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Since We Last Spoke: Dangerous Waters

New twists on past stories.

By Francie Diep


(Photo: Chuck Espinoza; Model: Elaine Rensing; Stylist: Mark Starr; Make-Up: Gaby Ramos Torell)

Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared on on August 17th, 2016, with the headline “How to Tackle Racial Inequality in the Water.” This edited version was published in our November/December 2016 print issue.

In Pacific Standard’s May/June 2016 issue, James McWilliams reported on America’s struggle to prevent accidental drowning, which is the fifth-leading cause of “unintentional injury death” in the United States and the second-leading cause of death for American children under the age of 15 (“A Brief History of Drowning”). He pointed out that African-American kids and young adults are more likely than whites to drown, a disparity that’s especially pronounced in swimming pools, due, in part, to a legacy of segregation at public pools. In August, the Texas native Simone Manuel made global headlines by becoming the first female African-American swimmer to win an individual Olympic gold medal, potentially encouraging a generation of minority youth into the water. Miriam Lynch of Diversity in Aquatics, a non-profit organization focused on curbing the high numbers of drowning deaths among high-risk groups, including African Americans, told the New York Times that Manuel’s victory could help reverse “a cultural fear of swimming in that group.”