Today, the star of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Danai Gurira sat down with Olympian Simone Manuel to discuss her unique journey as a swimmer and why communities of color have shied away from water throughout history.
Gurira began the conversation stressing the importance of swimming, saying that it’s “more than a sport, it’s a life skill.” Unfortunately, a Black child between the ages of 5-19 is far more likely to drown than a white child – and there are several factors that can be attributed to that. For one, segregation in America during the early 1900s affected people of color in maybe different ways; specifically the lack of access to pools, or the local government’s refusal to build them in Black neighborhoods.
As a former swimmer in Zimbabwe, Gurira expressed her love for the water, but also how the fear of water has discouraged Black people to get involved with it, or expose their children to swimming. Manuel responded by highlighting the irony of water as it pertains to slavery – its what many of them used to escape bondage, but it was also the primary method to getting slaves to America in the first place. It was that fear of water that was passed down from generation to generation; a fear that still lasts to the day.
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Manuel is important because it allows BIPOC to see someone that looks like them, succeed in something that at times can be so foreign. She is the recipient of several Olympic medals, and in winning the 100-meter freestyle, Manuel became the first Black American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming. “The goal that I have is to hopefully make the journey a little easier for the people that come behind me.” the Texas native said. “I hope that I’m being a voice to others to be able to find their passion and love for the sport – but to stay in it, because I know so many who decided to give up the sport because it was a lonely place.”
It’s really all about representation, and giving people the knowledge and access to resources. Gurira felt that Manuel’s ability to excel as a swimmer was pivotal in not allowing the past “trauma to continue its cycle.” Although there’s only a small percentage of Black swimmers that participate competitively, there is still a strong optimism, a hope for the future.
“The more examples that we see of Black people in the sport of swimming; I think that it’s going to allow the sport to grow,” Manuel stated. “We’re gonna see more representation, we’re gonna see more than just one Black person on the podium.”
“When you have a community surrounded around this conversation, awareness, and knowledge, it’s a really powerful thing to help save lives.”