70% Of Black Kids Can’t Swim: Is Our Hair to Blame?

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Photography by NHOPHOTOS: Chicago, IL

by Maria Lloyd

According to a recent study conducted by the USA Swimming Foundation, 70% of African American children do not know how to swim. President of the Greater Hartford YMCA, James Morton, stated the issue needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed “immediately”. According to Morton, access is the main factor contributing to the statistic. “Access to affordable swim lessons that are conveniently located within communities is the real challenge,” he said. Morton also says the lack of public schools in the inner city areas is creating a generation of minority children with little-to-no water safety education. According to the CDC, black children drown a rate three times higher than their white peers. Morton is making it his mission to open pools in areas where minority children do not have access.

I immediately thought of myself and my inner circle: None of us know how to swim! We’re all in our late 20’s to mid-30’s and we’re all of African American descent. I can vividly remember my mother telling me I couldn’t get in the pool with my cousins when I was a kid because I needed a perm and couldn’t get my hair wet prior to getting it relaxed. I also reflected on the conversations my hair stylist had with me when I was a teenager- discouraging me to get in a pool because chlorine was known to thin relaxed hair. I agree with Morton that access is a major factor, but I’m thinking hair is parallel to or immediately behind the access factor.

There was a picture floating around on Facebook that showed a large group of African Americans attending a pool party, but there weren’t any women in the pool. You could spot a few men scattered here and there, but the ladies were parked above ground, on the side of the pool with their sexy bikinis and freshly styled hair. It seems to me that we’re willing to sacrifice our own health and safety to save our hair. Many of my African American female peers do not exercise daily because of their hair. Ladies, we have got to find a way around this. It is limiting us significantly.