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Tramm Hudson to Sink for Saying Blacks Can’t Swim?

Erick Erickson has a post at Redstate entitled, “Tramm Hudson Destroys Himself.” Hudson, is “the current front runner in the GOP primary in FL-13, the Congressional District being vacated by Katherine Harris.”

The post includes a video of Hudson casually talking to an audience about how he learned growing up in Alabama that blacks can’t swim.

It’s a damned silly thing to say in the current political climate, to be sure, although certainly not the silliest I’ve heard this week. Although the clip is truncated, I gather from context that he was going to spin a tale of teamwork and racial harmony from his military days. Ironic, that.

This is in the same category as when Cubs manager Dusty Baker (who is black) said a while back that white players do not do as well in the heat as blacks. There are many racial stereotypes that persist, most of them at least benign in their intent. Blacks can’t swim. Whites can’t jump or dance. Asians can’t drive but are great at math. They’re probably harmful in some sense, because they cause people to think of racial groups as monoliths, but they’re of a completely different order of magnitude than traditional bigotry.

UPDATE: Reader JackDrew provides a transcript of Hudson’s remarks, via Redstate, in the comments below. It pretty much confirmed my initial suspicion: Hudson isn’t particularly bright but he was well meaning. His reasoning vis-a-vis the role of the Chaplain’s Corps and his understanding of what the word “manifold” means leaves much to be desired.

UPDATE (Steve Verdon): Another commenter pointed to this article by the U.S. Olympic Committee on blacks and swimming. Basically the gist of the article is that there is an aversion to both swimming and learning to swim in the black community.

Stay out of the water.

That’s the message about swimming that many African-Americans have heard for generations — from slave owners, from segregationists, even from their own parents.

The price they pay can be counted in deaths.

Black children drown 2.3 times more often than their white peers, according to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among 10- to 14-year-olds, black children drown at five times the rate of white children.

I found this part interesting,

Jason Alexander, an 18-year-old African-American lifeguard at the Teaneck Swim Club, learned to swim after almost drowning at age 3 while playing in a friend’s swimming pool on July 4.

“I was struggling and I went under but they pulled me out before I went unconscious,” he said. A year later, he almost drowned again in the very same pool, again on July 4.

“My parents got tired of seeing that,” Alexander said. “They put me in swim lessons the next day.”

Alexander became a strong swimmer and specialist in the butterfly stroke on the Teaneck High School swim team. But when he attended regional competitions with the Hackensack YMCA team, he stood out. “You could definitely count on one hand the black swimmers,” he recalled.

My son swims competively and like Mr. Alexander, you could count on one hand the number of black swimmers on the team (out of about 150). So, based on the transcript I agree with James that the comment most-likely was ham-handed and not intended to be racist.

UPDATE (James Joyner): Hudson has issued a strong, straightforward apology:

“I said something stupid. I apologize for it and would apologize in person to anyone hurt by my comments. To those who are understandably offended, you have my deepest apologies and I want you to know that it was out of character for me and those who know me know that to be a fact. This was a thoughtless remark that does not reflect my lifetime commitment to treating everyone fairly and without bias. I apologize to everyone who is offended by this comment.”

via Greg Sargent.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. cirby says:

    It’s more like “(minority group) can’t do something well because they tend not to do that in their neighborhood and never get the practice.”

    I have a similar, non-race-based observation:
    New Yorkers can’t drive. They grow up using public transportation, move to the South in their 20s, and find out they need to drive. So they start driving. Like the guys they see on TV.

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  2. Steve Verdon says:

    Well I’ll be damned. I didn’t know blacks can’t swim, I’ll be sure to tell the ones on my son’s swim team that they can’t. I hope he loses his bid for Congress, we don’t need dolts like this in Congress.

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  3. Anderson says:

    Hm. Should someone sit in the Congress who demonstrates an utter lack of self-restraint and prudence, such as to say something that even Howard Dean would think better of before opening his yap?

    Probably not.

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  4. LJD says:

    …such as to say something that even Howard Dean would think better of before opening his yap?

    In the case of race, perhaps. On difference of opinion, he can’t seem to keep his ‘yap’ shut.

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  5. HotSop says:

    Could everyone please save off a copy of the page “Helping blacks learn how to swim” from the United States Olympic Committee? The Lysenkoists will be along shortly to purge all such pages from the Internet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  6. JackDrew1812 says:

    From Redstate comments – full transcript:

    1984 we were in Panama. Our unit was doing a two-week training down there. I commanded an infantry company and we were practicing crossing a river. You know, an infantry company has 140 some-odd soldiers. A large number were black. I grew up in Alabama and I understand and I know this from my own experiences that blacks aren’t the best swimmers or may not even know how to swim. But we were crossing this and wanted to make sure every soldier could swim and if they couldn’t we’d get them across the river. We had the line across the river and we were making our passage way and one of the black soldiers with his ruck-sack on his back, his weapon and fell from the line…he let go. Sunk down to the bottom of the river. And I’ve got to tell you, it took my breath away. Two of the sergeants manning the boats immediately jumped into the river and pulled that soldier out form below. They gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitations and we called in a medivac helicopter to take him to the hospital. That soldier could have died. I believe it was divine intervention. That was a Saturday afternoon. And that next morning we had a worship service among our NCOs and our officers. And I led that worship service. And I think, in terms of answering your question that if we allow congress or the federal government to remove that from the chaplain’s core that would be just terrible. And I believe that being able to worship and to express out religious beliefs if it’s in the military, so be it. Or if it’s alone as individuals, you would find me defending that. I’ll just pass this around because this was manifold when I read about the law that someone was trying to pass.

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  7. RJN says:

    Why are we surprised that blacks don’t swim as well as whites? Evolution, and natural selection, has likely removed most white non-swimmers from the gene pool.

    Blacks, on the other hand, have been naturally selected, for thirty thousand years, from climates and terrains that don’t support cool standing water that is not full of predators.

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  8. jukeboxgrad says:

    Obviously, this is an interesting comparison to Allen’s statement. I think Allen’s statement is deeply offensive. I think Hudson’s statement is no big deal.

    I also think it’s interesting to compare the apologies. Hudson’s apology strikes me as very sincere. A true apology. Allen’s so-called “apology” strikes me as deeply qualified and phony.

    I’m a white person, but I grew up in a densely urban black neighborhood. I never learned to swim, for the exact reasons that applied to the black people in the neighborhood: no one had the money to go to the places where most white folks get to learn to swim.

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  9. LibraryLady says:

    And this was recently on NPR:

    L.A. Effort Narrows Swimming’s Racial Gap

    Statistics show that black children are more than twice as likely to drown than their white peers. But at the John Argue Swim Stadium in Los Angeles — built for the 1984 Summer Olympics — an effort is under way to teach all children how to swim.

    And mentioned on the Democratic Underground!
    Akim (188 posts) Thu Aug-17-06 09:53 PM
    Response to Original message
    25. Basketball Is Not Played In Water
    Swimming is not popular among black kids because basketball is not played in water.

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  10. mikem says:

    As our drill instructor explained in boot camp, all humans either naturally float or naturally sink. Just get in about three feet of water, on your stomach, go limp, and you will find out what you are. A much higher percentage of blacks are sinkers than floaters, exactly the opposite for other races. It is strictly physiological.
    Most people, if they lay on their stomach in the water, will float forever. It is the basis for long duration water survival (hours, even days). Sinkers do not have that luxury and must work 60/60/24/7 to keep at the surface.
    Ask yourself how much you would enjoy water activity if you had to tread three times as fast as others, or more to the point, would automatically SINK if you got tired.
    It’s true, it’s not racism and the many blacks who enjoy swimming do so because they are not sinkers, but floaters.

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  11. rhodeymark says:

    This angers me immensely – the hysterical response that is. I went to boot in Orlando (late ’70s) and my unit was majority black. I can tell you that it isn’t racist to report that swim quals were the most traumatic day for a large number. Good men who were going to be fine assets in serving their country were in real danger of washing out because of panic and inability to stay calm enough to learn flotation and dog paddle techniques. We (the swimmers) were rooting for them, because it was obvious that they had grown up with an aversion to water. If that no longer holds true – that’s wonderful! But Hudson’s wasn’t a racist observation, it was a factual anecdote brought out from a blameless mind. CONTEXT people, because if you want to torpedo him for this, you will get the replacement you deserve.

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  12. Malangali says:

    I like piling on a good racist cracker as much as the next guy, but the quote from this man just doesn’t make the cut. His remarks were along the lines of “most people from Florida can’t ski” – not that they couldn’t become championship skiers if they went to a mountain in the winter and had lessons, but that they can’t ski because they don’t live near mountains or snow. He wasn’t talking about physiology, or mental capacity.

    My comments are colored by the many years I have lived in Africa, often as the only white man in an area the size of my state in the US. There are no bodies of water large enough for people to splash around in the various parts of Africa where I’ve lived, except for the people who live right along the coast or the Great Lakes. When I worked on the coast, I’d find myself swimming with plenty of coastal residents, but never anyone from inland – Africans I know who grew up inland are happy to come spend the day on the beach, but not to jump in the water. Being a certified lifeguard, I taught several of my inland-born African colleagues how to swim when we were all working on an island in the Indian Ocean, and we all had a great time swimming together from then on, but they made no end of comments about how odd their families and friends would find it that they were swimming voluntarily. It wouldn’t be racist to say that most of the thousands of Africans I have lived and worked with cannot swim, just factual and unfortunate, and demonstrably fixable.

    This guy wasn’t making a racist remark, he was merely remarking about a difference in experience somewhat marked by race. Let’s keep our powder dry for the real racists out there in republicanland…

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  13. Frances Rice says:

    A fuss is being made by the Vern Buchanan campaign about a few words extracted from comments made by Tramm Hudson some time ago about his experience in the US Army during river crossing training in Panama, when one of his soldiers almost drowned. The first statement is from Tramm and the second is from my wife Frances Rice.

    Perhaps of interest, Peter Rice
    ________________________________________

    Tramm Hudson’s words from a blog that has the transcript:

    1984 we were in Panama. Our unit was doing a two-week training down there. I commanded an infantry company and we were practicing crossing a river. You know, an infantry company has 140 some-odd soldiers. A large number were black. I grew up in Alabama and I understand and I know this from my own experiences that blacks aren’t the best swimmers or may not even know how to swim. But we were crossing this and wanted to make sure every soldier could swim and if they couldn’t we’d get them across the river. We had the line across the river and we were making our passage way and one of the black soldiers with his ruck-sack on his back, his weapon and fell from the line…he let go. Sunk down to the bottom of the river. And I’ve got to tell you, it took my breath away. Two of the sergeants manning the boats immediately jumped into the river and pulled that soldier out form below. They gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitations and we called in a medivac helicopter to take him to the hospital. That soldier could have died. I believe it was divine intervention. That was a Saturday afternoon. And that next morning we had a worship service among our NCOs and our officers. And I led that worship service. And I think, in terms of answering your question that if we allow congress or the federal government to remove that from the chaplain’s core that would be just terrible. And I believe that being able to worship and to express out religious beliefs if it’s in the military, so be it. Or if it’s alone as individuals, you would find me defending that. I’ll just pass this around because this was manifold when I read about the law that someone was trying to pass.

    ________________________________________

    Statement of Frances Rice

    “I am a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and an African American woman. Like Tramm, I commanded troops in the field. I reviewed the complete video tape of his remarks about the river crossing in Panama and do not find it offensive. It shows an awareness and concern for his troops and quite possibly was the reason the soldier was rescued so promptly. I have direct experience with racism and know what racism is. Tramm’s remarks were not racist. To take his words out of context and portray this as something it is not, is the height of demagoguery and smacks of race baiting.”

    Frances Rice – Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, Retired
    Sarasota, Florida
    Chairman of the National Black Republican Association

    Please visit the Internet site of Tramm Hudson at: http://www.trammhudson.com/

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  14. Debbie says:

    I find it interesting that the Hudson campaign is more interested in pointing fingers at his opponent rather than taking responsibility for their candidates insensitive, racist and purely ignorant remarks. He can rally a few black associates to come to his defense however the fact remains neither blacks nor whites need this type of representation in Washington. Even CNN is running this story, calling him out for his racist comments.

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  15. Patricia Colon says:

    Why are some people fanning their fires of outrage over a “blacks don’t swim” remark (taken out of context) by a candidate they oppose, and not by ruinous stereotypes of black people in certain television ads and rap music videos? Shouldn’t they be asking candidates who want to be our public servants to focus on addressing long-term remedies for socioeconomic problems in all of our neighborhoods?

    Perhaps a good number of African Americans from the South do not swim. In 1955 less than two miles of Florida’s coastline was officially designated for “Negro beaches.” At that time, here in Sarasota, proposed designated beach sites closer to the black community were discouraged: local officials thought it would hurt tourism and many property owners objected to the idea of black beach goers in their area. Many black families could not travel great distances to enjoy the beach experience, and perhaps never learned to swim. But enough of this, we have bigger issues to address. For example, black students are dropping out of school at a rate of 50%; this dilemma has a huge impact on the quality of life for all Americans. There are people who are expert at feeding small fires and turning our attention away from the present socioeconomic conflagration.

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  16. Jason from Pittsburgh says:

    White Men Can’t Jump?? Where’e the outrage about that? BLACK MEN CAN’T SWIM! Its statistically true. End of story.

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  17. Judith Kaltenbaugh says:

    It isn’t what he said that’s so damning, the problem is with the fact that he can’t get above defining those soldiers who are black and can’t swim as more than just BLACK! If that soldier was asian, would he have felt it necessary to point out his race or would he just say he couldn’t swim?

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  18. Random Walker says:

    It was a very unfortunate comment by someone seeking election to a higher political office. Whether he was being intentional in his bigotry or not, it is probably irrelevant. His opponents will probably take him to town on it.

    In regards to the “blacks can swim debate” an earlier poster surmised that it could be issue of bouyancy. Highly trained and athletic black males tend to have less intramuscular fat and other fat reserves than a white male with the same training. Fat in your body allows you to be more bouyant. The higher your muscle to fat ratio the more likely you are to sink. I know this as a (white) bouyantly negative person. I can and love to swim but it takes a lot more effort for me to do it that my pleasantly plump friends.

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  19. Jefferey Keith says:

    “Blacks can’t swim”. Actually, the statement should be…Blacks don’t swim well.

    Most people can be taught to swim, but being a good and confident swimmer is another issue. Buoyancy, is the key.

    The reason Blacks don’t swim as well, or are less buoyant, as other ethnics groups is not really a mystery.

    Blacks in general have a more dense bone structure. “Dense bones don’t float”.

    The opposite applies to birds. Their bones are hollow, which helps them conquer the whole…power to weight…thing.

    We’re not talking rocket science.

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