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The Effects of Liquified Racism on Black People in Aquatic Sports

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What do Halle Bailey, a lack of representation of Black swimmers and divers, and Soul Caps have in common?

Liquified Racism.

Liquified racism, coined by Peavy and Shearer (2022), has been used to describe the historic and contemporary ways that water has been used as a tool of anti-Black oppression through racial discrimination. It speaks to the ways that water has been turned against Black protesters, and how clean water is often a scarce commodity within Black communities like Flint, Michigan.

As a Black feminist and scholar of sports, I recognize how liquified racism has served to limit the representation of Black athletes in aquatic sports over time.

Liquid racism precipitated the creation of segregated pools that limited access to swimming lessons and facilities for Black people, which contributed to the lack of Black athletes in competitive water sports.

Similarly, early arguments against the Black-owned swim cap company Soul Cap were also indicative of liquefied racism. Swimming international governing body, FINA, originally rejected their use in competitive competition because the long-hair design of the cap did not “follow the natural form of the head.”

But in September, they reversed their decision. Hopefully, that can be attributed to the realization that these caps had not been needed in the past because Black and Brown individuals in particular, have been systemically barred from aquatic sports and leisure activities.

The Black Swimming Organization, co-founded by Alice Dearing, Britain’s first Black woman to compete in the Olympic Games, notes that “people of African, Caribbean, and Asian heritage have historically been precluded from the world of aquatics,” because of legalized policies and regulations, and later the implementation of informal anti-Black barriers.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the risk of drowning is particularly higher among those who are considered ethnic minorities. The aforementioned actions kept the number of Black swimmers low, yet our deaths by drowning high.

There are ways that liquified racism can be combatted.

Despite representations of Black swimmers and divers being limited currently, their presence and other forms of representation matter. Representation always matters, particularly for those of us from communities across the globe that have continuously been marginalized and stereotyped in ways that contribute to our literal death.

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