Historically, people of African, Caribbean, and Asian heritage have been marginalized in the world of aquatics. The barriers faced by these communities are complex, tied to legacies of racism, segregation, stereotypes, and financial constraints.
These factors have contributed to a lack of education when it comes to water safety as well as opportunities to participate in aquatic sports. However, with the help of three fantastic Black women, inroads are being made into the world of water sports.
Simone Manuel is one of the team captains for Team USA in swimming. She has used her platform to advocate for herself, as well the larger issue of mental health within sports. Bouncing back from the debilitating condition of overtraining syndrome, Manuel made the Olympic team this year in the 50-meter freestyle and recently anchored the team to a Bronze medal in the 4x100m Freestyle Relay. Manuel medaled in the 2016 Games in Rio, earning two gold and one silver. Manuel’s success challenges the stereotype that Black people don’t swim.
In 2016, Ashleigh Johnson became the first African American woman to make the US Olympic team in water polo. That year the team took gold, something she’s looking to do this year in Tokyo. Like Black athletes before her, she faced questions about her place in the aquatic sport. But she pushed back against stigma and committed herself to be a role model for the next generation of young swimmers.
Alice Dearing will be the first Black woman to swim for Great Britain during the Tokyo games this summer. Co-founder of the Black Swimmers Association (BSA), Dearing is committed to bringing awareness about aquatic sports to those historically omitted from the conversation. She and her BSA team challenge myths that Black people can’t swim, discuss the Black origins of freestyle swimming and converse about Black girls and their hair.