The disproportionate number of Black people who are unable to swim has long been a discussion in our society …
From mainstream satire to intense scrutiny by those who are most affected. Tragedies of the past have meant that the link between the modern-day African and Caribbean people and our rich swimming ancestry have all but been severed – According to official figures released by Sport England, 95% of Black adults and 80% of Black children in England do not swim. Rapper and screenwriter Ed Accura is on a mission to change all of that.
Accura’s latest film, Blacks Can’t Swim The Sequel is an exploration of the Black experience as it pertains to water-based activities. The story follows two Black youths (Layla and K-Frost) from a gritty south London council estate who are part of a music and sports-based community program designed to help give young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds a better chance in life. But, to complete this program which opens doors to a world of opportunities, they must learn to swim.
Accura is no stranger to the psychological trauma associated with aquaphobia and didn’t learn to swim until much later in life (as seen in hist first Blacks Can’t Swim film). He has since gone on to co-found the Black Swimming Association (BSA). The intention behind this is to try and make sure that future generations do not fall victim to preventable tragedies and can enjoy the wonders of the water.
We sat down with him and spoke about his hopes for the future of Black swimming, the work that still needs to be done to get to that place and the upcoming film
Please introduce yourself …
My name is Ed Accura. I am the Producer of A Film Called Blacks Can’t Swim, co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, and currently learning how to swim.
What word or sentence best describes your life right now?
Changing the narrative on a generation-long issue and making it easier for the world to talk about something that previously was extremely uncomfortable to talk about.
In the first Blacks Can’t Swim, a large portion of the story centred around the character you played and his journey to conquer a phobia of the water. Did you have a similarly complicated relationship with swimming when you were growing up?
My relationship with swimming was non-existent. Other than a short conversation about wanting to learn how to swim at around the age of 9 I had no relationship at all with swimming. What many don’t know is that the scene in the film with me getting into the pool was my very first attempt to learn how to swim.
Blacks Can’t Swim received a positive reception and inspired people to take up swimming, what will The Sequel touch on?
The Sequel is from the youth’s perspective. It combines acting with real interview footage of 14 – 25-year-olds from the Black community. You see them voicing their thoughts on why their generation does not swim through powerful personal stories and recommendations on how we can change the narrative and get the community swimming.
Historically, Black societies were known for having some of the strongest swimmers due to our fishing and diving cultures. However, tragedies such as the Slave Trade and access to swimming facilities, have set us back hundreds of years. The trauma that Black people associate with large bodies of water as a result of our history is often downplayed. How important do you feel it is for the education system to take these psychological elements into account when teaching Black children how to swim?
Very important. I came up with the word bl-aquaphobia to differentiate aquaphobia in the Black culture from other cultures. As a result of the generation-long issue due to a disproportionate amount of Black people that do not swim, there is an inherent and subconscious fear of water in many of us. Someone who has not been brought up with a relationship with water, i.e me can have a fear of water without even realising it. Sport England quotes that 95% of Black adults and 80% of Black adults do not swim. Based on these figures alone, you can see why it’s important to take these psychological elements into account when teaching Black children how to swim.
“Black people can’t swim” is a harmful stereotype that almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What effect do you think hearing this has on a child’s belief that they will be alright if they enter the water?
The Blacks Can’t Swim campaign’s motto is to confront our fears, address the stereotypes and dispel the myths, which are the same stereotypes and myths I spent most of my life hiding behind. I believed it and as a result, lived it. This was reinforced also by the lack of visibility of Black role models in aquatics. So, to answer your question, yes it has a huge effect and it’s covered extensively in the sequel.
What role do parents play in their children learning or not learning how to swim?
There is evidence that if the parents don’t swim, a child only has a 13% chance of learning how to swim. My mother and father didn’t swim, and neither did their parents and as a result, swimming was never a priority in our family. As I highlighted in the song I Won’t Swim, I was told to stay away from fire and your fingers won’t burn, stay away from water and you won’t drown, and so I did. Well up until now. My 10-year-old daughter (who appears in the car scene of Blacks Can’t Swim with my wife, can swim because we insisted she learned at an early age (well it was actually mostly my wife)
Aside from the historical connotations what are some of the other reasons some people don’t take up swimming?
Fear of water, damage to hair, cost of swimming, lack of infrastructures, lack of role models, persistent stereotypes, and inequality all play a part. However, swimming is acknowledged as a life skill but not necessarily as a priority. Many people in the community live their lives away from water and do not feel the need to develop their swimming skills, I was one of them. It’s not until something happens, usually in the form of a tragedy do people then realise the importance of not only swimming but more importantly, water safety. There is a broken relationship between the Black and Asian communities and the swimming world. I wrote a letter to the world making several recommendations on how this relationship may be improved.
Do you think that more needs to be done to increase the number of trained Black swimming instructors?
When Seren Jones, Danielle Obe, Alice Dearing, and I came together to co-found the Black Swimming Association last March, one of our objectives was to address Black people being precluded from the aquatic career pathway and this includes lifeguards, swimming coaches, corporate executives, and elite performers across the whole spectrum of aquatics. We have strategically partnered with the main national governing bodies including RLSS, Swim England, and RNLI to address this. 85% of all swimming qualifications are taken up by 16 – 25 years olds which is not reflected in our community. We don’t ‘see‘ these career/volunteering opportunities so making these programmes available to Black youth will change the narrative.
How did it make you feel to see the young actors in Blacks Can’t Swim The Sequel respond so positively to being in the water after filming was completed?
It gave me so much joy. During the filming of The Sequel, there was a swimming pool scene that was met with reluctance from many of the cast, even those that said they could swim. We turned the issue around by creating a relatable atmosphere, got everyone in the mood, and into the pool where we filmed the scenes. I ended up having to request extra pool time, not because we were running behind schedule but because the cast was having so much fun in the water they didn’t want to get out. Make swimming relatable, enjoyable, and exciting and we stand a higher chance of swimming.
Do you foresee us coming back to that place again as a people and being comfortable in the water like we once were?
Yes, I do. I spoke to one of the cast of The Sequel and he mentioned that in all his 25 years of living, swimming had never been a conversation piece in his house but now his mum, aunties, siblings are all speaking about it. The more we talk about it, the more comfortable we become. I am under no illusion that it will be a quick fix and everyone in the community is going to suddenly get up and head to the local pools for lessons or a dip, but what I can say is that this is the beginning of the end of the issue.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection – The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris. Remember the days before computers when we were allowed to get bored and not reaching out to our phones? Showing my age here! They say some of the best ideas are born out of boredom. Let the mind wander.
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date – Speak No Evil by Wayne Shorter. It’s just the guy I am.
- A film / TV show that you will watch whenever it’s on repeatedly – Education from Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series. I watched it 4 times and still didn’t get tired of it. Love the ending.
- The first play you saw and what it meant to you? – The Real McCoy (Hackney Empire) I had just been made redundant and almost didn’t go, but as I had already purchased the tickets it made no sense not to. What a night it turned out to be. I never laughed so much and it taught me that laughter is a great healer of pain.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – Sad – seeing the rising Covid-19 death figures; Mad – reading stories about ruthless scammers; Glad – Donald Trump leaving the White House.
Blacks Can’t Swim is available to watch on Amazon.
Blacks Can’t Swim The Sequel is set for global release in May 2021. Keep up to date with Ed Accura and the Blacks Can’t Swim movement blackscantswim.com