3 Reasons Why African American Kids Continue To Face A Higher Risk Of Drowning


Contribution by Sally Writes

In the USA Swimming Foundation’s latest statistics, it was revealed that 64 percent of African American children could not swim, raising the chances of drowning tenfold. The fatal drowning rate of African American kids is estimated to be 3.1 times higher than those of white children. The racial gap has been apparent across many incidences for African Americans, including their educational achievements and a difference in their money spending habits. Now, with the summer months upon us and almost 9 in 10 children planning on visiting a beach or pool, many are questioning the reasons behind the so starkly different drowning rate for African American kids and more importantly, whether there is way to change it.

The Disparity In Swimming Education And Training

An interesting statistic that was revealed in the study is that just under 70 percent of African American children had low or no ability to swim. Furthermore, 12 percent said they taught themselves how to swim. Compared to Hispanic and White children, these figures were only 58 percent and 42 percent- highlighting the staggering gaps in swimming education. While other countries have opted to include swimming education in their national curriculum, this is not standardized in the American school system. 

As a result, many African American parents are not investing in swimming lessons for their children. Swimming is embraced as a pastime and extra circular sport by mostly White American kids and their parents, which means African American kids end up missing out on learning a life-saving skill- and one that could help their journey to college.

The Cultural Comfort And Lifestyle Factor

It has been also shown that if parents cannot swim, it is more likely that the children won’t learn to swim either. According to the USA Swim Foundation, children only have a 13 percent chance of learning to swim if their parent does not know how to. The continued parental fear of the water and ignorance of swimming as an essential life-saving skill continues to hinder African American children from visiting pools or engaging in swimming lessons. Instead, the approach has been to warn and keep children away from swimming instead of equipping them with the tools to survive in the water.

Also, the increased privatization of pools across American in the second half of the 20th century has meant that resources like community pools are not readily available to African American families. Although income in African American households is rising, it is still half of that in white households. This means disposable income and funds for activities such as pool club fees and swimming lessons remain out of reach for many African American households. As a result, fewer African American children are equipped with practical novice advice when in the water and end up being less confident in the water.

Limited Participation In Water Sports And Activities Due To Stereotyping

Lastly, the continued myth of ‘African Americans cannot swim’ and other stereotypes has discouraged the participation of African American children in swimming activities or water sports. The propagation of beliefs like swimming being an elitist sport has meant that most African American families (and kids) now believe such activities are out of their income and racial bracket. However, the expansion of minority support in sports has exploded in recent years. One good example is the Black Kids Summer Swim Team Scholarship Fund, which looks to fund places for African American kids on competitive swim teams. 

If there is to be a change in these continued trends, communities must begin to challenge these stereotypes — starting at home. Introducing your child to the water early in life means they have a chance to learn an essential skill earlier on in life. For parents, the change lies in shifting the view of what classifies as essential skills children need to learn.

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