Beyond the Beach: addressing the stereotype "Black People don't swim"
For info on "Brown Passport", please click this link About Brown Passport Please note when you see * please reference the corresponding link and info at the bottom of this blog.
All Images and footage shot by Samantha Isom with the exception of gopro (video) waterfall jump (Shot by Michelle Pierson), 4 still images inside video interview of Ron Redwell (by John Russell)--Stills of Ron not in video shot by Samantha Isom, sourced footage from the tv series "Sea Hunt" and drone footage by fisherman/influencer Robert Field (aka #yakfishtv)
I'm not sure if the same holds true around the globe, but if you are in the States, you are well aware of the stereotype about African Americans and swimming (or minorities in general). The University of Memphis conducted a study* in 2010 sponsored by the USA swimming foundation, and found that upwards of 70% of blacks in America had low or no swim ability, as compared to 40% of caucasians (and 60% of Hispanics). This is one of the reasons it was such a big deal when Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win an Olympic swimming Gold medal (in 2016)*. For more details please see* and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-11172054 , http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/06/29/nothing-funny-70-percent-black-americans-cant-swim
Being a military family (my father was a career army man), we had access to the pool on post (Ft. Dix, 7 miles from our house). We went there every year though not every week let alone everyday. We were fortunate to have this, though neither of my parents could 'truly' swim, though my mother (of German & Irish descent) did teach me the backstroke (life saver!). My sister and I would jump in the deep end and though seemingly ok with being underwater, we had no idea how to stay at the top. We would scramble to the edge of the pool where we could hang on, repeating this process thinking this was really swimming. I suppose to some, that was really swimming, but to be honest you would NEVER find us getting into a lake, nor going in above the waist in any open water scenario. This meant so many activities were off limits (surfing, boating, tubing, canoeing/kayaking, snorkeling and you can FORGET about scuba diving).
The ocean was only 30 minutes away and we went there ALL the time. Getting in the water was a must....though only going in water just above our knees. We would not dare go in any deeper than the height of our legs because that was just too sketchy when you don't know how to tread water, nor float. We used to go on whale watches in Cape Cod and Cape May, but once again, praying to sweet Jesus they had enough life jackets in case of falling overboard.
After several photography jobs in the Caribbean, I felt 'handicapped' being the ONLY person stuck on the beach or in the shallows while everyone else would go snorkel on their lunch break. I realized this was a self perpetuating handicap and finally said 'screw this' I've got to really learn to swim. At the beach, My boyfriend would help coax me into water just above my head and begin teaching me how to float, how to get more comfortable in a setting without walls as a safety net (aka the edge of a pool). The Bed Stuy YMCA is only a few blocks from my home base in Brooklyn, so in January of 2015 (at 44 years old) I took BEGINNER swim lessons!
February of 2015 in the waters is Maui, Hawaii, I snorkeled in open water (away from the beach, and in water over my head) for the 1st time! At first it was with a leash/rope attached to the back of the boat (the Pacific can be kind of rough especially in the winter). I went out a few more times, then also snorkeled off the beach, where I encountered my first shark! A couple of months later when in Kauai, (Hawaii) my good friend Michelle* took my boyfriend and I hiking to a waterfall, where I actually jumped off into the stream below! CONFESSION: don't 'clown' on me for this, but... I did NOT jump off the same ledge as Michelle (& Sean) but that little baby ledge for me was a leap in the right direction. You've gotta start somwehre.
Now, here is the REAL big leap......in May of 2015 I obtained my PADI* open water scuba diving certification. Talk about feeling FREE from a self perpetuating handicap!
It wasn't all 'peaches'. I started by snorkeling and getting used to being in the open water and breathing through a mouthpiece. That all seemed fine and good, until I tried a 'discover scuba dive'. I was hanging off the side of the boat holding onto a line in choppy Pacific waters, banging around in the swell, 1st time with a regulator (breathing apparatus for scuba) in my face and once I hit the water, I could not descend (go beneath the surface). One, problem was my sinus, I couldn't 'clear' or regulate the air in my sinus (ear canal) due to sinus issues. The other problem was in my head.... I was scared of the open water once hanging (below the surface) by a rope. As (African American) diving instructor Ronald Redwell once said, if you want to do something you will figure out how to do it.....the only thing stopping 'us' from doing it, is 'we gotta get out there and do it' (see link for Brownpassport's video of Ron Redwell's full story). I did WANT to dive. So, thankfully, that was not my last try.
With determination, some help from Ron* and of course the help from my amazing diving instructor*, I am happy to report that not only did I obtain my Open water certification, but I now also have my PADI Advanced open water certification.
Never let stereotypes get in the way of you doing what you want. Never let how society (nor family) sees you (in turn often how you see yourself) get in the way of your dreams. Never say 'Oh that's a '_____ people thing'*, or 'oh that's not for me' if it's really something you WANT to do. Do not encourage self perpetuating handicaps. "Keep It Movin' and go for it!
See Ron's story on being treated differently (special) in Maui because of his skin color, as well as his inspiring story to not let any obstacles get in the way of his dream (of becoming a scuba instructor). Full story and video from the 'Window Seat' (click here)
* R.I.P. In loving memory of Michelle Pierson, who helped me jump (1st time) at a waterfall. Sadly we lost her to an accident in 2016. Long live her soul, her inner beauty and her love of life.
*PADI is an acronym that stands for the “Professional Association of Diving Instructors” there are a few different entities in which to get certified, PADI is one of them (others include SSI & NAUI)
*though Ron was not my certifying instructor, he helped me overcome a fear of taking off my mask underwater. the last ’task’ I needed to accomplish in order to obtain my scuba certification.
*my amazing (Certifying) scuba instructor (also my boyfriend) Sean Atherton
*At times you will hear some (brown American) minorities say “That’s a White people thing”. this mentality can keep ‘us’ held back from experiencing other things life has to offer. this mentality can continue to keep us separate, slowing down the progress we are making in bringing people of different races and cultures together. the same can go the other way around. A good example of that could be a ‘white’ person saying they can’t dance like a black person can. These proclamations are keeping people ‘down’, keeping people from moving past all of these stereotypes when we need to continue to move forward more than ever.
SPECIAL THANKS TO SEAN ATHERTON, RONALD REDWELL, Fisherman & Drone Operator ROBERT FIELD #YAKFISHTV, #LAHAINADIVERS #MAUI, #DIVERSIADIVERS #GiliTranwangan #INDONESIA, #BEDSTUYYMCA and the NYC travel networking/coworking space from which I launched this post #voyagerHQ
CLICK ON THE VIDEO BELOW TO HEAR SCUBA DIVING INSTRUCTOR RON REDWELL'S COMPELLING STORY ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE RECEIVING 'SPECIAL' TREATMENT BECAUSE HE IS A PERSON 'OF COLOR', ABOUT NOT LETTING ANYTHING OR ANYONE'S VIEWS GET IN THE WAY OF YOUR DREAMS AND ABOUT BRINGING PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS TOGETHER (THROUGH SCUBA).