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Swimming, or the lack of, in the Black American community
August 11, 2010 11:00 AM   Subscribe

A recent drowning tragedy in Shreveport, Louisiana has brought to light a startling statistic in America: a majority of black youth can not swim. posted by nomadicink (207 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
to the position of the belly button, according to a study

The "position of the belly button" (in actuality, the relative length of the legs) supposedly explains why few blacks are Olympic class swimmers, it doesn't have anything to do with whether or not people literally learn to swim.
posted by delmoi at 11:05 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow I thought this was common knowledge. A vast majority of my black friends cannot swim. I've had many conversations with them about this because I've been swimming since I was 6 months old and my brain can't fathom that it's not a natural instinct. They all invariably say that black people can't swim. Of course, a lot of them grew up and still live in NYC so I can't claim a representative sample.
posted by spicynuts at 11:05 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The tragedy took place in Shreveport, Louisiana, not New Orleans.
posted by CheeseLouise at 11:08 AM on August 11, 2010


When my father was in school, he had to pass a swim test in order to graduate. They should bring that kind of stuff back.

My siblings and I were put in the water to "swim" at 18 months. We were taking lessons by the time we were two.

There is no excuse not to learn how to swim. None.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:08 AM on August 11, 2010


All of the reasons listed here I've heard in my community ... except for the belly button thing. Really?
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:08 AM on August 11, 2010


Quibble: Doesn't the article say Shreveport, not New Orleans? That's like a 5 and a half hour difference there.

On topic: the statistics here are unbelievable. I'm kind of amazed - and horrified - that some instinctual doggy-paddling didn't kick in.
posted by bookwo3107 at 11:09 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no excuse not to learn how to swim. None.

Where do you intend people who live in projects take lessons? How do you intend that inner city public schools find the real estate and budget to build and maintain pools? Or, barring that, find, pay for and transport instructors, insure kids who take lessons, etc etc etc. Come on. There is PLENTY of excuse.
posted by spicynuts at 11:10 AM on August 11, 2010 [72 favorites]


Sorry about getting the place wrong, mods contacted.
posted by nomadicink at 11:11 AM on August 11, 2010


brought to light a startling statistic in America: a majority of black youth can not swim.

Startling to whom, precisely? This is a pretty well-known stereotype (I remember being in junior high, and when White Men Can't Jump came out, the retort was "Yeah, but black men can't swim").
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2010


Where do you intend people who live in projects take lessons?

Please do not perpetuate that stereotype that Black people only live in the projects.
posted by nomadicink at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2010 [24 favorites]


I'm kind of amazed - and horrified - that some instinctual doggy-paddling didn't kick in.

Honestly, I've had this discussion ad nauseum. There is no instinctual dog-paddling that can over-ride the anxiety or terror, apparently. I've heard the claim made "i don't float' multiple times. I can't understand not floating, but seriously, I've heard all the claims and I still can't get my mind around it.
posted by spicynuts at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2010


Whatever you say, but I still don't think this would have made as entertaining a movie as "White Men Can't Jump."
posted by MuffinMan at 11:13 AM on August 11, 2010


I can swim and never took a lesson. My parents taught me in a lake, for free.
posted by something something at 11:13 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Up here in Canada, it's apparently that immigrants are 5 times less likely to be able to swim.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:13 AM on August 11, 2010


Please do not perpetuate that stereotype that Black people only live in the projects.

Please do not perpetuate the stereotype that only black people live in the projects. The claim was made that there is NO EXCUSE for not learning to swim. I am offering a counter argument, without mentioning any race, to the blanket statement. The situations I describe apply to anyone living in the inner city or projects.
posted by spicynuts at 11:14 AM on August 11, 2010 [31 favorites]


I've heard the claim made "i don't float' multiple times. I can't understand not floating

I've never been able to float in water. Other people seem to be able to kind of lay on their back with their arms outstretched and just be supported by the water without much effort. My legs start to sink and pretty soon I'm approaching a vertical stance. There's no relaxing, there's no floating. It's been a source of mystery for me all my life, but really... I don't float.
posted by hippybear at 11:15 AM on August 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


If you kept your arms out straight and your head slightly back, you wouldn't float? People sometimes mistake 'only my face and mouth are above water' for 'i'm drowning' when in fact a dead man's float is pretty much just your face above water.
posted by spicynuts at 11:17 AM on August 11, 2010


I had a Black roommate in undergrad who couldn't swim. He sank immediately in fresh water, and could lie prone on the bottom of the pool. Even in salt water he had a lot of trouble. He was significantly more dense than I - we measured our densities in a water tank - presumably because he was a sprinter and had next to no fat on him. Getting someone who sinks like that to even go in the water isn't easy. He eventually could swim some, but it was never easy.
posted by jet_silver at 11:17 AM on August 11, 2010


From the first article:

DeKendrix survived, but not before six of his siblings and friends drowned while trying to save him. Maude Warner lost three of her children that day: a 13-year-old daughter, and 14- and 17-year-old sons. Three of their friends also perished, brothers who were 18, 17, and 15 years old.

Jesus Christ! Six people drowned trying to save one kid! That is not easy to fathom.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


One of the members of the US Olympic team from 2008 (Cullen Jones) spends a lot of his time with a program specifically designed to teach black kids to swim for all of these reasons. (He is himself black.) I had never heard about this phenomenon before, and I guess I'd just never thought too hard about why there aren't more black competitive swimmers (yes hi, I do follow competitive swimming) - it's a really interesting/weird social phenomenon. Anyhow, while not everyone needs to know how to do the butterfly if they don't want to, it does seem like more outreach about water safety is definitely needed.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can swim and never took a lesson. My parents taught me in a lake, for free.

You never took a lesson, but you were taught, eh?
posted by Riptor at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


Yeah, I'm very much with spicynuts on this one. I adore swimming, and I've done it all my life, but one of my best friends has never been able to do it. He's not black, but his school didn't have swimming lessons, his family live a good two hour walk from the nearest pool, and they didn't own a car for years due to financial constraints.

Sounds like a pretty reasonable excuse to me...
posted by emperor.seamus at 11:20 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Other people seem to be able to kind of lay on their back with their arms outstretched and just be supported by the water without much effort. My legs start to sink and pretty soon I'm approaching a vertical stance.

The trick is to arch your spine upward. You won't naturally float just "lying" there, but if you work on pointing your hips up, you will.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:20 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you kept your arms out straight and your head slightly back, you wouldn't float?

No, I don't float. I had swimming lessons when I was younger, so I'm not afraid of the water, and I'm not going to drown. But that whole "dead man's float" thing... simply doesn't work with me. I don't know why. It seems like it should just happen, but it doesn't, not for me.
posted by hippybear at 11:20 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why were all these kids playing in the water in the first place? Without one, single swimmer among them. Horrible, horrible, preventable tragedy.
posted by weezy at 11:21 AM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't float; I must actively use my arms and legs to keep myself at the surface. I've always been very thin. It's a body-fat percentage thing.
posted by killdevil at 11:21 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: Damn I feel bad for all you non-floating folks, being able to just laze around doing nothing is my favorite thing about being able to hang out in water.
posted by emperor.seamus at 11:23 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


People sometimes mistake 'only my face and mouth are above water' for 'i'm drowning' when in fact a dead man's float is pretty much just your face above water.

A dead man's float is face down--that's why the man is dead.

I've definitely noticed that a back float takes more effort than descriptions of same seem to indicate. For instance, you have to keep your spine straight and maybe twiddle your fingers/toes a little. Or maybe that's just me.
posted by DU at 11:23 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've taught swimming and I was a competitive swimmer for about a decade, so take my word on this: Floating is not about body fat.

If you arch your back, you WILL float. Some people need to put more effort into this than others and it's not something anyone ever *tells* you to do outside of swimming lessons, but I promise you, if you lie on your back and work at pointing your hips up, you WILL float.

It's absolutely not about body fat, it's about body placement in the water.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:24 AM on August 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


I can't rollerblade. I blame my race. (Pasty-white northern european with the dork gene)
posted by blue_beetle at 11:24 AM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Honestly, I've had this discussion ad nauseum. There is no instinctual dog-paddling that can over-ride the anxiety or terror, apparently. I've heard the claim made "i don't float' multiple times. I can't understand not floating, but seriously, I've heard all the claims and I still can't get my mind around it.
I'm as skinny as a rail, and honest to God, I sink. I mean, not to the bottom of the pool or anything, but left to my own devices I hover about two feet under the surface. It's strange and unnatural.
posted by verb at 11:25 AM on August 11, 2010


For instance, you have to keep your spine straight and maybe twiddle your fingers/toes a little. Or maybe that's just me.

That's just you, for most people keeping your spine actually straight is counter productive. If it works for you, it works, but as I mentioned, what you're trying to do is keep your shoulders *and* your hips level with the water which often involves putting in some effort to point your hips *up.*

posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:25 AM on August 11, 2010


The claim was made that there is NO EXCUSE for not learning to swim. I am offering a counter argument, without mentioning any race, to the blanket statement.

In a post about a certain race being mostly not able to swim, it seems reasonable that someone would assume you were talking about that race. It's not a post about "People of all races who live below the poverty line can't swim."

The thing that gets me about cases like this is how many people who can't swim do stuff like go to places (rivers, lakes, the ocean, pools) where swimming/wading is the main thing to do. I do understand that if you've never had a swimming lesson, you're unlikely to appreciate just how dangerous the water can be, and just how easy it can be to drown. I grew up in Hawaii and started swimming lessons before I could walk; staying safe and the potential dangers of being in water were always emphasized. So in my head, I get it. But then I go out to Ocean Beach here in San Francisco and see people let their little kids go out into the surf - the very dangerous surf - and it makes me angry.

I had to pass a swimming test in both high school and college to graduate - both these schools were in New England.
posted by rtha at 11:26 AM on August 11, 2010


That poor kid. Imagine living with the knowledge that six of your friends and relatives died trying to save you.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:26 AM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


On preview, I need to try this hip-pointing business. I made it through two YMCA swimming classes and no one ever told me that. Thanks, mefi!
posted by verb at 11:26 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only explanation that seems to really hold water (sorry) is the lack of swimming opportunities, and that one seems pretty clear and obvious.

If you look at various sports, you can see a clear class progression as they become more equipment and infrastructure-intensive. At the bottom is probably soccer, if you're in a rural area with a lot of space (since you really just need a ball and something to mark the bounds and goal lines, if you're content with imaginary goalposts), or basketball in a more built-up area (since you just need some blacktop and a hoop). At the far, far end of the spectrum would probably be something like polo. Somewhere in the middle lie most other sports.

Swimming is definitely towards the upper end, though, because it requires either a natural body of water suitable for swimming, or an actual swimming pool -- in the case of competitive swimming, almost certainly the latter. Not only are they expensive to build, they're extremely expensive to maintain; even school districts or municipalities that might have had public pools in the past may not have them now (see photo 14), because they can't afford the upkeep.

Even among white people, to be able to swim well (competitively) is a pretty upper-class signifier: it generally means that you either grew up with a pool in your backyard, or lived in an area where you had a municipal pool (affluent suburb), or could afford the membership to a private pool club throughout your childhood.

I'm not sure that swimming as a class marker is anything new, either. It was very common, until recently anyway, for Ivy League or 2nd tier colleges to have swimming requirements to graduate. Some still do. I don't think it's meant as a barrier to graduation (you're required to take a class if you can't swim already; it's not as though you just get shown the door), but the underlying message seems to be that if you want to climb the social ladder, you need to know how to swim. It's a "life skill."
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:27 AM on August 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


Where do you intend people who live in projects take lessons?

First of all, being Black doesn't mean you live in a project, as noted above.

But, to go along with your example, I dunno. A lake, the ocean, the Y, a community center?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:27 AM on August 11, 2010


There is no excuse not to learn how to swim. None.

Of course there is. There's excuses not to learn how to drive. Like my friends born and raised in New York City, who never needed a car - the need and/or interest wasn't as great there.

Look, knowing how to swim is useful, and could very well save yours or someone's life. But this also applies to knowing how to drive stick, knowing karate, knowing CPR, knowing the Heimlich Maneuver, knowing how to identify poisonous mushrooms, knowing how to use a gun, and knowing a foreign language.

And an infinite number of things too. That's sort of the problem with infinity; you don't have enough time to fit that all in.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:27 AM on August 11, 2010 [17 favorites]


I've had the same problem as hippybear since somewhere in my teens. I used to be able to float on my back for long stretches, haven't been able to since then. My guess is it was the muscle development in my legs.

Haven't tried a dead man's face-down-come-up-for-air float for a while. Might still work, I suppose, since I'm plenty fat above the waist.

If you arch your back, you WILL float.

Yeah, I remember being told that in swimming lessons. The problem that I found is that with enough arching I was as likely to get my head below water even with higher buoyancy as I was to benefit. I can't remember what I eventually figured out that got me past the problem while I was a kid.
posted by weston at 11:27 AM on August 11, 2010


The deficit in swimming ability is sad, but the apparent lack of basic water safety knowledge (which I'm sure is highly correlated to swimming ability) is downright frightening.
posted by brandman at 11:28 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interesting in that the twist on this that I read yesterday was that kids from families that don't swim have a higher drowning rate. It made no mention of race.
posted by HuronBob at 11:28 AM on August 11, 2010


Yeah, for my last piece of this derail -- back arching never worked for me. I have to actively kick my legs and move my arms to keep myself above water. That whole "lay back on the water" thing, even with active back arching... simply doesn't work for me. I'm sure it works for more people than it doesn't. But in my case, I remember specifically being scolded by my swimming teacher for moving too much during the floating practice, driving him to exasperation that I couldn't float even with individual instruction, and finally being given a "pass" on that even though I could never do it.

/derail
posted by hippybear at 11:28 AM on August 11, 2010


A dead man's float is face down--that's why the man is dead.

Oh yeah. Duh.
posted by spicynuts at 11:29 AM on August 11, 2010


My wife's public high school had mandatory swimming lessons and a mandatory swimming test required for graduation.

(rtha ... this was also in New England, in Westport, Conn.)

Reason: Decades earlier, a student at that high school drowned, and his rich parents endowed the school with a modern swimming pool facility, with the caveat that every student had to be taught to swim.

So, like anything, it's money and political will.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's absolutely not about body fat

With all due respect for your ostensible experience teaching swimming, anyone who claims that the density of body mass has nothing to do with buoyancy has some serious explaining - or learning - to do.
posted by thesmophoron at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


No, I don't float. I had swimming lessons when I was younger, so I'm not afraid of the water, and I'm not going to drown. But that whole "dead man's float" thing... simply doesn't work with me. I don't know why. It seems like it should just happen, but it doesn't, not for me.

That used to be the case with me. In the freshwater lakes where I grew up, mostly I'd sink. It made freediving that much easier and I went to state for swimming, so, I never thought too much about it.

But now - pushing 40 with a couple decades of beer drinking and shitty eating behind me ? I float like a cork. And it is not like I'm fat - 6'4 and 215. But the ratios have changed. Or the grey hair is lighter?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even among white people, to be able to swim well (competitively) is a pretty upper-class signifier: it generally means that you either grew up with a pool in your backyard, or lived in an area where you had a municipal pool (affluent suburb), or could afford the membership to a private pool club throughout your childhood.

I'd like to politely object. I'm a former competitive swimmer from a working class town and none of the swimmers on my team were remotely upper-class. At all. We had a municipal pool - most towns do. It's not a particular mark of affluence. Swim team dues were waived if you couldn't afford them. Most people car-pooled to meets to save money.

I've never heard of swimming characterized as an "upper class" sport and my experience with a decade of competitive swimming is that most of my fellow swimmers were middle/working class. Actually, ALL of my fellow swimmers were middle class - the few "upper" class kids in my town had horses and did dressage, not swimming.

The only barrier to entry to competitive swimming is pool access. No, this is not available in all working class neighborhoods, but it is absolutely by no means exclusive to the upper class.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:31 AM on August 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, I've heard that story in a number of places, including Snopes. It's an urban legend.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:33 AM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I can swim, though I don't particularly enjoy it (though I do like hanging out in the pool). To say "there is no excuse not to learn how to swim" is kind of a staggering statement. I grew up in the city, and didn't have access to a pool. I learned to swim at camp, but only because I was forced to learn, or I wouldn't get dessert (mmm dessert). I see no more reason for me to have learned how to swim than there would be reason for me to learn wilderness orienteering. Obviously, it would be better to know how to swim or to find my way in the woods than to die. Going in the water or going in the woods are not a part of everyone's lives.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:33 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


With all due respect for your ostensible experience teaching swimming, anyone who claims that the density of body mass has nothing to do with buoyancy has some serious explaining - or learning - to do.

You misread me. I didn't say that it had nothing to do with buoyancy. I said it had nothing to do with your ability to float on your back. You don't have to have a certain percentage of body fat to do it. Think about competitive swimmers for a second here - do they have ANY body fat at all? Not really. Can they float? Absolutely. Are they naturally buoyant? Probably not. It's not about whether or not you naturally float if dropped into a body of water, it's about "Can you position your body to float?"
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:34 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've never been skinny, but when I was around 180 lbs., I was neutrally buoyant. If I filled my lungs, I'd float. Breathe out, and I'd sink. Since I'm 50/50 biracial, this seems apt. [NOT STEREOTYPIST]
posted by Eideteker at 11:34 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no excuse not to learn how to swim. None.

There is no excuse not to learn how to ride a bike... oh wait, except if you don't have access to one, and no one willing to teach you. I taught myself (to ride a bike) when I was 23. I still have never learned how to swim. (I'm white, but that's neither here nor there for this response.)

Anyway, talk about victim blaming.
posted by desjardins at 11:34 AM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


There are plenty of good excuses for not learning to swim.

But everybody floats. Honest. (Some people don't float well, but everybody floats.)
posted by mrgrimm at 11:35 AM on August 11, 2010


the underlying message seems to be that if you want to climb the social ladder, you need to know how to swim.

This doesn't make any sense. Swimming isn't a social event. If you're really seriously swimming and not just "futzing about" (which is fun in and of itself), you're not going to be able to TALK since your head is in the WATER.

posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:36 AM on August 11, 2010


Anyone can float in the Dead Sea, right?
posted by fixedgear at 11:36 AM on August 11, 2010


Yes, as Eideteker just beat me to saying, air in your lungs keeps you up in a float. I've taught people to float on their backs by showing them how my own body rises as I breathe in and sinks when I breathe out. I'm not a swim teacher, but it might be a tip for someone who want to try or re-try the floating thing.

Some good causes I've been made aware of, thanks.
posted by rainbaby at 11:36 AM on August 11, 2010


Everyone floats down here Georgie....
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


Getting back to the more salient point, perhaps, I never knew the percentage of blacks who can't swim is so high. A "majority" was startling enough, but to think it may be as high as 70% is astounding.
posted by yhbc at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2010


You never took a lesson, but you were taught, eh?

No, not formally. Which is why I said I never took a lesson. It was basically like, "here, kid, we're going to go out on the water now and you can splash around and not be afraid of it." I really think fear is the #1 thing that keeps people from learning how to swim. It IS intuitive, as long as you aren't afraid.
posted by something something at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm a good swimmer, but I don't float either.

My ex, who is black, cannot swim and lost her brother in a drowning accident when he tried to save someone who'd fallen in. Our kids can swim, but at least in part because I've pushed the issue. I think the hair explanation, at least for women, is a strong one. Relatively speaking, a fair amount of time and money is involved and pools can really do a number on one's hair.
posted by idb at 11:38 AM on August 11, 2010


Why were all these kids playing in the water in the first place?

Because it's hot! It's 99 degrees in Shreveport today. It's possible some of these kids didn't have air conditioning at home. There are lots of kids in the poorer areas of Milwaukee who go to the free public pools because they have no other way to cool off.
posted by desjardins at 11:39 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, I am inclined to go with grapefruitmoon as an expert, but I taught swimming lessons for about 5 years and encountered a handful of people who had to work a lot harder than others to float, regardless of how much they arched their back or otherwise got into the proper position. One of these that I remember distinctly was a thin, middle-aged white man who was getting the first lessons of his life from me. I also remember that the black kids tended to start swimming lessons much later than the white kids at my pool for whatever reason- I wonder if it has anything to do with starting early and falling naturally into positions amenable to buoyancy.
posted by emilyd22222 at 11:41 AM on August 11, 2010


Yes, as Eideteker just beat me to saying, air in your lungs keeps you up in a float.

I have really crappy lung capacity, which might be a factor in my non-floatiness. Also I was able to float better when I was chubbier as a little kid and not at all when I was at my skinniest in high school. At this point I can kind of float in a pool with difficulty and can float in the ocean with no problem at all.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:42 AM on August 11, 2010


Jesus Christ! Six people drowned trying to save one kid! That is not easy to fathom.

Lifesaving is much, much harder than swimming. I have always been a strong swimmer with no fear of the water, but when I took my first lifesaving course, I failed miserably. You panic yourself when someone who is near to drowning (or an instructor pretending to be) sees you coming and grabs you around the neck. If you don't know what to do, if you have not practiced, if you cannot control your panic, you are as likely to drown as the person you are trying to save.

Drownproofing, that is keeping yourself from drowning, is yet another skill set quite unlike "swimming." Here again there are specific skills that must be learned and practiced - and practiced in real life situations - before you can know them.
posted by three blind mice at 11:43 AM on August 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


Yes, emilyd22222, I've definitely noticed that some people have a way harder time than others floating. It's not intuitive or easy for everybody. My only point is that (barring some exceptional person or persons), all people can position themselves to float. Not that it's going to be "easy" for everybody to do it, but the myth that "I can't float" is precisely that - a myth. Not that you really need to do it, but I see a lot of people simply misunderstanding what's involved and wanted to clear it up for anyone who hadn't had luck before and wanted to try it again.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:43 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also- I think it's really hard to learn to swim early and well when your parents don't swim. The kids whose parents were nonswimmers/afraid of water were taught to hold their nose when they jumped in or went underwater, which is really hard to unteach and really works against learning to swim. It's likely that we're still overcoming decades of segregation, lack of access, etcetera here.
posted by emilyd22222 at 11:44 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I worked with swim teams when my kids were young and I'm pretty sure you can teach ANY kid to swim as long as you can trick them into not worrying about it.

As far as floating, I tend to think that density may indeed have something to do with it. One of the swim coaches I met was a very, very obese woman who would jump in the diving well next to the lanes and just float about, waist-high and upright in 12 feet of water; yelling her instructions at the kids swimming past as she bobbed to and fro. Contrarily, her name was Mrs. Rock. It was very hard to not laugh at her, kids and parents alike.

No matter how I arch I inevitably end up legs down, eyes just above the water glaring fiercely at my increasing lack of oxygen. Just one of the many times I wish I had a blowhole.
posted by umberto at 11:44 AM on August 11, 2010


Yes, emilyd22222, I've definitely noticed that some people have a way harder time than others floating. It's not intuitive or easy for everybody. My only point is that (barring some exceptional person or persons), all people can position themselves to float.

Gotcha. We're in agreement, obviously. I do think, though, that if someone had a much harder time floating, that would be a big deterrent to continuing to learn to swim. I was frustrated as an instructor- I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for a kid who has about a million other things she'd rather be doing.
posted by emilyd22222 at 11:48 AM on August 11, 2010


Lifesaving is much, much harder than swimming.

Of course it is. But if you cannot swim, you shouldn't be trying to save someone who is drowning.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:50 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the floating-on-your-back derail: I have trouble floating on my back now too, which I didn't as a kid. The problem is a body fat percentage thing (i.e. a high body density), especially in my legs. The trick is to try to look above your head -- which, since you're lying horizontal, sort of means behind you. "Arch your back" never meant anything to me, but "keep your chin way way up" works better. I have to nearly get my forehead into the water (so, my neck way way back) before I'm floating.

The second thing I have to do is breathe shallowly, keeping my lungs mostly full of air. The air in my chest is all that keeps my upper body afloat, and if I exhale all the way I go down like a rock no matter where my chin is pointing.

Even so, I still have to kick now and then to keep my feet up on the surface. It's true that anyone can float, but if you don't learn to when you're little and its easy, it can be much harder to master when you grow up.
posted by rusty at 11:50 AM on August 11, 2010


I sink when I'm flabby, and I sink when I'm trim. Even with my lungs fulla air and my guts full of gas (yes, I really tried). My natural buoyancy is with my nose (highest point, even tilted) at about -10", and my feet a bout 3' down.
posted by notsnot at 11:50 AM on August 11, 2010


grapefruitmoon, I think people took issue because your initial statement was a little strong. It sounded like all you have to do is arch your back, and hey presto, you're floating, and your personal density has absolutely nothing to do with it. This doesn't jibe with many people's experience. You have to keep yourself level, and be able to assume and maintain the proper posture. Having a lower density does help.
posted by zamboni at 11:51 AM on August 11, 2010


I taught swimming for nearly a decade. Anyone can float on their back, but with varying degrees of buoyancy. Many leaner people will find that their legs do start to sink, particularly as they let out air from their lungs, even if they do have their back nicely arched. This can be ameliorated by kicking even slightly, or by sculling one's hands under the water. This will also impart some forward motion, and is in fact one of the progressions we use early on in swimming lessons.

However, if a person panics, or even tenses up, this will not work. The key to floating is to remain relaxed. For someone unused to the water, the sensation of sinking even slightly, even while one's face is still out of the water, will cause that person to tense up and drop their hips. This in turn causes water to rise up over the mouth and nose, increasing the state of panic.

One must have a level of comfort in the water before one can even begin to start floating. The real question here is why are black children in the US not being exposed to situations in which they can gain a sense of familiarity and comfort in the water, enough to be able to learn how to swim or at least keep themselves up.

Working in Toronto, I have taught people of nearly every age, body type, ethnic background, and even people with rather severe physical disabilities. Anyone can learn how to swim if they are taught correctly.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:51 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh and "floating" is NOT a drownproofing technique. That was the first lesson learned in my drownproofing class.
posted by three blind mice at 11:51 AM on August 11, 2010


Shreveport is my hometown. I lived there until I was 22. My sister and I knew how to swim before we could walk, because when my mom was in her early 20s, she was unable to save the life of a guy who drowned swimming at a lake. She swam out to him, helped drag him back to shore, and performed CPR until an ambulance arrived. This had a really big impact on her, and she wanted to make sure her kids could save themselves if they did something like fall off a dock or into a swimming pool.

I grew up in and around the water. I took formal lessons at the YWCA for a couple of years, which got me to the point where I could keep my head above water indefinitely. I thought I knew what swimming was until I started training for a 1.2-mile swim in a triathlon, and then I realized that everything I learned from my parents and the swim instructions 20+ years ago hadn't stuck around. While I could tread water forever, getting from point A to B with any speed or efficiency just wasn't in my muscle memory. I completed the swim portion of the race with an average time, but it took a lot of lunch breaks spent doing boring laps in the pool to get there.

Anyway, growing up in Shreveport, I was exposed to the water mostly either by competitive water skiing (where you're sometimes wearing a lifejacket, but no worries, because the boat turns around when you fall anyway) and at the local waterpark: Watertown USA (warning: sound). I never knew about the "black people can't swim" thing until an acquaintance, who was life guarding there, told me that African Americans represent a very small percentage of their customer base but an overwhelming majority of their rescues. He said this with racist undertones, so I figured he was just being influenced by confirmation bias or something. I never knew the statistics were so damn serious.

The kid drowned in the red river. As the name implies, it's a red fucking river. Like almost all bodies of water in Louisiana, you can't see more than an inch or two under water. There is no clear water in LA outside of swimming pools, so once this kid went under, it's conceivable that the people trying to rescue him couldn't see him at all.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:52 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just dropped by to say, good for you, Diversity in Aquatics! I also strongly support the organizations that lobby to prevent drowning through boating and natural water and home safety.

Children drowning, of whatever race, is a tragedy that I'd love to see our society focus on preventing. It is crazy that over 20% of drowning fatality victims are children, and that it is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths of children.
posted by bearwife at 11:52 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't find a clip of it on YouTube, but I distinctly remember an episode of "Designing Women" in which Anthony tells the ladies that "nobody ever swum their way out of the ghetto," and if they could, "it wouldn't be Air Jordan, it'd be River Jordan."

I can understand people not being able to afford to send their kids to swimming lessons. (I never heard of it being taught in school, and I went to parochial schools for the most part.) But I still can't understand living in an area where there's a large body of water and not having a single opportunity to learn. I learned the old-fashioned way, by have a Mae West strapped to me and being dumped in the bay when we went to the seashore. Shreveport is right next to a big honkin' lake, right?
posted by Gator at 11:54 AM on August 11, 2010


I taught swimming to kids (mostly Black) in South LA for a number of years. For some reason these kids did not float as well as white or latino kids. I never understood.

They learned equally well, and once they get the strokes down and get comfortable, they can swim as well as anyone. But one of the things we taught was the back float, and most of these kids just sank, feet first, then torso, then head. I finally gave up on the backfloat and just got them to SWIM, then they were OK.
posted by Danf at 11:56 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


As for the floating thing: like I said I've been able to swim since before I could walk (thanks Mom), and all that time I've never been able to float. It wasn't until literally two weeks ago, watching my four-year old daughter float in the pool at our local YMCA, that I tried floating again.

I played around with it for about 20 minutes, with lifeguards and my wife chuckling at my insistence. I FINALLY GOT IT. For me, it was finally figuring out the placement of my arms. It seems that if I arch my back and keep my arms extended above my head, rather than out to the sides, it works. I floated that day, and a few days after it, but I tried it two days ago and it wasn't working for me. I'll keep practicing.

As you float, water will occasionally wash over your face. Especially when you exhale. Since I'm totally comfortable in the water, this is no problem for me. But I definitely wouldn't call floating a beginner technique, and I wouldn't expect someone who can't swim to understand the kinesthetic requirements for floating. As others have stated, you have to be calm and relaxed. When people who don't know how to swim get into water above their heads, they're neither calm nor relaxed.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:58 AM on August 11, 2010


infinitywaltz: Jesus Christ! Six people drowned trying to save one kid! That is not easy to fathom.
Please tell me this wording wasn't remotely intentional.

That's an awful story, and that poor family and poor kid, the guilt he must feel...
posted by hincandenza at 11:58 AM on August 11, 2010


But I still can't understand living in an area where there's a large body of water and not having a single opportunity to learn.

As the first link states, blacks and not swimming seems to be vestige of slavery, where a slave who could swim had stronger chance of escaping. If the culture you were born into strongly discourages or is afraid of swimming, it stands to reason that you won't be able to swim.
posted by nomadicink at 12:00 PM on August 11, 2010


The kids whose parents were nonswimmers/afraid of water were taught to hold their nose when they jumped in or went underwater, which is really hard to unteach and really works against learning to swim.

*nods*

My parents were both non-swimmers and were totally aghast when I started crawling headfirst into the Atlantic Ocean. For my own safety, they immediately handed me over to my grandmother (a swimmer) so that I wouldn't kill myself. Yep, I learned to swim before I learned to walk. Certainly helped that my first reaction to a body of water is "CAN I SWIM IN IT?!"

But I totally understand that to a lot of people, water is scary and intimidating. And if you've been taught to be afraid of it, it's a lot harder to let go and enjoy it. My parents were intimidated as hell to watch me running into the water, but they knew that it was for my benefit for them to find someone to teach me rather than try and instill fear into me. I'm incredibly grateful for that.

I coached competitive swimming, so the kids who I taught were the ones who "wanted" to be there, but we absolutely were starting from square one with almost all of them. Taught them how to relax, how to float, how to breathe. The hardest were the ones whose parents were swimmers, but who were themselves terrified of the water. Their parents didn't understand their fear and pretty much pushed them in. Not the best course of action. In time, I got almost all of those kids to at least be competent in the water, but they didn't necessarily enjoy it and there's nothing to be done about that other than gently telling their parents "He's got the ability, but he really doesn't have any sort of passion for this. Maybe come back in a few years?" (For context: we're talking to parents who were themselves competitive swimmers. Like trying to explain to David Beckham that his kid doesn't like soccer.)

(And TheWhiteSkull made the points about floating/swimming that I was trying to get at better than I did.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:01 PM on August 11, 2010


I've heard the scared parents and expensive hair cited by several coworkers, but I've also heard about "going fishing with dad and getting kicked out of the boat to learn there on the spot", to which a lot of other people (white, black and otherwise) grimaced and nodded, leading me to suspect that while there is probably some truth to a cultural reticence to get into the water, there is equal evidence to suggest that dads can be fuckers.
posted by quin at 12:01 PM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


infinitywaltz: Jesus Christ! Six people drowned trying to save one kid! That is not easy to fathom.

Please tell me this wording wasn't remotely intentional.


Huh?
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:03 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


> How do you intend that inner city public schools find the real estate and budget to build and maintain pools?

I attended inner city public schools. Swimming was part of the curriculum from seventh grade forward. The first year in my gym class of a hundred there were five boys who could not swim at the beginning of the year. A couple of them had an enormous amount of trouble learning, which I observed up close because I was in the third of the class ranked a "C" swimmer. (The pool was barely large enough to accommodate thirty of us.)

By the end of the first year every single one of those five boys was swimming. Swimming is an essential physical education skill, just like not posting racially ignorant crap on our internet is an essential social education skill.
posted by bukvich at 12:03 PM on August 11, 2010


infinitywaltz, fathom = 1.8288 m of water
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:04 PM on August 11, 2010


This used to be the case for most black people, too, until slavery entered the picture.

Not really true. Many West Africans can't swim, maybe those enslaved from river areas might have been able to but not most. Of course, for most of the time that slavery existed in the USA, most white people couldn't swim either.
posted by atrazine at 12:04 PM on August 11, 2010


Please tell me this wording wasn't remotely intentional.

Huh?


Fathom.
posted by reductiondesign at 12:04 PM on August 11, 2010


infinitywaltz, fathom = 1.8288 m of water

Oh, I didn't think of that. No, I wasn't trying to be funny. This is a horror story, and the fact that six people drowned all trying to save a seventh really is shocking and horrifying to me, although as three blind mice points out, "swimming," "not drowning" and "saving drowning people" really are three separate and distinct skill sets.

three blind mice, or someone else with more life-saving experience than me, if there had been a rope or "lifesaver" that they could've tossed to the kid and then reeled in instead of going after him themselves, would that have worked? Or would he be too terrified by that point to be able to grab and hold on to it?
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2010


Of course, it all sounds rather easy to discuss the theory of floating. It actually takes a lot of work to become comfortable even moving in water, especially for people who are nervous around water, or who have had any sort of near-drowning experience.

Of course, I, like many of swimmers here, was introduced to water at a very young age (less than one year). By the time I was four, I thought I was an otter.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:08 PM on August 11, 2010


If you kept your arms out straight and your head slightly back, you wouldn't float?

No. I can float in this position for as long as I can keep my lungs full of air, but as soon as I exhale, down I go. Not exactly a great plan for a drowning situation. Trust me, Ive tried. I've been in the water since I was 2, grew up taking lessons, on the swim team, with the Boy Scouts and on a lake every summer. I sink.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:08 PM on August 11, 2010


Yeah, if someone had a rope they could have thrown to him, and if the kid had the wherewithal to grab the rope, this might not have happened.

The article states that the kid was standing on something submerged, and accidentally stepped off into deeper water. If he happened to make that step without taking a breath, and if he doesn't have the knowledge to push his arms down to make his body go up (it sounds intuitive to someone who knows how to swim) then this kid could have just slipped right under water, and not be seen again.

As I stated above, the Red River is not clear at all. If you were to swim in it (I've swum in it, you come out of the water badly in need of a shower to rinse the silt off your skin and your clothes are dirty), you can't see your hand in front of your face when you're under water.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:11 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a Yiddish expression: Teach your child to swim or you teach him how to drown.

If your child is going to be anywhere near a lake, or a pool, or any large body of water, or you live somewhere that's prone to flooding, or you can conceive of any opportunity your child may have to drown when he or she might be saved by swimming, then teaching them to swim is not a luxury. About 1,000 children drown each year in America, and 4,000 are hospitalized for near-drowning.

My father was raised in Browsville, New York, the son of a truck driver. He was taken to a community center and taught to swim as young as he could be enrolled.

I realize there are people who may not have the resources, and I don't feel anything but grief for those who lose their children to drowning who did not have any other options. But for those who do, I feel similar to parents who can inoculate their children but do not.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:12 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Those of you who sink should not be concerned; all it means is that you are anointed, beloved of the Old Ones.

They call you.
posted by everichon at 12:13 PM on August 11, 2010 [18 favorites]


About 1,000 children drown each year in America, and 4,000 are hospitalized for near-drowning.

And more than a few of those hospitalized for near-drowning end up with significant brain damage.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:14 PM on August 11, 2010


Where do you intend people who live in projects take lessons?
Why not put some pools in those "projects" (many of which have been torn down over the decades -- the number of people who live in projects is probably pretty low). Anyway, 70% of black people don't live in "the projects" or lack access to swimming facilities. Most black people are middle class.
If you arch your back, you WILL float. Some people need to put more effort into this than others and it's not something anyone ever *tells* you to do outside of swimming lessons, but I promise you, if you lie on your back and work at pointing your hips up, you WILL float.
Uh, doesn't it depend on whether or not you have air in your lungs? I know if I exhale entirely, I'll sink to the bottom of the pool. If I have air in my lungs, the top of my head (about an inch or so) will be above water and I can easily push up a few inches to take a breath. Same as Eideteker.

Interestingly, my standard 'idling in the water' technique is basically the same as 'drownproofing'. Stay mostly submerged until I need to take a breath, and pop up. Although usually I'll push with my arms and legs to keep my head entirely above water, which is pretty easy.
posted by delmoi at 12:15 PM on August 11, 2010


Actually I think there might be more people worldwide who cannot swim than who can. I was part of a dragon-boating race as part of a corporate event where I was one of two white guys and the rest of the 18 in the boat were from the Indian Subcontinent, I remember being surprised to hear that half of them couldn't swim.

Also, a few weeks ago I went off-road driving with some friends into the Wadis (sort of flash flood canyons that have water in the deeper pools year round) on the UAE/Oman border, we got to one of the deeper pools to find that a Pakistani man had drowned just a few minutes ago. He slipped on some algae covered rock, fell into a deeper section of the pool, unconscious. Had any of his five friends been able to swim he would probably have been fine apart from a mild concussion. As it was, he drowned.

This happens a lot in the UAE. People who can't swim also don't usually know about the dangers of night swimming or riptides (which can be real nasty here in Dubai due to the hydrological weirdness caused by all those offshore developments). So a few lads from India or Pakistan go down to the beach at night, have a bottle of black market whisky and wade into the sea. Often one gets swept off his feet by a wave and that's it.
posted by atrazine at 12:16 PM on August 11, 2010


But if you cannot swim, you shouldn't be trying to save someone who is drowning.

Even if you are a good swimmer, you shouldn't be trying to save someone who is drowning unless you know what to do and have practiced in real life situations.

It is wrong to assume that all six people could not swim at all. It seems obvious on the other hand that none had any lifesaving training.
posted by three blind mice at 12:17 PM on August 11, 2010


"We had a municipal pool - most towns do."

I don't remember any in the area where I grew up, and there aren't many in the area where I live now. The pool at the community college where I used to work served as a defacto municipal pool until we had an earthquake followed by a power crisis, and it was too expensive to fix or run said pool. That was almost a decade ago!

"Lifesaving is much, much harder than swimming."

QFT. We occasionally go "swimming" (wading, mostly) at a local river in the summer, and I had cause to help a panicky little girl extricate herself from a deep spot by a logjam some weeks back. I'm reasonably comfortable in the water, but wow that was scary. I was lucky that mr. epersonae was close enough to pull both of us out from a shallow spot. I can imagine that scenario going quite differently. :(
posted by epersonae at 12:17 PM on August 11, 2010


Cool Papa Bell, I've heard that story in a number of places, including Snopes. It's an urban legend.

Hah! I'll have to tell my wife...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:17 PM on August 11, 2010


It is wrong to assume that all six people could not swim at all. It seems obvious on the other hand that none had any lifesaving training.

From this article:

One minute the seven teenagers were splashing around in the shallow waters of the Red River. Then, one of them stepped off into water 20 to 30 feet deep, and the others fell in trying to save him. None of them could swim.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:19 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting quote from that drownproofing site linked above:

"5. Is Everyone a Natural Floater?
No, a small proportion of people have negative buoyancy. As a general rule, women are more buoyant than men and we all tend to become more buoyant as we get older. Fred Lanoue did a lot of measurements, but lifestyle changes over the last 50 years could well mean that his figures no longer apply. At that time, he found that almost all white people have some positive buoyancy but, in a sample of young African American males, 30% had negative boyancy."

posted by aramaic at 12:21 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I live near a lake. Unfortunately, it's Lake Ponchartrain, which was notoriously polluted and dangerous when I was a child. I wasn't allowed to get anywhere near it, and to this day I wince whenever I hear about people fishing in it. I didn't learn to swim until I was much, much older and had moved out of state for a while, but it seems common to live in Louisiana and not be able to swim.
posted by honeydew at 12:21 PM on August 11, 2010


There is no excuse not to learn how to swim. None.

My family tried to teach me to swim in the ocean when I was 4-6ish. Then I had swimming lessons in school, and also at a community center when I was about 11 or 12. I still can't swim. Well, that's not totally true - I can swim underwater. But I can't swim on top of the water like most people. It just doesn't happen. I can propel myself maybe 2 1/2 times the length of my body, and then it just stops. I can't go any further. I can float, so I won't drown, but don't ask me to go anywhere.

I also can't whistle, and I only learned to snap my fingers in my late 30's, and that's still not always a sure thing - sometimes it doesn't work. I also was one of the very last people in my kindergarten class to learn to tie my shoelaces. I just seem to have a hard time catching on to whatever the "secret" is to certain physical processes. Oddly, though, there are other physical things that I pick up much easier than most people. The first time I ever put on a pair of ice skates, I just took off as if I'd been skating all my life.

So my rather convoluted point is that there may be some reason other than environmental factors, that no one is even aware of, that contributes to people not learning to swim.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:23 PM on August 11, 2010


I attended inner city public schools. Swimming was part of the curriculum from seventh grade forward.

This is definitely not the case everywhere, though. Hell, in my suburban public school we certainly didn't have any swimming. I had pool access through my neigborhood association, but that's certainly a middle-class thing. I don't remember any public pools, but that may be because most of the (middle class) people I knew all had pools (requiring membership/residency) in their subdivisions. I have no idea where the poor kids in my school might have gone to learn to swim (it was a couple hours to the nearest body of water you could actually swim in if you dont count pools).
posted by wildcrdj at 12:25 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even if they could swim, a drowning person who is panicking can easily take another person with them. A drowning child can take an adult with them. The typical motion of a panicking drowning victim is "climbing a ladder." If they get a hold of you, you become the ladder. A drowning person may not even be aware enough to catch and hold on to a rope or rescue device that is thrown to them.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:26 PM on August 11, 2010


My father was raised in Browsville, New York, the son of a truck driver. He was taken to a community center and taught to swim as young as he could be enrolled.
Ok, that's nice. But a very high percentage of black people your father's age grew up in places where there was formal segregation and the community center wouldn't have been open to black kids. Others grew up in places where there was informal segregation, but going to the pool would have been an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous endeavor. You think those campers in Philadelphia were the first black kids to find out they weren't welcome at a swimming pool?

And as for "well, why not go to a lake," similar prohibitions sometimes applied at lakes. Actually, if I remember correctly the trigger for the 1919 Chicago race riot was that some black kids decided to defy the informal whites-only rule at Lake Michigan beaches, and white people went nuts about it.

So basically, there's a history of black people not having access to swimming spaces. And that means that black parents are less likely to know how to swim and less likely to feel confident about teaching their kids to swim than white parents are. They're also less likely to have money to pay someone else to do it, because while it's true that most black people are not poor, it's also true that black people have less money on average than white people do. This just doesn't seem like rocket science to me.

Rather than blaming black parents, it seems to me that it makes sense to think about how we can change the situation. And I think it is changeable. The reason that most Americans can swim is that Red Cross campaigns in the early 20th century changed the culture around swimming. Those campaigns didn't really touch black people. I think it would be possible to do public health campaigns that would.
posted by craichead at 12:26 PM on August 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


In a similar vein, Slate had a piece about why Indonesians can't swim despite living on an island nation.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 12:26 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a fascinating thread--very much I didn't know.
posted by everichon at 12:28 PM on August 11, 2010


Here is the basic drownproofing technique (developed at Georgia Tech where I learned it.) It is NOTHING like floating (you are actually face down). Remember you are likely in a panic when you have to use this so it must be practiced and practiced and practiced so it is automatic.

3. Basic Technique.

If you can already swim a bit, you can probably do this right away. If you are not a swimmer, don't try without competent supervision.
Fill your lungs with a good breath of air and float vertically with the back of your head just breaking the surface of the water. Try and adopt the attitude of a kitten being carried by a cat - just hang there and let the water support you. Let your arms float slowly towards the surface, with elbows bent, until your hands are in front of your shoulders. With a steady movement, press downwards and back with your hands until your mouth clears the water. As you come up, breath out and inhale as soon as your mouth is above the surface. Repeat every 10 to 12 seconds.
You could use a scissors kick with the legs if you prefer, or arms and legs together if you find it helps to maintain a balanced position. Choose the method that you find the most comfortable.
The trick is to get the head just far enough out of the water to get a breath. If the stroke is too energetic, you will come further out of the water than is necessary and go down too far as you drop back. Try and achieve a gentle, easy action. The less effort you make, the better.

posted by three blind mice at 12:29 PM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


5. Is Everyone a Natural Floater?

Oh my God! I'm not crazy.

Okay I cannot swim, or I should say, I swim very, very poorly. I can maybe doggy paddle, but I exert so much energy into swimming I can barely make it across a pool.

I also have not been able to float. My parents were concerned with this and paid for swimming lessons ... but it didn't take. Finally when I hit high school, in a desperate attempt to teach me to swim, they got a private instructor. This is usually how it went:

"Are you relaxed?"
"Yes"
"Okay I'm going to let go and you're just going to float."
"Okay."

She lets go and I ... float to the bottom. The first couple of times she was insistent that I was tensing up, and not "relaxed." It finally got to the point where I was in a zen like state and floating to the bottom like a cork of wood. However, it did nothing to change my buoyancy.

I used to tell people I lacked natural buoyancy, as a joke, I did not realize it was real.
posted by geoff. at 12:33 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think I just tripped over Jimmy The Greek's hands coming up out of the ground.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:35 PM on August 11, 2010


That drown-proofing technique sounds a lot like what I learned as "treading water" which is, yes, absolutely, a much more useful skill than floating on your back.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:35 PM on August 11, 2010


Count me in as another person who doesn't float much, enough so to make it pretty useless as a survival strategy. The best I could do, back when I was a swimmer, was to just barely keep my mouth and nose above water in the standard float position, with my lungs uncomfortably full of air. The minute I breathed out even a little bit, I'd sink below. If I didn't do that, eventually my legs would sink down, my body would go vertical, and I'd sink regardless.

When I wasn't trying to float, I could comfortably sit or lay on the bottom of the pool.

However, it seems like it barely matters in terms of learning how to swim, at least for me. I don't remember having any particular problems, and I was a competitive swimmer all throughout high school. Even if you can't float, it isn't hard at all to tread water, and I'd rather do that than float in a survival situation anyway - it takes very little energy, it keeps you higher in the water, and you can look and move around.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:37 PM on August 11, 2010


But a very high percentage of black people your father's age grew up in places where there was formal segregation and the community center wouldn't have been open to black kids.

As I said, I am aware that some don't have the opportunity. My comments were addressed to those who do, but do not avail themselves upon it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:45 PM on August 11, 2010


roomthreeseventeen wrote: "There is no excuse not to learn how to swim. None."

Well, other than that the public pools have been closed for damn near a decade in my city, aside from the one or two they used to be able to come up with a few bucks to run each summer. I think it's been four years now since that last happened.

I learned how to not die in the water at the Boy's Club. (five freaking miles or more from my house, and with a not cheap activity fee) Having already fallen off a dock into a lake once and nearly drowned by that point, I wasn't enthusiastic about the project. Well, I was enthusiastic, just enthusiastically opposed. I still can't swim well, but I can not die for a while in the water, so I figure that's good enough.
posted by wierdo at 12:45 PM on August 11, 2010


Isn't the availability of swim lessons besides the point, however? If you don't know how to swim, you don't belong near any depth of water.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:45 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


When the Gulf War started, I remember a website that tracked military deaths and I noticed how many young black men had died by drowning instead of in battle. I thought it was interesting, but didn't realize it was so widespread.
posted by Calzephyr at 12:45 PM on August 11, 2010


I've been losing a lot of weight this summer by swimming twice a day. As my body drops fat and gains muscle I find it easier to keep myself moving, but conversely, harder to float. I assume I'll find it impossible to float without moving pretty soon.

School and community pools are one of the many services that government should be providing in lieu of offensive military and tax cuts for plutocrats and tax-shelters for multinationals. Let's say it costs half a million to build an Olympic-size swimming pool. For the cost of an F-22 raptor you can build $300 of those. The cost to build a $5K swimming pool for all 24,000 high schools is 99% of the cost of all currently-extant raptors.

There really IS no excuse for everyone not being able to swim, but it's not underprivileged minorities that need to be making the excuses.
posted by clarknova at 12:46 PM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


er, "build 300"
posted by clarknova at 12:47 PM on August 11, 2010


I can attest that floating isn't solely about body fat. I've never been skinny in my life, and I used to give lifeguards heart attacks by lying on the bottom of the pool. It came down to breath control and body position. (The lifeguards politely asked me to knock it off, which I did. I haven't tried it as an adult.)
I've also heard about "going fishing with dad and getting kicked out of the boat to learn there on the spot", to which a lot of other people (white, black and otherwise) grimaced and nodded, leading me to suspect that while there is probably some truth to a cultural reticence to get into the water, there is equal evidence to suggest that dads can be fuckers.
Dad used to take us out into the middle of a lake and intentionally swamp the canoe. We kids thought it was a hoot. I didn't realize until later how much basic boat safety and water safety I picked up in the course of "whee! we're tipping over!"
posted by Karmakaze at 12:50 PM on August 11, 2010


I knew a guy who revealed that he couldn't go to Dunes State Park (on Lake Michigan) as a kid due to segregation. Even after legal segregation was repealed, there were a number of violent incidents involving blacks at public parks. Many places had special days for black patrons. I doubt that this is unique to my home state given that sundown towns were ubiquitous across the United States.

So yes, I do think that historic discrimination likely is a huge factor in this. Pool parties and beach vacations were a family tradition for my grandparents and parents. But I now recognize that they had fairly significant privilege there. It's one of those things I had the privilege not to think about until someone gently reminded me that it did happen in my back yard.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:53 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Travelling around the islands and coastal areas of Thailand, I was surprised to see that virtually no locals were getting into the water. I met several Thais who told me that the idea of "lying in dirt" (i.e. lounging on the beach) was repellent to them and that swimming was no one's idea of a good time. It sort of makes me wonder to what extent swimming as a recreational activity is actually a product of modern western notions of hygiene and exercise. Note: I'm wondering here, not claiming...
posted by Roachbeard at 12:53 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let's say it costs half a million to build an Olympic-size swimming pool

How much does it cost to staff and maintain one? Who's going to pay that cost?
posted by nomadicink at 12:55 PM on August 11, 2010


As far as the hips-up and back-arched thing goes, there are two ways that could possibly work. 1) It angles your body such that your nose and mouth are pointed straight up, so they will be more likely to be the small part of you that is not submerged. 2) It indirectly causes your lungs to inflate more, and therefore actually changes your buoyancy.

Me, I never learned how to float until I went scuba diving. Major seconds to the keep-your-lungs-full-and-breathe-shallowly approach. Since this actually changes your buoyancy directly, it makes the biggest difference.
posted by phenylphenol at 12:56 PM on August 11, 2010


Re floating, I'm 6'2 and 225 pounds, and in addition to arching my back I have to puff out my chest a bit and keep a little extra air in my lungs to really float well. Otherwise I float with my mouth just barely breaking the surface, and this is in the Gulf, where I'm a little more buoyant than in fresh water. I can see how a really skinny guy might tend to float a a bit below the surface.
posted by lordrunningclam at 12:58 PM on August 11, 2010


That drown-proofing technique sounds a lot like what I learned as "treading water" which is, yes, absolutely, a much more useful skill than floating on your back.

Please, read it again grapefruitmoon. It's not treading water. Treading water tires you out faster than you think. Drownproofing you can do for as long as you can keep yourself awake.

You don't need to be able to swim or to float to do it, but you do need to learn it and practice.
posted by three blind mice at 12:59 PM on August 11, 2010


As I said, I am aware that some don't have the opportunity. My comments were addressed to those who do, but do not avail themselves upon it.
Ok, but my point isn't just about availability. It's about culture. Your dad's Yiddish saying probably wasn't an ancient part of Jewish culture. It was probably something introduced into the Yiddish-speaking community as part of a public health campaign. Anti-drowning was a big public health thing in early 20th century America. This concern about drowning changed the culture around swimming for white people. Your father benefited from this and so did you. Because your father and others of his generation learned how to swim, it seemed natural that you would learn how to swim. It became an established part of childhood for most white Americans. Black people didn't benefit, because nobody was aiming the message at them and because they were often excluded from the facilities that would have allowed them to benefit from the message. And now, because drowning isn't a big public health concern for white people, the battle is seen to be won and nobody is very focused on anti-drowning initiatives, even though drowning still is a public health concern for black people.

To say "there's no excuse not to learn how to swim" is to ignore this history. That's problematic both because it assigns the blame to the incorrect party and because it makes this problem a matter of personal responsibility, rather than public policy. And I really think it should be about public policy.
posted by craichead at 1:01 PM on August 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


That drown-proofing technique sounds a lot like what I learned as "treading water" which is, yes, absolutely, a much more useful skill than floating on your back.

Ditto this. That's exactly how I tread water.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:02 PM on August 11, 2010


Of course it is. But if you cannot swim, you shouldn't be trying to save someone who is drowning.

Yes, everybody, especially teenagers, should be cold and calculating when they see somebody in trouble.

Isn't the availability of swim lessons besides the point, however? If you don't know how to swim, you don't belong near any depth of water.

As others have mentioned above, if you haven't been taught how to swim, there's a good chance you don't realize how dangerous water can be. Hell, I'm a decent swimmer in artificial pools but I've had dangerous surprises in river and lakes.

This victim blaming is disgusting.
posted by kmz at 1:05 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wasn't blaming the victim, I was blaming the parents. It's a huge tragedy that was utterly preventable.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:08 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a bad swimmer who can float, dog paddle, and do a very weak breast stroke. None of which I trust to save my ass should I end up over my head in a blackwater river current, or an ocean riptide.

Thankfully, a large chunk of my swimming education involved knowing my limits.

And when it comes to what to do about cases like this, I'm with craichead. Less "lol black people," and more talk about how we can get public pools open, sensible health education in schools, and volunteer campaigns for teaching water safety.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:08 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think of treading water as moving your arms and legs rapidly, with the goal of keeping your head above water. The drownproofing technique sounds like moving your arms and legs more slowly, conserving energy, with the goal of mostly staying in the water but coming up for air when you need to. Unless you're in really good shape, I don't think you could tread water for very long. I did it for ten minutes or so last week and was pretty tired at the end of it.
posted by craichead at 1:09 PM on August 11, 2010


Blaming the parents is blaming the victims. You think it's awesome fun times to have your kids die? The victims here is a community that has been ignored by public health policy. The necessary change is to figure out public health policy that would rectify the situation.
posted by craichead at 1:11 PM on August 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


urgh. Victim, singular. The victim is a community.
posted by craichead at 1:11 PM on August 11, 2010


It's a huge tragedy that was utterly preventable. It's a huge tragedy that was utterly preventable.

I think it's cute when people believe they know exactly how they'd react in a life-threatening emergency.
posted by hermitosis at 1:12 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm white & grew up in a small Southern town. My family wasn't living in poverty, but we weren't middle class either, while I was growing up. There was no local pool or lake where one could learn to swim. If you had access to a pool, this meant you either could afford to have one built in your back yard, or lived in one of the nicer neighborhoods where you had access to one.

My first week of undergrad, in addition to the English & Math placement tests, all incoming freshmen were required to pass a swimming test. I learned I could doggy-paddle, but didn't understand the strokes & couldn't breathe out underwater. So I failed pretty hardcore, and ended up taking swim class two semesters in a row before I felt reasonably comfortable in the water.

A much different kind of story - an uncle of mine (who is black, in his 80s & also grew up in the South), told me that one of his cousins died when some white neighbors took advantage of this idea that "blacks can't swim" & cornered him into a river where he flailed & drowned. The thought of which is tragic & scary in all manner of ways I can barely imagine.
posted by Hesychia at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


"A drowning child can take an adult with them."

Wow, this thread makes me realize how lucky I was in saving my little cousin in the pool when I was a teenager. I didn't think about it, I just dove in and grabbed her. Maybe the size discrepancy was enough. Oh well. I'd still do it today, even after reading this thread. I'd rather die trying than let someone drown while I watched (obv. if there was another option, I'd take it). But I'm also one of those people who functions better in a crisis, gets very clear-headed, etc.
posted by Eideteker at 1:15 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wasn't blaming the victim, I was blaming the parents. It's a huge tragedy that was utterly preventable.

Yes, you are correct that this tragedy was totally preventable. Still, I find it interesting that you seem intent on blaming the parents, who have already lost 3 kids. What good will this blame of yours do?
posted by nomadicink at 1:16 PM on August 11, 2010


What good will this blame of yours do?

None. However, blaming the "public health policy" isn't any good. You can go down to the Y in Shreveport and learn to swim. You can get financial assistance if you can't afford a membership.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:20 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was attempting to scuba dive in the Bahamas years ago, and the only non-tourist on the boat was a Bahamian who had gotten the scuba classes as some sort of management perk from Bacardi. As it turns out, we both chickened out before the deep dive to a sunken boat, and sat on the scuba boat sulking together. "Well," he said "I might not scuba dive, but at least I've learned to swim". I was surprised that a grown man hadn't known how to swim last week, but the majority of all Bahamian people can’t swim he said. (not sure if he was paraphrasing Cecil Thompson)

The Bahamas islands are surrounded by the most beautiful waters in the world, the idea one hadn't learned how when living there just stunned me.
posted by dabitch at 1:23 PM on August 11, 2010


I hate attributing skills to inherent qualities of race. But I have wondered off and on if there is some truth to this stereotype. Obviously it may be due in some part to socioeconomics. But the whole body fat / muscle density idea may also play a role.

I took swimming lessons each summer when I was a kid. I'm fairly confident in the water, but wouldn't go trying out for the swim team. I did play a lot of soccer and did plenty of running, so consequently had/have large thighs. The back float for me takes way too much effort than I think it ought to. As others have mentioned above, my legs just pull the rest of my body down. I could hang out at the bottom of the pool for ages if I chose to. And it confused the hell out of my SCUBA instructor. My conclusion was that it was an unfortunate tradeoff for having muscle mass built for running/sprints (as needed for soccer).

On the other hand though, what of people who compete in Triathlons? And wouldn't swimmers have powerful leg muscles as well? Clearly we haven't arrived at an answer yet, so I'll play both sides. I sure as hell hate being on the side of "black people can't swim." But from my experience (hardly an adequate sample set, I know), being black doesn't make it any easier.
posted by ChipT at 1:25 PM on August 11, 2010


There is no excuse not to learn how to swim. None.

Poverty? Single parent working two jobs to make ends meet?
posted by francesca too at 1:29 PM on August 11, 2010


I hate attributing skills to inherent qualities of race

Good, because body type is not a skill.
posted by desjardins at 1:32 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


We seem to have as many comments about How I Swim, learned to swim, love to swim, as we do about the topic posted...
oddly, swimming seems to stem back to the Egyptians...but in my experiences living close to a large body of water and close too to inner city places, thee were few blacks at the beach.
I am not sure what the explanation might be, but among my friends, parents usually insisted that their children learn to swim if they were to be near any body of water or go into a boat.
posted by Postroad at 1:37 PM on August 11, 2010


So, blacks can't swim but use Twitter? Thanks Metafilter!

/sarcarsm

This place feels overwhelming white sometimes.
posted by Hop123 at 1:38 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Access is a large part of the problem. However, the true stumbling block is culture (or conditioning, however you want to look at it). Back in the bad ol' days black folks weren't allowed on public beaches, or pools. We were discouraged (rather strongly) from using the nice areas of lakes and rivers. This means that many black folk's families quit swimming generations back. If no one in your family, your community is able to swim or teach you to swim then it is unlikely that you will learn. Additionally, if this is indeed a commonality in your community then you will likely never seek to redress it. That is, "Yeah I can't swim but neither can anyone else I know." It is seen as the natural order of things. My wife can't swim, nor can any of her family that I have met (its a large family).
posted by anansi at 1:41 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Good, because body type is not a skill.

But swimming is.
posted by ChipT at 1:42 PM on August 11, 2010


Sorry, to keep the float derail going, but I'm thin as a rail (6'3, 165), and I don't float in fresh water. In very salty water, I float just fine. I agree that technique is important to master the back float, and probably most people who say they can't float have not mastered the technique. However, even when I fill my lungs completely with air and do my best back arch, I will sink until I lie dead flat on the bottom of the pool.

Here's an experiment to try at home (or watch old David Letterman clips): butter floats, steak sinks. Sorry, that's just physics.
posted by partylarry at 1:43 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


And I am made of steak.
posted by thesmophoron at 1:47 PM on August 11, 2010


Oh, and can we knock it off with the "black people have 'this' kind of body so they can't swim" bullshit?

The whole navel/body mass thing may or may not be true. If true, it would only explain why black people (and here's part of why I hate it--black people?? what is that as a group? its not genetically homogeneous. black people are descended from so many ethnic groups, from Africa, Europe and the Americas.) don't swim at the olympic level.

This would not keep you from being able to swim. I am black. I am 6'1 250lbs. I have a very dense structure. I have huge thighs--29''. And I used to be a lifeguard. And on swim team. I wasn't the fastest, I float like a rock. But I did it well.
posted by anansi at 1:49 PM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


But if you cannot swim, you shouldn't be trying to save someone who is drowning.

Even if you are a good swimmer, you shouldn't be trying to save someone who is drowning unless you know what to do and have practiced in real life situations.


On the other hand, it would take more self-control than I personally possess to stand by and watch a child drown without going in after him. Logically I know the risks and the limits to my abilities, but I watched my two-year-old step into a swimming pool and sink to the bottom last summer, and logic was not a part of my world in that moment. Fortunately, I didn't need to risk my life to get him out, but my lizard brain would have thrown self-preservation straight out the window to save him.

Let's say it costs half a million to build an Olympic-size swimming pool. For the cost of an F-22 raptor you can build $300 of those.


Community swimming pools in the U.S. aren't run by the Federal Government. They're typically run by City Parks and Recreation Departments. In a bad economy, the absolute first thing to be cut in a city budget is the Parks department. And the easiest way to save money in a Parks department is to close a pool. For example, the Tulsa Parks Department (where my husband worked until a couple of years ago) owns 19 pools. Five were open this year. There has been a huge stink every summer for years now from parents complaining about pool closings. The biggest outcry by far comes from North Tulsa, where the bulk of blacks in Tulsa live. Parents want the pools, the city wants to keep the pools open but they're broke. It isn't a choice between fighter planes and pools, it's a choice between police/fire/streets and pools. Pools are going to lose that battle every time.
posted by Dojie at 1:53 PM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Anansi (love your name, btw), I am totally with you that black people are not a genetically homogeneous group, but I think that the logic goes IF that navel/body mass related to race thing is true, then that might explain why it would make it harder for some races to float easily, which would discourage them continuing with efforts to learn to swim, which would make it harder for their kids to learn to swim. Kind of a long logic train, agreed. But I don't think it says anything about whether an individual black person is able to swim or swim well. When I was in high school in Cleveland, the best swimmer in our area was a guy named Cleveland Brown (IV, I think) who happened to be black. I remember watching him swim fly in a regional competition in a freestyle event (so obviously, everyone else was swimming front crawl). God, he was awesome. And obviously there are a lot of other factors that go into that that have been discussed above (lack of access, segregation, group norms, economic pressures that disproportionately affect people of color) that are also related.
posted by emilyd22222 at 2:02 PM on August 11, 2010


Logically I know the risks and the limits to my abilities, but I watched my two-year-old step into a swimming pool and sink to the bottom last summer, and logic was not a part of my world in that moment.

That's what my wife said to me as we discussed this. "Even though I don't know what to do, if it were my kid I'd jump right in... but it if were someone I did not know or if there were other people around, I don't think I'd risk it."

I agreed, but added, "If you had some training, you'd jump in for anyone if you thought you had a chance to save them."

Emotions are powerful motivators, but "cold and calculating" logic also has its place. As with any emergency situation, emotion is usually not helpful (and usually less than helpful.) Cold and calculating logic, based on training and experience, saves more lives.
posted by three blind mice at 2:05 PM on August 11, 2010


and here's part of why I hate it--black people?? what is that as a group? its not genetically homogeneous. black people are descended from so many ethnic groups, from Africa, Europe and the Americas.

The original post specifically confined itself to the Black American community.
posted by nomadicink at 2:10 PM on August 11, 2010


I read we got zero open this year, Dojie. Goes along with only being able to mow the parks twice this summer and having no money for graffiti abatement or trash cleanup.

But looking at the city's site, it looks like we did get 5 open for about two months. And looking further, I see that they were funded by private donations this year.

Somehow, the city government seems to think that making sure the police have a helicopter is more important than swimming pools and parks.
posted by wierdo at 2:11 PM on August 11, 2010


grapefruitmoon: "We had a municipal pool - most towns do"

We had a pond.

A pond and a pool.

The pond would be good for you.
posted by Bonzai at 2:13 PM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


might explain why it would make it harder for some races to float easily

I think the whole "race" thing is a derail. Chinese are great table tennis players. Seconded only by Swedes and Germans. Go figure.

It is not "race" but interest, opportunity, and competitive environment that makes some "races" appear more "naturally" suited than others. Bullshit about belly buttons is just bullshit.
posted by three blind mice at 2:13 PM on August 11, 2010


The original post specifically confined itself to the Black American community.

Still genetically heterogenous. Black Americans include African Americans who descend from slaves (who are from a number of regions in a large continent), but there are also Caribbean American, Central American, South American and African American immigrants and their descendants.
posted by emilyd22222 at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think it is blaming the victim to suggest that if you are going to be in water unsupervised, you should know how to swim. Especially when it comes to children. I'd take that as a given here in FL, where so many children drown. You just don't let unattended kids in the water. Even after you teach them how to swim, you keep an eye on them.

Now, I wouldn't go around saying that to those parents who had kids who drowned, because it would serve no purpose but to hurt them further. But you will see educational programs all over here that remind people to practice water safety, and in our area everyone who has a pool built must have either doors with alarms on them that lead out to the pool or a security fence around it. Why? Because people whose children died in their swimming pools blamed, and sued, the pool industry instead of supervising their own kids. Obviously they were devastated, but that doesn't absolve them of any responsibility.

Totally different issue from saying, "There's no excuse for not learning how to swim," though. Lots of people go through their lives without going to the ocean or a pool. No reason they have to learn to swim just because you did.
posted by misha at 2:17 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think it is blaming the victim to suggest that if you are going to be in water unsupervised, you should know how to swim.

I think it's more that the family didn't have any idea of the danger on top of their inability to swim. The kid was fine, in waist deep water, until he unknowingly stepped off a underwater ledge and was no longer on solid ground. The other kids naturally followed as they tried to save him.Another story notes that the family had been there the day before without problems and that they had a life jacket which they attempted to thrown to kids, but it couldn't reach them.
posted by nomadicink at 2:29 PM on August 11, 2010


Sorry about the kids in Shreveport, that's horrible.

I haven't sum in years, but always enjoyed it, even if I could never figure out the diving board. But I was and am a bit rotund, and never had trouble floating, so it seemed a natural thing to do. I don't know how excited I would have been about it if I sank like a rock.

On the drown-proofing thing, I assume it only works if you're naked, or close to it? In other words, if you fell off a cruise ship, would you need to discard your clothing (especially shoes and pants, I'd imagine)?

Also, I imagine in anything other than tropical waters, hypothermia is going to come collect its due before too much time has past, though at least that's a longer interval than drowning allows.
posted by maxwelton at 2:30 PM on August 11, 2010


1: I heard that headline and it set me off. It shouldn't be "x% of blacks can't swim." It should be "x% of blacks haven't learned how to swim"

2: There is NO excuse for not having learned how to swim. If you are in an urban area, then there's water nearby. If you're in the suburbs, there are public pools.

Latest moral panic solved.
posted by CarlRossi at 2:33 PM on August 11, 2010


I'm shocked that drownproofing isn't better known, by people who have taught swimming even. It takes about 1/2 hour to learn and is one of the first things taught in the Red Cross swimming classes in Canada. Hang like a kitten, face submerged in the water, sweep your hands up to breathe every few seconds, scissor kick to move. It's not at all like trading water.

I've struggled to float all my life. I'm not a half-bad swimmer but I struggle to float. The fews times I've dived, the instructors have remaked that I needed about half the "normal" ballast for my weight. I learned to drownproof the first time I was shown it however.
posted by bonehead at 2:50 PM on August 11, 2010


1: I heard that headline and it set me off. It shouldn't be "x% of blacks can't swim." It should be "x% of blacks haven't learned how to swim"

That's like saying that it's wrong to claim that I "Can't fly a plane" just because I could learn.
posted by atrazine at 2:52 PM on August 11, 2010


If you are in an urban area, then there's water nearby.

This... this... this is just the most bizarre "authoritative reference" I've seen on mefi in awhile.

Anyway, glad you solved the problem. Well done, sir!
posted by desjardins at 2:54 PM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Is there a longstanding belief that people like you are biologically incapable of flying planes, atrazine? Because if not, then it's not really comparable.
posted by craichead at 2:55 PM on August 11, 2010


On the drown-proofing thing, I assume it only works if you're naked, or close to it? In other words, if you fell off a cruise ship, would you need to discard your clothing

The opposite, if anything. We used to teach it in canoe safety classes for this exact reason. It's much easier to drownproof in full clothing than to lie on your back and try to float.

Modern PFD's will roll you onto your back into a natural floating position, but the old collarless types from the eighties didn't. Drownproofing worked very well for them. Maybe the change in safety equipment is why the technique isn't used any more? I don't know. I think it's still workth teaching though.
posted by bonehead at 2:56 PM on August 11, 2010


here is NO excuse for not having learned how to swim. If you are in an urban area, then there's water nearby.

Hahaha. Yes, I'm sure learning to swim in the Mississippi Delta or East River or North Atlantic works awesomely.
posted by kmz at 3:01 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is NO excuse for not having learned how to swim. If you are in an urban area, then there's water nearby. If you're in the suburbs, there are public pools.

Natural water nearby doesn't exactly equate to safe places to learn to swim. An unsupervised ocean beach about a half-hour away is probably the best choice of the lot, but those are environments that claim the lives of experienced swimmers now and then. Closer to home, it's drainage ditches, swamp, tidal marsh, and commercial port.

It's an obvious Catch-22 here. People are idiots if they don't go to high-risk swimming holes to learn to swim. They're idiots if they do. Classy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:07 PM on August 11, 2010


Blaming the parents is blaming the victims. You think it's awesome fun times to have your kids die? The victims here is a community that has been ignored by public health policy. The necessary change is to figure out public health policy that would rectify the situation.

This is ridiculous. It's freaking water. Most people probably understand that you can't breath in water, and if you can't swim things are not going to go well. As parents are the guardians, it sure as heck is there fault this happened. If my kid (who we are trying to teach to swim by the way) drowns becuase I wasn't watching her near a pool am I going to blame society and our public health policy?
posted by Big_B at 3:10 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, I don't know. It's not hard to connect the dots between systemic discrimination in living history (including an ugly incident last year), disproportionate lack of access to pools in schools and parks, and the disturbing figure that those groups are twice as likely to suffer from drowning accidents.

In many other cases, there's no question that the double-whammy of racism and disproportionate poverty results in negative health outcomes that should be considered in policy changes. But here, it's all bootstraps! bootstraps!

In regards to the families affected by this tragedy, I'm very reluctant to play armchair moralist on the basis of reports in a mainstream media that I just don't trust. I wasn't there. I don't know what the parents did or did not know.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:33 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


That drown-proofing technique sounds a lot like what I learned as "treading water" which is, yes, absolutely, a much more useful skill than floating on your back.

Please, read it again grapefruitmoon. It's not treading water.


Yes, I know that. I just said it sounds like treading water. As in, it sounds similar.

Some days on MetaFilter, I swear I need to go back and clarify every damned syllable.

The pond would be good for you.

Um. I swam in ponds every single day, sometimes multiple ponds multiple times per day, during the summers when I was a kid. Am I missing something? This feels like some kind of backhand at me and I'm totally not getting what the actual point is.

In any case, I'm gathering that a lot of towns don't have pools, which doesn't entirely surprise me, but my experience in traveling around the US is that every town I've been to has had a pool. Those towns have been in New England, the Midwest, and the West. I will admit that I have never spent so much as five minutes in the South (for no good reason, I've just never ended up there), where I'm hearing a lot of anecdotes about lack of pools.

And if that "pond would be good for me" thing is something about me being a snob, I'm just going to have to take you out to my swimming hole for pistols at dawn.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:38 PM on August 11, 2010


I'm shocked that drownproofing isn't better known, by people who have taught swimming even.

I had to do this to pass my beginner Red Cross swimming lesson test when I was very little.

When I taught swimming lessons at an urban Y, the kids started out with floaties, which I thought was a terrible idea and gave very little children (I did 3-5 year olds) a false sense of security in the water. Often, kids without a floatie would do a header into the pool, not knowing they wouldn't automatically float.
posted by Pax at 3:39 PM on August 11, 2010


If my kid (who we are trying to teach to swim by the way) drowns becuase I wasn't watching her near a pool am I going to blame society and our public health policy?

I think it's less about assigning blame with a capital B and more with a lowercase b. Yes the kids should have known how to swim, and yes the parents should have made sure they did. But they didn't and a accident happened that compounded that mistake to a truly tragic degree. We could blame the parents, but I doubt it would be any worse than them blaming themselves.

The most sadly tragic thought is that six kids went after others, knowing they couldn't swim, but they tried anyway.

I feel for the one survivor though, you know he's going to have a mess of guilt on his head. Hopefully, he finds some peace. And learns to swim.
posted by nomadicink at 3:47 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a Yiddish expression: Teach your child to swim or you teach him how to drown.

Re: this and the point upthread about Indonesians not learning to swim because of not being a nautical nation. I have read that most British sailors in the heyday of Britannia Rules the Waves did not learn to swim because if they fell overboard unseen, or the boat sank in the middle of the ocean, swimming would only prolong how long it took before they drowned, being so far from any land.

Also, I think people from Muslim cultures do not swim because of the immodesty required by wearing swimwear. I think fewer Muslim women than men swim for this reason.
posted by binturong at 3:53 PM on August 11, 2010




If anyone had beaten Idi Amin they would have been executed. Reminds me of Mao swimming the Yangtze River.
posted by binturong at 4:02 PM on August 11, 2010


the statistics here are unbelievable. I'm kind of amazed - and horrified - that some instinctual doggy-paddling didn't kick in.

Having life-guarded and taught beginning swimming for 5 years, I've seen dozens of kids in the very early stages of drowning, and I can safely say that the instinct for most people who can't swim is very wrong. Most kids who can't swim and find themselves in deep water will immediately raise both hands above their heads and do an rapid, upright "mountain-climber" motion with their legs.

(Assuming you know how to swim...) Try it sometime. You'll be amazed at how quickly you get sucked under.
posted by LordSludge at 4:02 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Growing up in the land of 10,000 lakes (MN),
I never knew anyone who couldn't swim. They have (had?) some sort of killer program in our whole school where in May or June, before school was out, all the kids in the school went to one of the local lakes (in the school busses) for swimming lessons, and boy those lakes were still COLD that time of spring. But we all had to do it, and I believe it (the program) was sponsored by the Red Cross. Later in college, doing field camp in OK, I met many of the local Oklahoma guys who couldn't go to the lakes, quarries, and or rivers with we MN boys, 'cause they Couldn't Swim!
All we Minnesotans had never heard of such a thing, and the thing is all these local guys we met were white. So I think there may be a North/South thing going on here as well. I will have to admit that rural MN wasn't very racially integrated in the '70's, but All kids were required to attend the lessons, there were no exceptions that I can recall. I'm sure this attitude towards teaching the skill to all kids must have its roots in some similar sort of tragedy as the FPP. Too bad 20-20 hindsight is required to motivate people to action, but I for one applaud any effort to teach this to everyone who can't, kid, adult, orange or green.
posted by primdehuit at 4:05 PM on August 11, 2010


2: There is NO excuse for not having learned how to swim. If you are in an urban area, then there's water nearby.

Sorry, but have you seen the water that surrounds San Francisco (for instance)? The vast majority of it is freezing cold year-round and the bits with beaches are subject to surf and/or dangerous currents. And there are no life guards (which should be a big hint). I sure as hell wouldn't try to teach my kids to swim at Ocean Beach.

It's been said before, but apparently bears repeating: People who don't know how to swim are in a terrible position to evaluate just how dangerous the water is. If I were a (swimming) parent of a non-swimming child, I wouldn't "assume" that my kid was safe standing in waist-deep water in a river.
posted by rtha at 4:05 PM on August 11, 2010


"So, blacks can't swim but use Twitter? Thanks Metafilter!"

#hepibdrownin
posted by Eideteker at 4:10 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


"'The pond would be good for you.'

Um. I swam in ponds every single day, sometimes multiple ponds multiple times per day, during the summers when I was a kid."


This is probably not the right place for this.

I miss having a neighborhood swimmin' hole.
posted by Eideteker at 4:13 PM on August 11, 2010


As alluded to above, another common issue in children/parents who can't swim well (of any race) is a lack of knowledge about the safety of water wings, floaties, inner tubes, and those weird bathing suits with built-in flimsy lifejackets. Parents use these as a supplement for watching/holding their kids carefully until they learn to swim. No pool I have ever lifeguarded at has allowed any flotation devices like these- they don't keep your head above water effectively, encourage people to go in water that they can't swim out of, and are really great at flipping you upside down (especially the weird bathing suits).
posted by emilyd22222 at 4:15 PM on August 11, 2010


if you cannot swim, you shouldn't be trying to save someone who is drowning.

I worked as a lifeguard in water parks through high school and college, and a parent's impulse to jump in and try to "save" their kid who was doing the gulp-and-bob after coming off a waterslide seemed pretty strong. (NB: The kids were fine, just startled to have hit the water so quickly.)

I don't remember how many times the kids were fine, but I'd end up hauling a panicky adult to the side of the pool.

Some people don't think logically or rationally when presented with someone in distress. One of the mantras an old coach beat into us when we were taking lifeguarding as know-it-all 15-year-olds was "Reach, throw, tow, then go," the idea being that staying on land and scooping someone out with a shepherd's crook was far safer for us and for the victim than just leaping in and cross-chest carrying them to safety.

But most amateurs on a pool deck (or river side, or ocean side, where I've also towed distressed swimmers back to safety) don't know this -- they just think, "Someone's in trouble! I must get in and help them out!" Instinct + altruistic impulse = recipe for tragedy.
posted by sobell at 4:17 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


grapefruitmoon: that pool/pond reference is a bit from Caddyshack--Chevy Chase to Bill Murray.
posted by partylarry at 4:22 PM on August 11, 2010


On college swimming tests, I'll note for the record that in Georgia many state schools required passing such a test to be eligible for a degree. Perhaps some still do. I had trouble finding concrete examples, but did find that Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia, had such a requirement as recently as 2007.

Obviously everyone who is able should learn to swim. If for no other reason than if you wind up in water over your head, the alternative is drowning. Still, and perhaps it belies my own prejudices, I always presumed there was at least a modicum of a racial component to requiring college graduates to be able to pass a swimming test.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:27 PM on August 11, 2010


My mom tells a story of swimming growing up in a small town in Georgia--when they were going to be forced to integrate the public pool they closed it and then nobody had anywhere to swim, except at the homes of rich white folks who had their own pools. I think this was not an uncommon story in the South and that many other small towns never built municipal pools so as to not have them be integrated.

Growing up in the South in the 70s - 80s we swam in man-made lakes in the country, or in pools at the Y or at country clubs, neither of which were marketed to/affordable for the black folks in the area, or most working class white folks either.

Also, Charlotte, NC is well known as a large city that was not built as a port or on a river. The Catawba River and its associated dammed lakes are outside the city, but not within public transportation distance. And come to think of it, most of Atlanta is similarly close and yet far from the Chattahoochee (although they do have Peachtree Creek, which is beautiful and quite contaminated with sewage).

All of this is to say, the story from Shreveport is not shocking to me and is clearly the product of the continued legacies of slavery and Jim Crow.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:28 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks, partylarry! I am clearly woefully behind on my pop culture education vis-a-vis. movies that were popular when I was eight. I'm kind of ok with that.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:29 PM on August 11, 2010


Well, here's something else: when you go to CDC and compare rates by age group and race over the nine years 1999-2007, you find that the groups with the highest crude rate of deaths from unintentional drowning are actually pretty mixed by race: e.g. the highest appears to be Asian/Pacific Islanders age 85+ (3.68/100,000); American Indian/Alaska Natives also have quite high rates in many age groups, and Whites age 0-4 (2.84/100,000) have a higher rate than Blacks in that age range (2.21/100,000). Not sure what this shows, besides that the racial construct is a pretty imperfect way to understand what is going on.
posted by gubenuj at 5:04 PM on August 11, 2010


grapefruitmoon: "Um. I swam in ponds every single day, sometimes multiple ponds multiple times per day, during the summers when I was a kid. Am I missing something? This feels like some kind of backhand at me and I'm totally not getting what the actual point is.
"

I was paraphrasing a scene from Caddyshack.

posted by Bonzai at 5:17 PM on August 11, 2010


Someone posted a link a couple of weeks ago to a fantastic piece about how drowning doesn't look like drowning, and within a few days, the story got about a gazillion hits. Everyone should read it and look up the author, Mario Vittone, on Facebook or his website. Every parent I know who read it absolutely shuddered.

We had a drowning in my town about two weeks ago, an older fisherman who'd gone out to fish from a sandbar. Either the sandbar started collapsing or the tide shifted so quickly he didn't notice, but he wound up in the water and no one realized he was in trouble until it was too late. I think if I didn't know how to swim, I wouldn't be out on the water, but the conditions may fool people into thinking they're safe. And teenagers think they're indestructible, which leads to all kinds of tragedies, as we know.
posted by etaoin at 5:57 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I threw together a quick graph of accidental drownings by race (1999-2007) from the data in gubenuj's CDC link. From ages 5-20, blacks have the highest death rate, and then they're second only to American Indians/AK natives until age 60, whereupon the Asian death toll skyrockets.
posted by desjardins at 6:03 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm just trying to get a clear picture of the numbers and what's going on. This Sociological Images post puts the numbers at 44% of black men and 77% of black women who say they don't know how to swim. White women are just as likely as black men to report that they can't swim. They also point out that the huge gender gap exists between white men and women just as between black men and women. Why is there a gender gap?

And what is swimming about anyway? I'm a black woman and I was never formally taught to swim but I can go back and forth in a pool and I think I'm doing something approximating swimming (now I'm all self-conscious about saying I can swim because I wasn't formally taught and for all I know I'm just splashing around out there). Is swimming about health, is it about public safety, is it a social activity (i.e. pool parties), or is it about fun and recreation? Well, clearly it's a mixture but different perspectives mean different things. Growing up in a black neighborhood in the city, going from poor to working class to poor, swimming was not a social activity. Minorities and women often lag behind in health and safety measures, so to the extent that swimming is about those things, then the racial and gender gaps are not surprising. Which leaves swimming as a fun thing to do, amongst many other fun things to do.

And shouldn't we distinguish between swimming and other fun things people do in the water? These black kids wouldn't have drowned if they stayed away from water altogether. It's the not being able to swim in a safe and effective manner that took these lives. I see black kids in water all the time. But parties in plastic pools and playing around in polluted ponds aren't the same as "swimming" because their health and safety values are minimal. This thread has taught me that "swimming" is a lot more than splashing around having fun times in the water.
posted by Danila at 6:16 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had never heard of this phenomenon before. Thanks Mefi!

From a different cultural perspective: My parents grew up in Goa, an Indian coastal state with beautiful beaches. Neither of them learned to swim as kids. My mother mentioned once that she was always discouraged from spending time in the sun, lest her skin get dark.

My mother eventually learned to swim in her thirties. My dad never did. They now live in a nice suburban house, with a lovely pool. My dad is devoted to the pool, and cleans it every day. I find this hilarious.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:17 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


My mom tells a story of swimming growing up in a small town in Georgia--when they were going to be forced to integrate the public pool they closed it and then nobody had anywhere to swim, except at the homes of rich white folks who had their own pools. I think this was not an uncommon story in the South and that many other small towns never built municipal pools so as to not have them be integrated.

QFT

Every small town I've been in in Florida used to have a public swimming pool, but they filled it in and paved it (often for tennis courts) when they were going to be forced to integrate. And I'm sure everybody's mom, dad and grandma remembers some kid that got beaten bloody trying to get into the pool back in the day. Even in major cities in the South, they just don't have pools, playgrounds, gyms and rec centers in every neighborhood the way they do in the Northern cities I grew up in.

And in Gulf coast states, in terms of bodies of water to swim in, there's pretty much the beach (currents, surf, wildlife, unpredictable bottom) and pools (largely inaccessible). Hardly anybody in Florida would be fool enough to swim in a lake because -- ALLIGATORS! and also brain-eating amoebas in summer. You can swim in rivers, (I do), but don't forget -- ALLIGATORS! plus current, unpredictable bottom, etc.

So, yeah, Southern blacks are even more screwed for learning to swim than those in other parts of the U.S. I taught a friend of mine to swim and she was totally game for it, but she was like, "I've been told my legs are too heavy, I won't be able to float." I explained that the air in your lungs and abdomen is the main thing that holds you up, and suddenly she was able to float.

Nothing more pernicious than hundreds of years of vicious lies to hold people down.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:03 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is NO excuse for not having learned how to swim.

And since this sentiment has turned up yet again, I'll respond again, differently this time. No excuse? So not knowing how to swim is some sort of moral failing? Huh? Personally, I don't like swimming, I don't understand why people think it's fun, I think hanging around a pool or at the beach all day is unbearably boring. So once people stopped trying to force me to learn how to swim, I stopped.

However, I can sew, and bake, and do some auto repairs, and balance a checkbook, and design web pages, and calm a crying baby, and talk someone out of committing suicide, and talk a psychotic person out of hurting me or themselves, I make a damn good mango papaya salsa, I know how to run an audio soundboard, I can strike up a conversation with a total stranger, etc. I consider all those things to be more important than learning how to swim, and I think everyone should know how to do them. But swimming? Who cares? I don't need an excuse to not know how to swim. I simply don't care to, at this point.

This whole thread has gotten ridiculous. Not knowing how to swim is not a moral failing. We don't have a responsibility to society to learn how to swim any more than we have a responsibility to learn how to drive, if we don't care to. Just stay the hell out of the deep water if you don't know how, and don't ask to borrow my car if you can't drive. But to judge people because they can't swim? This strikes me as rather elitist. Just because something is important to you, doesn't mean it has to be important to me.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:21 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


In re the point about the Yiddish saying--the Talmud enjoins parents to teach their children to swim, that's at least part of why my mom signed me up for lessons. At the time, I thought this made sense because everyone I knew knew how to swim, but now in the context of this thread it does seem like a bizarre injunction; was swimming really central to Jewish life when that passage was written?

As an aside regarding fences and pool alarms--please, anybody reading this thread who owns a pool, for the love of God don't think that supervision of your children alone is adequate to keep your pool from killing people. If you have a pool, please set up a fence and/or alarm, the life you save may be your child's.
posted by phoenixy at 9:34 PM on August 11, 2010


Not knowing how to swim isn't a moral failing, it's just dangerous. You may find yourself in the water unable to swim someday. Teach your kids to swim. The life you save may be their own. It's like cultivating a sense of direction. Yeah, you're probably not ever going to be lost in the woods somewhere (or in a field somewhere), but if you are, it sure is handy to be able to navigate by the celestial bodies.

Similarly, you may never choose to swim, but you may find yourself in proximity to a pool sometime. If you fall in, it's best to be able to extricate yourself. It sure is embarrassing when you drag yourself out soaking wet, but it beats being carted off in an ambulance or a hearse. Maybe I'm biased from the aforementioned near-drowning incident I had. Didn't intend to find myself in the lake, but it happened.

(Incidentally, I like the swimming part, but the sun and the beach and whatever else? Suck.)
posted by wierdo at 10:17 PM on August 11, 2010


Haven't read all the comments, but I just wanted to respond to the posters who have been swimming all their lives and don't believe the extreme discomfort that some people have around water. To which I say: believe it. I was terrified of the water as a little kid. Didn't like it on my face, didn't like the sensation of being unsupported. I was made to take swimming lessons for many years, and barely got to the level of being able to swim the crawl stroke for more than 20 feet. I'm still a very bad swimmer (though I can keep myself from drowning) and have no interest in going to the beach or a swimming pool. Swimming is not at all instinctive. It has nothing to do with race, sometimes not even so much to do with opportunity and instruction, and everything to do with individual variation and personal preference.
posted by ms.codex at 12:02 AM on August 12, 2010


No pool I have ever lifeguarded at has allowed any flotation devices like these-

Yeah, it was weird and I didn't do it there for long because it didn't make sense.

I just wanted to respond to the posters who have been swimming all their lives and don't believe the extreme discomfort that some people have around water.


I don't think people are disbelieving water discomfort at all. Perhaps being cavalier about being exposed to water at an early age, expressing indignation about what they think are "excuses" for not learning, but not disbelief that water can be terrifying. In fact, I think the people who were taught to swim have more respect for actual water danger (myself included - you really only have to be tossed in the ocean once to understand that you will never "beat" the ocean) than those who haven't been as exposed.
posted by Pax at 2:31 AM on August 12, 2010


primdehuit, where'd you go to school? I grew up in St. Paul and no one ever made us learn to swim...besides my parents, at the lake cabin, who just expected us four kids to occupy ourselves down by the lake while they worked on the place. And we did. *shrug* (I never learned to love swimming since I was self taught and am a nose-pincher. I should remedy that, maybe after I figure out how to touch-type.)

My own kids take lessons at our town high school pool: run by the YMCA, and taught by the members of the high school swim team. When we were in Minnesota this summer and at my parents' lake cabin, all the grandkids wore a life jacket when they were in the lake. When I was their age, we never wore a life jacket -- so are attitudes changing, even for pasty white folks like my clan?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:48 AM on August 12, 2010


Minneapolis doesn't have any municipal swimming pools, and St. Paul only has a couple for the entire city. Other than that you're learning to swim at a private pool, at a lake during the summer, or a public pool in a suburb.

Seattle, by contrast, has a fantastic system of indoor public pools that only cost a buck or two to use and offer cheap lessons. Lots of elementary schools even take the whole class to a city pool once a week for free lessons.

Based on this evidence I would suggest that the ease of learning to swim for a lower-middle-class kid varies a lot depending on where you are in the country.
posted by miyabo at 9:39 AM on August 12, 2010


From today's St. Pete Times, a note in the Pasco edition about the East Pasco YMCA partnering with the Lacoochee Boys & Girls Club to give swimming lessons to the children of Lacoochee.

Money quote:
"There's no public pool in the largely minority community of Lacoochee, and many families don't have the money for swimming lessons elsewhere. So the East Pasco YMCA — which let the Lacoochee kids play in the pool last summer at no cost — gave the kids free swimming lessons this year."

"Drowning is the leading cause of death in the state of Florida," said Jen Silvers, who runs both the East Pasco and Dade City branches of the YMCA, "and these kids don't have pools. We want to give them an opportunity to learn a lifelong skill that could possibly save their life one day."

Historic note: Lacoochee FL is where many of the survivors of the Rosewood Massacre fled to start their lives over.
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:57 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I grew up outside of STL in a town of about 5000 people and we had and still have a municipal pool. Lessons cost money but every kid in town gets rudimentary lessons in sessions similar to "adult swims."

I had no idea that there were people that didn't know how to swim until I got to college...
posted by schyler523 at 10:40 PM on August 12, 2010


was swimming really central to Jewish life when that passage was written?

IDK, really, but anecdotally, I have never known a single Jew of any age, sex, country of origin, or level of affluence who could not swim, from NYCers my age to 97 year old grammas from Minsk.
posted by elizardbits at 9:16 AM on August 13, 2010


I have never known a single Jew of any age, sex, country of origin, or level of affluence who could not swim, from NYCers my age to 97 year old grammas from Minsk.
My mom can do basic survival doggie paddle but nothing more than that. I wouldn't say she can really swim. When I was a little kid, though, she fell off a pier when we were vacationing by a lake, and she was able to stay afloat and get to a pylon, which she clung to until someone fished her out, so I guess she can swim a bit. Anyway, she's Southern and working-class, and maybe that trumps Jewish for swimming purposes.

I have no idea whether my grandmother can swim. I'll ask her next time I see her.
posted by craichead at 9:20 AM on August 13, 2010


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