The New "New" Deal
Updated: Sep 22
Over the course of a decade, in response to the Great Depression, former President Roosevelt ushered in a new era of hope. During his first 100 days, he introduced a slew of new government-funded programs. Under these programs new agencies were created; Social Security Board, Securities, and Exchange Commission.
From these programs, public funding was used to create swimming pools in urban areas but false narratives were created to keep Blacks out of the pools.
In the years since public pools are more accessible to Black and Urban communities through community centers but there is still a stigma that carries through. No, I’m not talking about the one that Black people can’t swim. Clearly, Simone Manuels, Ashleigh Johnson, Natalie Hinds, Anthony Ervin, Donata Katai, Cullen Jones have all shown that we can swim and be at the top of our game. I’m talking about the constant forms of subliminal isolation.
At the age of 11 my son can already feel the stigma, and pressures of the sport. At meets, the pressure is on to swim strong and win your race so everyone can celebrate you and know your name. However, there is always the awareness that if you are just average in your time or ranking there's like a sigh of relief from the white spectators as if they are reassured that the sport still "belongs" to them. He states “it's bad enough being the only black kid, but on top of that they isolate you for being a good or bad swimming Black kid.” Here's the perspective of USA’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson in her interview with the Olympic Association.
“When I was younger, I got questions from other kids in the sport, parents, and even strangers, asking questions like, ‘Can Black people float?’ or ‘Black people don’t swim, how come you know how?’ ” Johnson said. “Questions like these and other similar things that weren’t as direct but meant the same thing and implied I didn’t belong, and people like me didn’t belong. That put a lot of pressure on me when I was younger to either act like race wasn’t something that was part of my reality or absolutely crush the expectations that people had for me.”
Ashleigh is using the pressures to fuel her wins. While other professional Black athletes like Naomi Osaka decided not to carry the burden of the pressure to perform and pulled out of the French Open press conference. What is the answer as parents to help our athletes? What is the deal as a community to support our Black athletes?
The New Deal is that mental health is just as important as physical health. Whether that looks like going to see a sports psychologist or allowing children to express their feelings in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. As a parent, it is hard to admit your child needs help but it is important to help them gain these coping skills early in life.
The New Deal is that we set the standards for what our children need. Our Black children need to be able to be better than their peers. Our children need to have an off day. They need to feel that just because they possess magic others may not, they are still human. The standard in swimming needs to be that the swim cap doesn’t actually keep my hair dry and or fit over my hair the way it does my peers. Another standard is the space to show you what I am capable of without pre-perceived opinions.