(Lia Neal, Allison Schmitt, Missy Franklin and Jessica Hardy celebrate after advancing to the 2012 Summer Olympics)
Out of all of the outrageous racial stereotypes I’ve encountered while growing up, nothing ever perplexed me more than “Black people can’t/don’t like to swim.”
Growing up in/around the east coast of Maryland, all we did was swim. Whether at the YMCA, or a summer camp, or in the ocean – cool girls swam. All we needed was a quick trip to Mrs. So&So’s house to get your hair braided for the summer and it was on. It wasn’t until high-school where I started to become the literally “drop of ink” in the pool. Aside from it being considered a “white thing” to do, many of my friends just didn’t interact with water as kids due to lack of resources, geography, hair-issues, or they just blurted out “you know we don’t swim.”
Well we do. And when we do it, we do it well. Just ask Lia Neal, the 17-year old Brooklynite who on Saturday became only the second Black woman in history to make the U.S. Olympic Swim team. We’ve been rooting for Lia since she was 13 and competed for an Olympic spot but didn’t make the cut. Not only did Lia not grow up in a “water state” such as California or Florida where pools are as common as stoops in New York, her youth and pretty normal upbringing makes it easy for plenty of young (and older!) brown girls to relate to Lia and grow more comfortable with the water. It’s a complete, fast work out and your butt and thighs will thank you well into old age. And seriously, your hair is less important than your health.
So this summer, let’s get behind Lia and her teammates as they compete in the 400 freestyle relay in London. After all, we know that Black Girls Rock..and we swim well too!