whether celebrating our “independence” or not, like many others on the holiday yesterday, i was thrilled to open a text inviting me to a pool party. in fact, the first pool party i’ve been to this summer. i gathered what i call my diva hat (you know, big brim, neutral tan color, slightly floppy), my glasses, and my previously unworn Victoria’s Secret swimsuit (don’t you love it??) in full preparation for a day of toe-dipping.
see, also like many of my melanin-enhanced brethren, going swimming to me doesn’t usually involve any diving, butterfly, doggie, front, back, or freestyle strokes (sidenote: is it me, or does swimming sound a lot like the other skin-baring activity we grown folks love so much?). it means glistening skin, deep tan, cute swimsuit, and a book of some sort; near or at a body of chlorine or fish-filled water.
the day was going quite well until some immoral soul decided to invite a swim into my life unexpectedly by pushing me into the water. as my body crashed into the oddly blue water, my mind quickly ping-ponged several thoughts throughout: i am going to kill him. after being a lifeguard in high school, i’ve completely forgotten how to swim. when did i become so afraid of water? i am going to KILL him. natural hair for the WIN. i wonder if i can emerge out of the water all awesome-like and do a Halle Berry in James Bond-esque strut out of the pool. i’ll probably drown before then. dang.
i eventually emerged as gracefully as i could (missed the Halle Berry by a few dozen sexy decibels) and tried not to act as traumatized as i was by this near-death experience. this man, whom i didn’t know from a can of paint, had been pushing women in the pool all day (because we’re 17 and all O_o) and i should have been more aware i suppose. that very real fear of drowning i came face to face with though made me ruminate on a recent sad event. a former classmate and friend of mine drowned last week in what i keep telling myself had to be a freak accident on a day out at the water. i can’t even imagine the sadness, the shock his family must feel. so sudden and senseless. my heart goes out. the reaction has been virtually the same for everyone i spoke to it about: why would he jump in the water if he couldn’t swim?
i honestly don’t know if he knew how to swim or not, but my question is, why don’t black people in general know how to swim? i had to ask this even more so after witnessing a little girl around seven on the opposite side of the pool slip into the eight foot end and almost drown before being helped by the lifeguard on duty. her mom stood by screaming at the nearly empty pool, scared because she didn’t know how to swim herself. amazingly, this was not even ten minutes after a friend had pointed out a tiny little white girl literally doing cannon balls into the eight foot end, emerging, swimming on her back, disappearing, and popping up into full out laps. it made me sad because statistically, black children are three times more likely to drown than white children.
i learned this a couple of years ago when i interviewed the muy caliente Cullen Jones, a black olympic gold medalist swimmer who started a program called Make A Splash, an initiative to help minority kids in inner city environments learn to swim. i remember talking to his mother as well, and she shared how he’d nearly drowned at age five, and after that she enrolled him in the all but free lessons at the local ymca so that she’d never have to worry about it again. he loved it so much that he began swimming competitively. she told me how she was usually the only black parent at the meets, how black parents let their own fear of the water determine whether their child would learn to swim, something even infants can be taught.
i know we’re midway through the summer and fully into pool-party season, but i would encourage everyone to consider taking a swim class if you’re going to be taking a dip. sign your children up. be proactive. stats also show that black and latino children possess a much higher confidence in their ability to swim, even if they’ve never done it. even if they only taught themselves. this over-confidence is the only thing i can think of that would make a smart man jump into a lake without having mastered at least one swim stroke. it may not seem important, but unfortunate, senseless drowning deaths can be avoided, and knowing how to swim just might save your or your child’s life one day.
do you know how to swim? would you put your kids in swim class? do you think it’s an important skill to know?