For many years, conventional wisdom has held that blacks can not swim. (I use the term ‘black’ to apply to anyone of African descent. The term is meant with respect to encompass the broad range of cultures descending from the African continent) A widely discredited academic report years ago stated that the physiology of a black person leads to their sinking which explained why blacks couldn’t swim. Prejudice dressed up with academic credentials to support entrenched beliefs, accepted as fact, all real evidence to the contrary. Such is the insidious nature of prejudice.
I had the great pleasure of meeting with Bruce Wigo, President of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida last week. We discussed how cultural norms have kept African-Americans out of swimming lessons. The ISHF, well worth a visit, has an excellent exhibit which explains how history really worked. The exhibit begins as: “In 1451, Europeans began their explorations of the west coast of sub-Saharan Africa and discovered that African people were by all accounts expert watermen and “the best swimmers in the world”. The Europeans attributed these extraordinary swimming skills to constant exercise and “from being brought up, both men and women from infancy, to swim like fishes.” The exhibit goes on to explain how valued Africans were in the Navy and on fishing fleets. During the period of slavery in the U.S., in the 18th century it was estimated that 80% of blacks could swim and only 20% of whites could swim, until it was determined that swimming allowed slaves to escape and was banned, relegating an entire cultural group to a higher risk of drowning deaths for many generations. If you’d like the full text, just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indigenous people and minorities consistently drown at higher rates than whites in virtually every country, and yet many of these groups come from rich heritages that understood and respected water. Native Americans. Maori. Aboriginals. Inuits. And Africans. There is no rational reason.
Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it – and die.