The dangerous riptides
from Hurricane Earl barreling along the East Coast coincide with Labor Day weekend, when many families head to the beach for a last vacation before the beginning of the school year. But even without the challenging conditions, certain families are more at risk for drowning than others: African-American children drown at a rate three times that of their white counterparts, an issue that has as much to do with fear as it does finances.
“[Black] parents had a great fear of having their kids around water,” says Sue Anderson
, director of programming for USA Swimming
. “As a result, they’re not encouraging their kids to learn to swim. Counterintuitively, they were afraid that they would drown if they were around pools and learned to swim.”
USA Swimming reached this conclusion after commissioning two studies to explore why African-American children receive inferior water-safety education. Initially, economics was blamed: the conventional wisdom was that swimming was an expensive sport, and low-income communities didn’t have access to pools. But the survey hints at a much broader cultural fear of swimming, one that persists even when swimming education is accessible to minority families. The first study, conducted in 2008, showed that it was fear of water that fueled the lack of swim lessons. The second report, released this summer, conducted a series of focus groups to discuss the initial results. Said one participant from Denver: “You’re already uncomfortable and scared. You’re like, I‘m paying them so I can have heart palpitations on the sideline? It’s not worth it. It really isn’t. Why should I have to pay money to be afraid?”
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