The Black Commentator: An independent weekly internet magazine dedicated to the movement for economic justice, social justice and peace - Providing commentary, analysis and investigations on issues affecting African Americans and the African world.
Jul 1, 2010 - Issue 382

Too Many Black Kids Can’t Swim. Can Yours?
Black Married Momma
The Anti-Statistic
By K. Danielle Edwards Columnist



This morning, as I got ready for work and had the local news humming in the background as I usually do, I heard a report about drowning deaths in our city, with a national spin attached.

According to the representative speaking on behalf of a local YMCA location, most parents whose children drown had no idea that their kids didn’t know how to swim. How can this be?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says that about 260 children under the age of five drown each year in residential swimming pools and hot tubs. An additional 3,000 children under the age of five are taken to emergency rooms for submersion-related accidents. Moreover, drowning represents the fourth-leading cause of death to children up to age five.

Those numbers are nothing to scoff at. As temperatures reach sweltering levels and the mercury runs so high that parents aren’t even taking their children to the park, families find themselves finding sanctuary in pools – be it their own, one of a family member or friend, public facilities or those associated with a membership to a recreational facility.

This topic is also especially relevant for a reason other than the season, and that is because of a notion that seems rooted in stereotype, but in my mind just may ring quite true: Most black people don’t know how to swim. Now, I know some people may not like me giving credence to what for ages has sounded like a myth or fiction, but apparently it really is true.

After all, even ABC News recently reported that the drowning rate for black kids is three times as high as that for whites. While an estimated 40 percent of white kids have no idea how to swim, an astonishing 70 percent of African-American chlidren don’t. I certainly believe it. In seeing how few black kids attend swimming lessons at the place my children frequent and in having met many black adults over the years who didn’t know how to handle themselves in water, this must be recognized.

It’s bigger than black women’s irrational fears of getting their straightened hair wet, too. It is, I perceive, also encoded with issues of access, opportunity and cost. Many free public pools no longer exist. Ostensibly, like most Americans, many black people don’t have their own pools at home. And swimming lessons, of course, are far from free. (Little Lady #1 has been taking classes since she was three, and I shudder to think about how much we’ve already spent on those lessons.)

I was fortunate enough to grow up with a pool at home. I was in the water before I could intelligibly talk. And I certainly knew how to swim decently before I was in Kindergarten. Water safety and knowing how to handle myself in it perhaps would not have been as much of a necessity or priority if my parents’ house didn’t come with a pool.

As much as we are inclined to talk about the many things our children are “at risk” for, in the summer time, swimming pools should certainly get top billing as well. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also offers some no-nonsense tips to keep our children safe.

• Never leave a child unsupervised near a pool.

• Instruct babysitters about potential hazards to young children in and around swimming pools and the need for constant supervision.

• Completely fence the pool. Install self-closing and self-latching gates. Position latches out of reach of young children. Keep all doors and windows leading to the pool area secure to prevent small children from getting to the pool. Effective barriers and locks are necessary preventive measures, but there is no substitute for supervision.

• Do not use flotation devices as a substitute for supervision.

• Never use a pool with its pool cover partially in place, since children may become entrapped under it. Remove the cover completely.

• Place tables and chairs well away from the pool fence to prevent children from climbing into the pool area.

• Keep toys away from the pool area because a young child playing with the toys could accidentally fall in the water.

• Remove steps to above ground pools when not in use.

• Have a telephone at poolside to avoid having to leave children unattended in or near the pool to answer a telephone elsewhere. Keep emergency numbers at the poolside telephone.

• Learn CPR.

• Keep rescue equipment by the pool. Columnist K. Danielle Edwards - a Black full-time working mother and wife, with a penchant for prose, a heart for poetry, a love of books and culture, a liking of fashion and style, a knack for news and an obsession with facts - beating the odds, defying the statistics. Sister Edwards is a Nashville-based writer, poet and communications professional, seeking to make the world a better place, one decision and one action at a time. To her, parenting is a protest against the odds, and marriage is a living mantra for forward movement. Her work has appeared in BLACK MARRIED MOMMA, ParentingExpress, Magazine, The Black World Today,, The Tennessean and other publications. She is the author of Stacey Jones: Memoirs of Girl & Woman, Body & Spirit, Life & Death (2005) and is the founder and creative director of The Pen: An Exercise in the Cathartic Potential of the Creative Act, a nonprofit creative writing project designed for incarcerated and disadvantaged populations. Click here to contact Ms. Edwards.