Thursday Sep 17, 2020

Episode 46: Swimming While Black with Jamal Hill

“Anti-Blackness is woven into the fabric of our society” - Jamal Hill

In what might be one of our most self-reflective episodes yet, for the last installment of Swimming Week Johanna and Derek are joined by Jamal Hill, a Black Paralympic swimmer who is currently training for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. We talk to Jamal about what it was like growing up not only as a Black person in the US—where he suggested he only felt comfortable speaking openly about his feelings about racism in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020—but as a black swimmer with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease in a predominantly white sport. Jamal credits the YMCA in providing opportunities for Black and other minoritized Americans to learn how to swim, and discusses the challenges that CMT poses for his training and the importance of advocating for sporting opportunities for children with disabilities. Importantly, Jamal’s grasp of the broader, 600+ year history of Black swimming thanks to Kevin Dawson and Jeff Wiltse’s historical works, underpins his perspective on the extent to which American swim has or has not changed (hint: not much).

In the second half of the episode, Jamal shares his thoughts on a wide variety of topics, from what it meant to learn about and present to public audiences on IG TV about Dawson’s historical work on the African diaspora’s rich aquatics history, to the limitations of white swimmers’ activism today (with huge props to Simone Manuel, Naomi Osaka, and others). He moreover offered a compelling perspective about elite swimming’s future in the US: should it remain an NCAA sport when it does not generate revenue, or should swimmers branch out and pursue different training opportunities beyond the college model? You might be surprised at his answer!

You can find Jamal Hill on Instagram @swimuphill and on Twitter @swimuphill, and his foundation to teach one million children how to swim, Swim Up Hill, here.

Jamal Hill’s fantastic IG TV video for the USA Master’s Swimming Instagram account can be found here.

Jamal references Kevin Dawson’s Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the African Diaspora, which can be found here, and also Jeff Wiltse’s Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, here.

For a transcription of this episode, please click here. (Credit @punkademic)

After listening to the episode, check out our most recent pieces:

“Red-Scare Rhetoric Isn’t Gone From Histories of American Sport” in Jacobin Magazine

"Canceling the College-Football Season Isn't Enough" published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“'We are being gaslit': College football and Covid-19 are imperiling athletes” in The Guardian

“Canceling the college football season is about union busting, not health” also in The Guardian


As always, please like, share, and rate us on your favorite podcast app, and give follow us on Twitter or Instagram.





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