Swim Caps Are Keeping Black Women Out of Pools
[Atlantic] Their limited design is yet another contributor to America’s racial disparities in swimming.

Noelle Singleton challenges any swim-cap maker who claims a swimmer’s hair won’t get wet with their caps to send her one. She’ll post a review on social media of her swimming a 100-meter individual medley in it.

Swim caps matter for Singleton, a 30-year-old black swim coach in Georgia with a thick, full-moon-shaped afro. Known on her AfroSwimmers Instagram account as Coach With the Fro, she has been offering swim lessons that target the black community for 16 years. The first question she always gets from female clients, she says, is: "What do I do with my hair?" She gives them tips, including which swim caps to buy. But, "I tell them up front: Please expect your hair to get wet," Singleton says.

Historically, swimming pools have played a murky part in racial segregation and disparity in the United States. Despite a public-pool boom in the 1950s and ’60s, generations of black people have not learned how to swim. In 2017, a report from the USA Swimming Foundation found that 64.2 percent of black adults said they had no or low swimming abilities, versus 39.7 percent of white people. Among the black parents in that group, 78 percent said their children had no or low swimming abilities, too.

Numerous factors contribute to why blacks are less likely to swim: a lack of lap pools to learn in, a lack of representation in water sports, a fear of drowning, and a lack of affordable swim lessons. But one thing that’s often overlooked is that swim caps aren’t designed to protect common hairstyles among black women, adding yet another barrier to their participation in swimming, kayaking, water polo, diving, and other aquatic activities. "It’s an epidemic," Singleton says of their exclusion.

For black women, hair is a long-standing point of pride, self-expression, status, and heritage. Some women will spend hundreds of dollars‐and sit for hours‐to get box braids or install a weave. That’s not including the hair products required for daily maintenance. All this makes swimming risky. Chlorine can damage the softness of an afro, the tightness of a box braid or sisterlock, or the clean scalp hidden under a sew-in weave. For some hairstyles, the prospect of starting over with washing, conditioning, sitting under a hair dryer, combing or picking out hair, and restyling in general is frustrating.
Posted by: Besoeker 2018-08-14