Debunking The Stereotype That Blacks Don’t Swim

Courtesy 12 Miles North

By Guest Contributor Tetsuhiko Endo, cross-posted from The Inertia

In the great and varied canon of American racial stereotypes, there is a highly detailed list of segregated sports. Basketball, for instance, is a “Black” sport. Hockey, on the other hand, is for Whites. Surfing falls firmly into the category of “white sport,” somewhere between mountaineering and golf. It could be argued that there is no “whiter” sport in the world that was originally invented by non-whites. There are many ways to illustrate this, but let’s leave it here: It is the only sport since the 1936 summer Olympics in which the 2009 world champion, Mick Fanning, can say something overtly anti-Semitic to a reporter and the outlet that reports the statement will be blamed for bad taste.

Why don’t black people surf? That can be answered with another race-based generalization: Black people don’t swim. Consider the numbers: A 2010 study by US Swimming, America’s governing body of competitive swimming, found that nearly half of White children (42 percent) had low or no swimming ability. That number was topped by Hispanic American children; 58 percent of whom reported no or low swimming ability. Black children had the highest non-swimming rates at just under than 70 percent.

I suspect that the white numbers are slightly inflated based on the fact many that my Caucasian, land-lubbing friends define “swimming” as walking into a pool up to their waist, getting out, then applying more coconut oil. But that doesn’t change the fact that swimming rates among Black children are abysmal. Infinitely more worrisome is that Black children are around three times more likely to drown than White children, based on another study by US swimming, which is apparently the only organization who studies these sorts of things.

There is one problem with these studies: although the numbers are correct, the conclusion that we causally draw from them is utterly corrupt. The numbers tell us that many black people don’t swim; Our interpretation, however, is that black people are not swimmers, which is wrong. The truth is that American blacks have a long and well-documented history of loving to swim. In order to understand why African American culture does not currently enjoy a well established culture of recreational swimming, we need to delve under the stereotypes and generalizations and look at the history of exclusion that has accompanied their efforts to access the water.

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All Things Old Hollywood: Blackface At The Oscars

Courtesy Franchesca Ramsey and Jezebel.com

By Guest Contributor Kendra James

Another Monday, another post-awards show morning, another day of waking up and asking myself if I really just saw what I thought I saw. Because there’s absolutely no way that I really saw Billy Crystal in blackface on national television the night before.

And for all I know, maybe I didn’t. No one’s talking about it. It didn’t seem  to have made any morning news show headlines. I didn’t hear Kelly Ripa and Neil Patrick Harris mention it and I missed seeing what the women of The View had to say, but given Whoopi’s track record with the hot topics of the day I’m guessing I wouldn’t have been impressed.

Oh, but wait, a quick dive into the comments section at Jezebel (why do I do this to myself?) confirms that I did not, in fact, dream up what I saw last night. Not only did it happen, but it seems to have already been rationalised by the general public. You see, blackface is apparently no longer offensive, especially if it’s not being done to intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings. We’re in post-racial America! These things no longer carry the weight they once did. There’s no need to analyse it to death. It was just a sketch!

Foolishness like this is making it really hard for me to get my fill of pretty red-carpet dresses.

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Excerpt: The Feminist Wire On The Erasing Of Black LGBT Hate Crime Victims

While I applaud Savage for responding to the increasing number of gay and lesbian suicides that often follow bullying and violence, the framing of this campaign gives me pause. The campaign was developed in response to a culmination of the heartrending stories of gay and lesbian youth suicides (some of whom were youth of color-many of which have historically been unable to get national or even local media attention) within the media that reached its apex with the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, a white gay male.

Indeed, when we think of victims of homophobia-induced violence, many US citizens can easily recall the names of white gay males Tyler Clementi and Matthew Shepard but not Sakia Gunn, a black working class lesbian or Brandon White, a black gay youth. Why is that? Because many of the news stories prioritized within gay media outlets are framed by folk who seem to have a limited platform that favors particular persons, namely, middle-class white gay males, over some others. Savage and other middle-upper class gay white men benefit from this form of commodification. It is a hard truth that I, too, have to confront.

It is important, then, that we challenge Savage and his politics. He fails to recognize that the popularity of the campaign and its legitimacy depend on the very subtle exclusion of non-white and non-bourgeois bodies. Moreover, the movement has garnered international endorsement by politicians and celebrities because being gay in America, in the West, somehow speaks to the democratization of what was once considered radical, namely, gay identity.  So, yeah, it gets better for queer folk in the US context, but which queer folk?

There is no national campaign for the indeterminable number of Black queer and transgender men and women that have been killed or gone missing across the country. This is not because many have not tried to create such, but because the media, and liberal gays who shape it, like Savage, don’t seem to care.

- From “From One White Gay Male to Another: Calling out the Implicit Racism in Dan Savage’s ‘Liberal’ Politics & the ‘It gets better’ Campaign,” by Kirk Grisham

Child’s Play?: Black Labor In The Sports-Industrial Complex

By Guest Contributor Theresa Runstedtler, cross-posted from her blog

[Author’s Note: The voluminous press on “Linsanity” has not only exposed the “orientalist” visions of American society but it has also laid bare our basest racial assumptions about black athletes. This blog post (originally part of paper for the 2011 American Studies Association meeting) is an effort to build on William C. Rhoden’s analysis for the New York Times earlier this month. Rhoden argues, “African-American athletes faced and continue to confront negative stereotypes that militate against being invested with the type of universal character traits that are at the root of the Tebow and Lin phenomena.” In what follows, I look at why these “negative stereotypes” persist, and to what political, social, and economic ends.]

“On the floor of Shoemaker Center and other camps, hoop dreams flourish and youthful bodies are inspected and assessed in an atmosphere more meat market than training ground. It’s both the good (say defenders) and the bad (say critics) of our national sports obsession. It’s also big business, American style: a world where kids are the product, coaches the buyers, and event directors and hangers-on the middlemen who must work the system, know the right people and outhustle their opponents to succeed.” –Josh Chetwynd, “The Hoopster Supershuffle,” U.S. News & World Report, November 11, 1996.

How is it that a people who labored for hundreds of years as chattel slaves have now become the ultimate paragons of laziness in the eyes of mainstream America? At least some of it has to do with the hypervisibility of African Americans in certain types of employment that have been cast as “play.” Their disproportionate representation in sports (both amateur and professional) has become a frequent point of critique for white conservatives and certain members of the black middle class. There has been a tendency to blame black youth, particularly those from poor and working-class backgrounds, for their pathological “sports fixation.” Yet this narrow, individualist perspective ignores the structural forces driving black over-representation in the sporting industries.

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Family Ties: On Jeremy Lin, “Tiger Moms,” And Tiger Woods

Courtesy Albany Times-Union

By Guest Contributor Dr. David J. Leonard

In a world that imagines basketball as the purview of African Americans, the emergence of Jeremy Lin has sent many commentators to speculate and theorize about Lin’s success. Focusing on religion, Eastern philosophy, his educational background, his intelligence, his parents, and his heritage, the dominant narrative has defined Lin’s success through the accepted “model minority” myth.

In other words, while celebrating Lin’s success as a challenge to dominant stereotypes regarding Asian Americans, the media has consistently invoked stereotypical representations of Asianness to explain his athletic success, as if his hard work, athleticism, and talents are not sufficient enough explanations.

Intentional or not, the story of Lin is both an effort to chronicle his own success in comforting and accepted terms and, in doing so, offer a commentary on blackness.

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Reminder: Speaking TONIGHT at 7 PM

Reminder for folks in the Providence/Boston/Bedford Area!

I’m giving a talk called “A Rebellious Reading of History” tonight:

Location: U Mass Dartmouth, Rhode Island
Whaling Museum
18 Johnny Cake Hill
New Bedford, MA 02740
7 PM

I will be exploring quite a few things, including” Zora Neale Hurston being initially outside of the canon of Harlem Renaissance, Flo Kennedy and Shirley Chislom’s race-gender tightrope, and why no one knows Yuri Kochiyama was with Malcolm X when he was murdered, along with questioning the framework of how we interpret historical events.

Afternoon Open Thread: The 2012 Oscars

By Arturo R. García

Academy Awards? More like Academy of Awkward.

But seriously, what kind of group spends nearly all of 210 minutes squeeing over love letters to movie houses from the 1910s and silent movies?

Oh. Never mind.

That study by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed (or confirmed) that the Oscars electorate is 77 percent male and nearly 100 percent white, gives us the only context in which Billy Crystal’s return as the show’s host could possibly be explained. Otherwise, he couldn’t have been more of a creative anachronist if he’d showed up cosplaying Tyrion Lannister.
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‘It’s Not Right’… On Whitney Houston, Black Women, And Loss

By Guest Contributor Andreana Clay, cross-posted from QueerBlackFeminist

Like others, I can’t really believe that I’m writing about the death of Whitney Houston. I learned about her  death in passing, as I was preparing for a party. And I hadn’t thought about Houston in years, not since seeing her run and literally jump into Bobby Brown’s arms on one of his releases from jail years ago. It wasn’t until I sat down hours later, read some of the news stories and tributes, and started watching videos that a wave of memories and emotions came over me.

The first video I watched and then repeated over and over (until Joan finally said “stop watching Whitney Houston and come to bed”:) was “You Give Good Love” from her debut album, Whitney Houston, released in 1985. Watching it immediately took me back to junior high, 8th grade, when I effectively made the switch from tomboy to girly girl. The year that my mother said I could wear make up (no eyeliner) and let me start going to Boys and Girls Club dances with my best friend Angie, my cousin. Angie kind of looked like Whitney Houston, and both were part of my coming of age as a teenager (along with Sheila E., Lisa Lisa, and Prince). As I watched “You Give Good Love” over and over, I was reminded of that time, my relationship with my cousin, Black women, and loss.
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