Black people, many ethnic minorities, and groups who face prejudice and discrimination often feel or are made to feel unwelcome in the countryside or taking part in outdoor activities or in swimming (indoors and outdoors). This is an article by a white person wishing to be an ally. I have given quotes from and links to writings and other media from others more eloquent and who are speaking from their own experience and in more detail – see the Writings, stories, campaigns and groups, quotes with links, below.
There have been a number of studies and articles showing that swimming and outdoor activities are seen as being and are white dominated and not inclusive of the whole range of the community.
Many black people have written about feeling or being unwelcome in many groups or locations for these activities – and how they are inspiring black people to enjoy the outdoors and water – see below. In relation to black people swimming this springs partly from specific stereotypes about swimming which are rooted in long-standing and deliberately created prejudices which persist today, as explained by Ed Accura and others, https://outdoorswimmer.com/news/ed-accura-releases-new-feature-film-documentary-a-film-called-blacks-cant-swim.
There is a self-perpetuating cycle of exclusion. If you are made to feel unwelcome or don’t feel welcome you won’t go to the countryside, if people that look like you are not often seen in the countryside and when you go there or join outdoor activity organisations at the very least your presence is remarked on as surprising, and sometimes this is done in unfavourable terms. If families don’t introduce young people to the countryside or swimming, they are less likely to feel it is for them.
These patterns of exclusion apply to all groups that are not part of the majority white population.
As this article describes, “the Landscapes Review found that both ethnic minorities and white people saw the countryside as very much a ‘white’ environment“, https://www.tgomagazine.co.uk/news/the-spirit-of-the-kinder-trespass-why-we-need-to-rethink-the-right-to-roam/?fbclid=IwAR2KzkKDslJYd2Jpt5O6Pmbmwbl-fteaXLzbr0ZSoBcKhShCAyk4Z6nErKo
Writings, stories, campaigns and groups
“Throughout aquatics people of colour and ethnic minority communities are consistently precluded. These barriers are often entrenched and complex, which often leaves these communities without the necessary education in water safety and drowning prevention. Because of this, in England:
- 95% of Black adults and 80% of Black children do not swim.
- The risk of drowning being higher among “minority ethnic” communities.
- 1 in 4 children in leave primary school unable to swim.
The BSA’s mission is to change that.” The Black Swimming Association, https://thebsa.co.uk/
“We aim to create change and embed water safety education in an effort to engage and support people from ethnically diverse backgrounds across the country, with an initial emphasis on the Black community. … We believe our strength as a sector lies in working together to make aquatics safer, more inclusive and more accessible by inspiring and facilitating participation for all.” Launch of The Black Swimming Association Strategic Plan 2021 – 2024, see https://thebsa.co.uk/
“Swimming while black is myself and my brother being the only non-white swimmers in our swimming class. It’s been constantly told that black people can’t swim, despite being evidence that this wasn’t true.” ‘Swimming while black: stories from the community’, https://outdoorswimmer.com/blogs/swimming-while-black-stories-from-the-community
“The film highlights some of the most popular myths,” says Ed Accura. “Some of the reasons we hear include social issues, such as generational fear, lack of accessibility, aquaphobia, historic fear of drowning, hair and the one that keeps on coming up, bone density.” ‘Ed Accura releases new feature film documentary: A Film Called Blacks Can’t Swim’, https://outdoorswimmer.com/news/ed-accura-releases-new-feature-film-documentary-a-film-called-blacks-cant-swim
The British Blacklist / TBB TAlks to … Ed Accura about his film blacks can’t swim THE SeQUEL | The British Blacklist
“The next thing we want to do as BSA is to investigate the barriers that actually preclude our community from engaging in aquatics more, and through that to have an awareness campaign not looking at this necessarily as a sport… but to look at swimming as an essential life-saving skill. Another next thing is we want to work with the aquatics sector …and with RNLI and RLSS to do something more with the community…We have to break down certain barriers and the BSA has been set up by the community for the community…” Danielle Obe (47.45 mins), in this discussion: ShAFF Online – Owen Hayman of SOUP (Sheffield OUtdoor Plungers) talking with Frank ‘Ed Accura’ Awuah and Danielle Obe about the work of the Black Swimming Association, and on what we each can do to help improve diversity, inclusion, participation, equality and representation in swimming. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ig2oNrAF8Do&feature=youtu.be
“I like to think I represent black competitive swimmers in the UK who may often feel out of place – as I sometimes did during my early years,” says Alice Dearing, ‘Team GB’s only black swimmer: “I understand why girls would quit over their hair” ‘, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-49247624
Black girls don’t swim. The Documentary. Does hair stop black girls from getting into the water? Seren Jones swam competitively for 13 years … In this programme Seren explores whether maintaining ‘good’ hair really is the leading factor behind why black women don’t take part in competitive swimming…. And what, if anything, is being done about it. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csz56d
Podcast by Summaya Mughal on South Asian women and swimming https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/2022/brown-gal-cant-swim
A piece about black women learning to swim as adults, https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/black-women-adult-swimming-lessons_uk_624ee463e4b068157f816ff6
A blog about my experience as an African American Woman and my love for swimming, encouraging women of color to be engaged in physical activity through aquatics! Black Girl Swim, @Blackgirlswim
Soul Swimmers UK. To connect, encourage & motivate women especially from Black & Asian communities to swim for life! www.soulswimmers.co.uk ; https://www.instagram.com/soulswimmers.uk/?hl=en-gb
Countryside and Outdoor activities
“…both ethnic minorities and white people saw the countryside as very much a ‘white’ environment”, The 2019 Landscapes Review of England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, also mentioned in the last paragraph of the intro, can be downloaded from this link ( NOTE it is a 6.5mb PDF), https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/833726/landscapes-review-final-report.pdf?utm_content=link4&utm_campaign=articles_id_12881&utm_medium=articles_post&utm_source=ukclimbing
Several organisations including Black Girls Hike and Black2Nature , Outward Bound Trust and Mosaic Outdoors are working to encourage ethnic minorities, women and underprivileged children to engage with nature.
Maxwell Ayamba set up a walking group focusing on physical and mental health, but found that a group of black men walking in the British countryside is also a political act. “Back home in Ghana, nature is just part of our lives. Notions related to space in England are especially contested,” he said. Other walkers they met were friendly but there was real surprise at seeing a minority group outside the city –the countryside was seen as white territory. ‘Sheffield walking group take steps to reclaim black people’s place in British history’, The Star, https://www.thestar.co.uk/heritage-and-retro/retro/sheffield-walking-group-take-steps-reclaim-black-peoples-place-british-history-2895714
“Obviously, the black community are not a monolith. Many of the barriers black people face are the same barriers everyone faces: access, time, resources and safe spaces. But a lot of people do see the outdoors as a white domain, a space where there is, unfortunately, always the threat of racism and prejudice,” says Rhiane Fatinikun, who founded Black Girls Hike. ‘Black girls hiking: how the outdoors is becoming more diverse’, https://www.tgomagazine.co.uk/news/black-girls-hiking-how-the-outdoors-is-becoming-more-diverse/
“To grow the number of people from black, Asian and ethnic minorities (BAME) who engage with the Outdoors (National Parks and the natural environment), delivering quality of life, health, environmental and educational benefits ”, mission, Mosaic Outdoors: Connecting BAME Communities with the Outdoors, https://mosaic-outdoors.org/
“I set up [Black2Nature] when I was 14 years old and is Visible Minority Ethnic (VME) led. We campaign for equal access to nature for all, especially VME communities who are currently excluded from the countryside. We run nature camps, arrange nature activities, organise race equality in nature conferences and campaign to make the nature conservation and environmental sectors ethnically diverse“, Mya-Rose Craig, @BirdgirlUK, “fighting racism & for equality in nature & environment”, http://www.birdgirluk.com/2020/01/black2nature.html
Mya-Rose Craig, aka Birdgirl talks to Zakiya Mckenzie about increasing diversity outdoors. ‘One to One’, BBC Radio 4, 29 Sep 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000mzmc?s=03
Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig on getting involved in nature and campaigning, “I have just made this 6 minute video to pass my message on. I have had lots of requests to speak in school assembles and in universities to try and inspire young people, disadvantaged and minority ethnic ones. Feel free to use this.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rNw1TFckQE&feature=youtu.be
Forestry England selected Zakiya Mckenzie as a writer in residence in 2019 to celebrate their centenary year. In an article reflecting this experience she said: “I am not the stereotypical naturalist in the English sense, so it was an honour to reflect on the forest from my point of view. … I’m a black woman, the typical naturist in England is not, but I hope to have showed that this very closed idea of who appreciates and interacts with the environment is wrong. … Removing the barriers, so that more and more people learn to love and thus be invested in protecting [our one planet], is my vision of the future.” https://www.forestryengland.uk/blog/zakiya-mckenzies-reflections-writing-the-forest?utm_source=social&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=blog&utm_content=national&s=03
Nick Hayes looks at racism and discrimination in all its forms, its sources, and how this affects people and their relationship with the land. He hears an interview on radio with Vanessa Kisuule, a poet and burlesque dancer from Bristol, about the dissonance that exists between the concepts of black and rural:
“It speaks a lot to why perhaps we’re not as much in the conversation around all of these big issues, ecology and climate change, because supposedly we’re too busy running around getting involved in drive-bys and gun crime and living these urban fairy tales that the media seems to be so obsessed with shoehorning black and brown people into …
“For so long it felt like this story, I wasn’t entitled to it, it didn’t belong to me, it wasn’t my place, so I made a decision, a small decision in my head and heart: this story is yours too.” quoted, pp 157-8, Nick Hayes, The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines that Divide Us, 2020, https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-book-of-trespass-9781526604699/
Podcast, interview with Rhiane Fatinikun, who set up the Black Girls Hike Instagram page and began leading groups of black women on hikes. Rhiane’s mission now is to make the outdoors a safe and welcoming environment for people like her, breaking down barriers, broadening people’s horizons and empowering women to get outside their comfort zone. https://alastairhumphreys.com/dont-live-in-the-prism-of-other-peoples-opinions-living-adventurously-64/
Black Girls Hike & Steppers UK | How The Two Walking Groups Have Led The Way When It Comes To Diversifying The Outdoors
“I decided to call it Black Girls Hike because safe space is really important. I have always been conscious that I only ever entered safe spaces because I just think it can be draining when you’re in a hostile environment a lot.”
“Safe space is really important for communities that are historically marginalised because they represent safety and community, and they are good for building confidence and mental health. To have that relief, I think it’s important everyone gets that chance to reset.”
Rhiane Fatinikun. Instagram page Black Girls Hike (@bgh_uk)
Steppers UK , the article reports, came out of Cherelle Harding “…wanting to change the image and stigma that’s associated with being ‘outdoorsy’. She wants to encourage those who have disconnected from nature to go out there with confidence. She wants to provide a safe and comfortable environment where people can marvel at the wonders of the countryside without feeling alienated.” (Stephen Jones, https://mpora.com/hiking-and-trail-running/black-girls-hike-steppers-uk-diversifying-the-outdoors/ )
“I think the barriers are definitely different for each individual. Of course, I think it can vary because we are all not the same person. I do think there are some barriers in terms of representation and a lack of representation in the outdoors, especially for black women. I think diversity outdoors is such an important thing, but I think the main thing is to normalise black and brown faces in the outdoors and change the narrative.” Cherelle Harding, Steppers UK, https://www.instagram.com/steppers_uk/?hl=en
Sabrina Pace-Humphreys is an ultra-runner, who set up Black Trail Runners. Their mission is to increase the inclusion, participation and representation of black people in trail running. Interview podcast, https://alastairhumphreys.com/the-countryside-is-a-very-white-place-living-adventurously-61/
We can be what we can see. Representation matters. Over and over, our members and supporters tell us they rarely see people who look like them in trail running media and brand communications. Trail running is too often portrayed as a white space. The image of trail running is less diverse than the reality. It is far, far less diverse than the inclusive sport we want trail running to be. That’s why increasing representation is one of the objectives of Black Trail Runners. https://www.instagram.com/blacktrailrunners/
On racism generally
One wide-ranging article for young people, begins
“Racism is where someone treats another person differently because their skin colour is not the same as theirs, they speak a different language or have different religious beliefs, for example.
In this guide, you’re going to find out what racism is, where it comes from and what you can do if you see or suffer from racism.”
‘What is racism – and what can be done about it?’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/52965984
“…I’m lucky enough to never have faced suspicions, to have been disregarded or sneered at just because of where I was born or the colour of my skin. …is it enough to simply keep a check on your own behaviour when, after so, so many years, this problem refuses to go away, and in some parts of the world is possibly even intensifying? I don’t think it is. I think that every single one of us needs to look at what we can do to wipe out what, according to some, remains the ‘worst disease society is fighting right now’.” David Powles, local newspaper article in June 2020 asking what we can all do to challenge racism, ‘Black Lives Matter Racism and racial discrimination in Norfolk and Suffolk’, Norwich Evening News, https://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/views/what-we-can-do-to-tackle-racism-and-racial-discrimination-in-norfolk-and-suffolk-1-6691958.
Discrimination against GRT communities
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people (GRT), the largest ethnic minority in the UK, face a wide range of issues and discrimination – which range from hurtful remarks to material issues affecting all aspects of life.
Stereotypes and prejudices have come to the fore at times of tensions in rural areas, especially at popular places where people swim and enjoy the outdoors. That has been especially true this summer when numbers were higher than usual and some behaved antisocially with negative impacts. Some have expressed concern in a way that seemed to blame certain parts of the community, including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, young people, working-class people, and people coming into the countryside from urban areas.
A group of people who share a love of open water swimming and a commitment to standing up against racism set up a fundraising and solidarity swim event during November 2020 for the GRT community. More information on the issues facing GRT people in this article, and the event, https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/solidarity-with-gypsy-roma-and-traveller-people/.