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Black Girls Don’t Swim?

Black Girls Don't Swim?

I never learned how to swim. It wasn’t high on my parent’s list of priorities, and when I became an adult, it wasn’t that high on mine, either.  

There was a point in my life where I owned about 20 different bikinis. I would go to the pool or the beach, but sit my skinny little tail on a chair somewhere, dry as a bone the entire time. I look back now and shake my head.

Now that I’m grown and have my own daughter, I have a completely different view on why learning to swim is so necessary. Not only is it a safety issue (a HUGE safety issue), it’s great for self-esteem and fun.

Also, when my child does it, it’s an effective way to kill the stereotype that Black girls don’t swim. I know I didn’t do much personally to prove folks wrong about that stereotype, but I’m probably the only one of my close friends who can’t swim. 

That’s not going to be Ayva’s story. She started swimming lessons when she was 5, and I wish we would have started sooner.

Even though she’s played in the pool a lot, technique was tough for her. My girl is worked hard every day to learn, though.   

I reached out to my friend, Bianca, a Documentary Filmmaker and Educator who has talked about her love of swimming since I met her about 10 years ago. I asked her to tell me what swimming means to her and why she thinks it’s important for kids to learn.

Knowing how to swim is a life saving skill that every parent should help their children achieve. It’s a lifelong recreational and competitive sport that is also the foundation for all other aquatic sports (rowing, sailing, scuba, jet skiing etc).

Being in the water can be therapeutic for mind and body. Lessons by strong instructors early on can prevent unwarranted fear later on.

Drowning is a global epidemic. The Diversity in Aquatics Program is a good place to start in search of aquatic resources. DAP also created International Water Safety Day.

Personally, swimming changed my life. I was able to swim competitively, be a college athlete, and work as a lifeguard through high school and college.

For more aquatic resources, check out The Diversity in Aquatics Program. – Bianca White

Bianca didn’t mention it, but I remember when she completed an IronMan Triathlon where she swam, biked and ran a marathon. In the same event. So, yeah, about those stereotypes…

Oh, and (sadly) I can’t talk about Black girls swimming and not talk about hair.

It’s simple. If you drown, no one is going to care what your hair looks like.  

Rinse it out. Wash it. Condition it. Whatever. Just get in the water. 


Tuesday 5th of August 2014

Love this! Fortunately my family is full of Black Girls Who Love to Swim! I plan to introduce my daughter to swimming at the ripe age of 6 months :)

Christine Duque

Friday 1st of August 2014

Brandi - love your post! I'm a competitive swimmer, as you know, and also teach swimming over the weekends to children and adults of all disabilities. Here's some hard facts:

Ten people drown each day in the U.S Drowning is the 2nd leading cause of childhood unintentional death for children under the age of 14 Research Study reveals 60-70% of African-American and Hispanic kids can't swim. Participation in formal swimming lessons could reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by 88%.


Sunday 3rd of August 2014

Thank you for these stats, Christine! This is what's important...people are DYING because they can't swim. Swim lessons for 2 weeks is $85 here. Totally worth saving my daughter's life.

Crystal Blake

Thursday 31st of July 2014

First, she's absolutely adorable!! I learned when I was a wee thing, maybe 6? I asked for swim lessons because 2 of my close cousins (same age) could swim and at a family picnic one of my aunts was going on and on about how good they were. When I asked, "What about me?" she said, "You swim like a rock." I asked how did a rock swim and she blurted out before busting out laughing, "They CAN'T!" My 11-year-old has taken sporadic lessons and is average. I took a Mommy and Me swim class with the little one 2 years ago and there was a 70-year-old grandma taking swim lessons!! So, get your swim on!


Sunday 3rd of August 2014

Aww, @disqus_xNyiOD2o6I:disqus!!! How cool that YOU ASKED! What a smart little girl you were! I'm committed to learning this year. :-)


Thursday 31st of July 2014

Swimming is a great cardio workout. My parents ensured that my three siblings and I learned and I was even a certified lifeguard by the age of 17. My daughter started swimming at one and knew how to swim by two. She started competitive swimming at the age of 6. It gives her such confidence. With regard to hair maintenance, we are natural and keep her hair braided. I don't use extensions during swim season as it weighs her down a bit (every second counts). Co-washing and plenty of moisturizer ensures that we have no breakage. We are doing our part to kill the stereotype. African American women have the highest obesity rates in the country. Swimming can help reduce this rate for us.


Sunday 3rd of August 2014

@1calledtoworship:disqus I LOVE this!!!!! These are the stories that need to be told! Way to go to your daughter! Thank you for sharing!


Thursday 31st of July 2014

I absolutely love this! My sister and I have been the "oddballs" and "oreos" because our parents invested in us learning things that blacks girls don't usually learn. Swimming was one of them. My Dad actually taught me when I was younger, and my sister learned at her day care. Since she was 14, she has made money as a lifeguard at our local Y, and is not using that has her college job. I've been able to pass on my love of swimming to my own daughter. Yet, our cousins constantly made fun of us for this. Now, years later, they still sit on the beach while we actually swim in the ocean with no issues. The stigma is still very prevalent.


Sunday 3rd of August 2014

@Amiyrah:disqus Yup, and that "oreo" mentality is what holds some of us back. Good for your Dad for not caring what other folks thought and raising his girls up!!