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Why it’s time to challenge the stereotype that “black people can’t swim”.

Shocking figures show that 80% of black children and 90% of black adults in the UK cannot swim

Annalize Butler, a black swimming instructor, has started her own swimming school and offers classes specifically for members of the black community.
Annalize Butler, a black swimming instructor, has started her own swimming school and offers classes specifically for members of the black community.

I’m a black woman and I can’t swim.

Growing up, I more than agreed with that statement. I held it up as a badge of honor, a revelation to make people laugh and say, “Hey look at Florence, she’s 22 years old and she can’t swim.”

The “Black people can’t swim” cliché may sound like a joke to many, but it’s a joke with serious implications. Figures show that blacks are at greater risk of drowning because they are not taught to swim.

But here I am, 15 years after my last swimming lesson, about to take a dip in a pool in Balham, south London.







Figures show that blacks are at greater risk of drowning because they are not taught to swim.
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Picture:

TIM ANDERSON)

Not only am I overwhelmed (pardon the pun), but I’m also outside of my comfort zone.

My memories of swimming lessons are not the best. I remember the butterflies fluttering around my stomach, the smell of chlorine that almost made me breathe.

But I was determined to do my best in this lesson, even though I was filled with utter fear.

The walk up to the steps feels like a destiny. Just staring into the pool of water was enough to make me run away. It reminded me of my swimming teacher at school, who used a long wooden pole to push me from the edge of the pool into the deep end.

Not surprisingly, I left elementary school without learning the vital skill of swimming. I wasn’t the only school kid who was discouraged from swimming for life. The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) says that one in three children is now graduating elementary school unable to swim.







The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) says that one in three children is now graduating elementary school unable to swim.
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Picture:

(Getty Images)

Luckily my teacher this time is Annalize Butler, the founder of the Black-Owned Swim School (BOSS), which teaches swimming to people in the black community.

As I step backwards into the pool, she pulls the child’s step closer to me so I don’t panic—because I think the pool is the size of the Pacific Ocean.

“Okay, so let’s take a few steps around the pool,” says Annalize. I’m speechless. What does it mean to take steps? I’m only 1.60 meters tall. But as I take a few steps, I soon realize that the pool has one level.

Next, we’ll practice hovering. “Keep your chin down in the water, keep your stomach up, back of your knees,” says Annalize.

Amazingly it worked.







Annalize Butler teaches Mirror journalist Florence Freeman (non-swimmer).
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Picture:

TIM ANDERSON)

I’m clinging to the pool for my life for fear of slowly sinking to the bottom of the pool, but I’m doing it, I’m floating.

After practicing swimming, she takes me around the pool. I clutched her arms tightly, but I’m still doing what I thought I could never do. I swim… sort of.







Annalize wants to encourage more black people to learn to swim.
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Picture:

TIM ANDERSON)

Annalize wants to encourage more black people to get in the water. Figures show that 80% of young black people and children in England cannot swim. This percentage rises to 95% in black adults.

“There’s a test of being the only black person in the pool and there’s already an expectation that black people can’t swim. That’s generational, it’s not just something I’m saying now,” she says.

With so few black people participating in recreational swimming, it is not surprising that they are underrepresented in the competitive arena.







Figures show that 80% of young black people and children in England cannot swim. This percentage rises to 95% in black adults.
(

Picture:

TIM ANDERSON)

A Freedom of Information (FOI) inquiry conducted by the BBC in 2019 found that of 73,000 competitive swimmers registered with Swim England, only 668, less than 1%, were identified as black or mixed race.

But Alice Dearing – one of two black swimmers who have represented Team GB at international level – wants to change all that.

In 2020, she co-founded the Black Swimming Association (BSA) charity with Danielle Obe, Ed Accura and Seren Jones to highlight the importance of swimming as a life skill and to help prevent it from being drowned out further within the black community.

“We were just all sick of these problems, we were tired of these tragic stories about these drowning black people. We got tired of hearing people say swimming wasn’t for them,” says Alice.

“The whole bone density thing, that’s one issue. The whole hair thing. That’s another thing. Access to water. Honestly, we were all just fed up with these issues.”







Alice Dearing co-founded the Black Swimming Association (BSA) charity to highlight the importance of swimming as a life skill within the black community.
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Picture:

(Getty Images)

Dearing and others are determined to change the cultural mindset of black people who can’t swim.

“In some cases, learning to swim, there’s a lot of anxiety and being able to take all those emotions and turn them into a skill and apply it to yourself I think is a very powerful thing,” says Alice.

“It’s a great and very important skill – a life-saving skill.”

But their cause was not aided by the barriers erected by the sports hierarchy.

For example, in 2021, the international swimming governing body rejected an application for an Afro swim cap, “soul cap,” to be used by black swimmers.

The “Soul Cap” was designed to recognize the versatility of black hair such as dreadlocks, afros, weaves, hair extensions, braids, and thick and curly hair.







Annalize wants to open her own pool to teach members of the black community how to swim.
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Picture:

TIM ANDERSON)

Annalize says her goal is to own her own pool.

“Owned, staffed, managed, employed, educated, with people representing the demographics most at risk of drowning.”

“They say, ‘You don’t want to separate the pool’. ‘We don’t see a need for the community.’ But there is a need. The black community is one of the most vulnerable communities to drowning.”

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https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/its-time-challenge-cliche-black-26776135 Why it's time to challenge the stereotype that "black people can't swim".

Fry Electronics Team

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