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Why Black Kids Can’t Swim


The USA Swimming Commission and University of Memphis reports 70% of black kids can’t swim. While the numbers are horrific, there are several reasons the figures are so high. For starters, black kids are not exposed to swimming.

Hardly any homes in the minority community have pools. Without pools on private property it forces the need for public swimming facilities. These facilities have become more and more scarce due to insurance and lifeguard availabilities. If blacks never learn to swim not many will become professional lifeguards.

In 1933, the National Recreation Association reported more people swam in Municipal Facilities than went  to the movies. Neighbors crowded the public pools until the 1950s, when private pools became popular in suburban areas of the cities. Private pools declared a retreat from the public swimming arenas. As whites built pools in their backyards, public facilities would be left for the poor.

By the 70s almost every city pool was integrated but used mostly by blacks. In the early 80s city run pools begin disappearing in inner city neighborhoods. The upkeep and management of the facilities became costly as well as insurance. One by one, they begin shutting down.

By the late 80s, a new generation of black children would populate the same neighborhoods yet with no swimming outlets. Organizations such as Boy Scouts of America, The Boys & Girls Club, and the YMCA became the outlets that would teach swimming lessons to inner city youth. But by the early 90s, even the presence of these organizations in the black community begin to decrease. As the price to join venues such as the YMCA increased, the opportunity for black kids to learn decreased.

At one point schools used to teach swim lessons and offer swim team as an elective. Today hardly any schools in the black community have access to pools, offer swimming courses, or even a swim team. Since the late 90s children actually grow up in the black community and never learn to swim.

Unless you live in an area where there are beaches, most black kids are only exposed to large bodies of water at water parks. Even these opportunities aren’t frequent enough to sustain a healthy swimming development.

To make matters even worse black parents, especially black mothers, seldom get in pools. Chlorine has been known to harm the texture of black hair. Because hair products and beauty appointments are so expensive for black mothers many choose not to get in swimming pools. Many black mothers never thoroughly learned to swim themselves.

Orange County, CA Fire Authority claims of all preschoolers who drown, 70% are in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning. Their records prove the rising number of kids who can’t swim is generally due to the large number of parents who haven’t learned to swim either.

A solution for this growing epidemic is to provide a budget within the city’s operation that will allocate funds for more public swimming outlets. Many of the programs that teach swimming aren’t as visible in the black community as they were 20 years ago. Perhaps it would be important for these organizations to receive the necessary funding to host swim lessons for minority youth free of charge. Swimming lessons in most venues usually range from $100-200. A figure too high for most minority families to afford.

Maybe you’re familiar with the three year old in Houston, Texas who drowned in 2011. Her brother let her in the next door neighbor’s gate. She jumped in their pool and drowned.

In 2010, one case shook the country and hovered national news for weeks. Six teenagers in Shreveport, LA all drowned in a lake at the same time and their parents were watching. None of the kids could swim and unfortunately neither could the adults.

According to Drowning Prevention Foundation, 19% of kids who drown in public pool facilities drown with a lifeguard present. This percentage simply means even with a lifeguard on duty, it only takes seconds for a child to drown.  The ability to swim should be a high priority in every family.

The CDC reports African-American kids between the ages of 5 to 14 drown 3.1 times that of white children in the same age range. It’s even worse for American Indian children. They also report, among racial groups,  African-American kids are easily the most limited race with swimming ability, much higher than all other races.

If a child can’t swim it’s not necessarily due to ignorance but rather due to the lack of opportunity. If it becomes the very activity to save your child’s life then every father needs to take his son swimming regularly. Every mother at some point will have to ‘get her hair wet.’


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