It goes back to the Jim Crow era and segregation. Think if water fountains were segregated it’s clear pools were ten times over! Many incidents have lead to a generational passing down of a fear of water. Iconic actress Dorothy Dandridge set a record for the highest attendance during her closing night performance at the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. Just one year earlier, this same hotel drained their pool after Dorothy purposely dipped her toe in it to show her defiance towards a racist policy prohibiting Black people from swimming in the pool at the time. There are famous images of a different hotel manager pouring a vat of acid into a pool, whilst people were swimming, because he didn’t want black people in his pool. Just the other day my friend went on a date where the guy wholeheartedly believed, what he must have been taught when growing up, that black people had denser bones and thus couldn’t swim. He was both stunned, saddened and perplexed that in 2018 racist lies are an existing belief passed down in some cruel aspect of education.
If you were born into an environment that saw water through these eyes, can you imagine the difficulty faced attempting to get into a pool? Many of my older family members can’t swim and that fear just gets passed down generation after generation. This is why it’s so amazing to have icons to look up to like Simone Manuel or the Island Aquatics Synchro team from Jamaica. To make sure that when walking up to that pool edge, the voice in girl’s head says, “Come on in, the waters fine!”