Jay-Z only learned how to swim in his 40s, when Blue Ivy was born

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The Black American community has been fighting the racist stereotype that “Black folks don’t swim” for some time. It’s true that many Black kids are not taught how to swim, but there is a long, racist backstory that goes along with those statistics. Before and after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Black folks were banned from community pools and Black children were often targeted by violent hate for even attempting to swim in public-access pools. Lack of accessibility is a huge factor even now. But I thought that Jay-Z, someone with money and access, who is constantly on yachts and beach vacations, would know how to swim, right? Jay-Z didn’t learn how to swim until his daughter Blue Ivy was born!

Jay-Z did not jump into fatherhood unprepared. During a recent appearance on “The Shop: Uninterrupted,” the 51-year-old rapper explained how the birth of his first child, daughter Blue Ivy Carter, changed everything.

“I didn’t learn how to swim until Blue was born,” he responded when asked about being a father. “There goes everything you need to know. This is a metaphor for our relationship. If she ever fell in the water and I couldn’t get her, I couldn’t even fathom that thought. I gotta learn how to swim. That’s it. That was the beginning of our relationship.”

Blue Ivy, who is now 9 years old, is the eldest of Jay-Z’s three children with wife Beyoncé. The couple’s twins, daughter Rumi and son Sir, will turn 4 in June.

Jay-Z also revealed how Blue Ivy reacted to her father being nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in February.

“I got the [Hall of Fame] announcement, I was taking Blue to school, I was like, ‘This ain’t no celebration,’” he shared, suggesting Blue Ivy was less than impressed with the exciting news he had to share that morning. “She walked away, I was like, ‘Yo, give me a kiss I’m in the Hall of Fame!’ She’s like ‘Bye, dad.’”

[From Page Six]

I get the feeling that Blue Ivy might think that her parents are pretty uncool, just in general. But it’s awesome that Jay learned how to swim as an adult, and that he did it for his daughter. I would love to know if he actually took swimming lessons or he did more of a general pool-safety class, maybe combined with a CPR class? He probably had homes/mansions with pools for many years before he learned how to swim, and that makes me sad. He would just sit by the pool and never get in before Blue was born? I hope he enjoys pool time now with his kids. Blue probably rolls her eyes when dad brings out his pool noodles.

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Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid and Getty.

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38 Responses to “Jay-Z only learned how to swim in his 40s, when Blue Ivy was born”

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  1. Katy Bowman says:

    Love this story. Made me think of the lyrics on 713:

    “My first time in the ocean went exactly as you’d expect
    Meanwhile you goin’ hard, jumpin’ off the top deck”

  2. Neners says:

    I’m so glad I learned how to swim as a kid. I don’t even remember learning how! I was just always in water and knew how to do it. My dad’s grandparents drowned when he was very young. He never learned how to swim, but he was determined that my sister and I would. I hope more Black kids will learn!

    • DellT says:

      its due to growing up in an oppressive inner city environment where strife and scant access to beaches inhibits learning swimming. go to coastal africa, brazil, haiti or jamaica and you will see black kids swim like fish.

      • Anony83 says:

        Yeah, in the US, when segregation was made officially illegal (even if it didn’t disappear) white Americans fled to the suburbs and built private town or neighborhood pools that excluded Black people. Inner-city pools fell into disrepair or were closed entirely due to falling tax income and, more generally, the powers that be not caring about teaching Black children to swim.

        I’ve been, over the course of my life, a competitive swimmer, a lifeguard, a swim lessons teacher, and a swim coach. I’ve also taught adult swim lessons. I can’t tell you the number of Black people (I’m white BTW) who have told me that they can not swim because Black people can’t float.

        It’s a depressing generational trauma that a lot of places, especially the YMCAs, have made a mission out of fixing but it doesn’t happen overnight.

      • NiqGee says:

        I’m one of those Jamaican fish kids. I’ve just always known how to swim. I wasn’t formally taught. And I did competitive swimming in high school. We still have a high percentage of kids not knowing how to swim though. But it’s more about interest and pool access for formal lessons, because it’s difficult to learn in the moving waters of the beach.

  3. KNy says:

    My favorite Blue Ivy meme is of a super well-dressed Beyonce giving Blue a juice box and the caption said “It doesn’t matter who you are, to your kid you’re just a lady with snacks.” Love that Blue is unimpressed. That’s how it should be! It would be weird if she idolized her parents for their careers.

    • Bethie says:

      I’d upvote this if I knew how! :)

    • It’s REALLY weird how normal it all seems when you live in LA. My kid went to school with a few child stars, and it was normal for he and his friends to “go viral” at the prom because some celeb was there or a celeb’s kid was there as a date and they just happened to be dancing next to them, lol. I have known stars kids and for them it truly is just a job, and many of the people they know also work in the business so its just all around them. It’s very much it’s own world. That’s why it was never hard for me to believe that Meghan could not name every member of the royal family. My kid would NEVER be able to, he has zero interest.

  4. LightPurple says:

    We have had several drowning incidents around here in the past few weeks, including a police officer who died trying to rescue two kids. The ability to swim is a public safety issue.

    Our boarder doesn’t know how to swim. She grew up in South Asian and her mom didn’t let her take swimming lessons because she would have gotten a darker tan while swimming and her mom feared discrimination against her for having darker skin. I got her signed up and she starts swimming lessons here next week.

    • AMA1977 says:

      I’m glad you are helping her with that! It’s a life skill that everyone should learn, like how to cook and how to keep yourself, your clothes, and your home clean/in good repair. Knowing how to swim can save your life!

      I have a friend who is in his 40′s who just learned a couple of summers ago; his parents never learned (due to the systemic racism cited in Kaiser’s post) and it wasn’t something they were able to do for him. I have so much admiration for anyone who undertakes a big challenge like that! His post about finally being able to swim the length of the pool end-to-end brought me to tears.

      This story makes me like Jay-Z; his reason for conquering that fear was to protect his child, which is so sweet and admirable. I hope they have lots of fun in the water now!

      Side note, my mom never really learned to swim well because someone tried to “teach” her by throwing her in water over her head, and she never got over the fear. She made sure that my brother, sister and I had proper swimming lessons as kids.

  5. Hannah Young says:

    I learned to swim & ride the bicycle when my son started to learn. My husband is an excellent swimmer & rider, so I didn’t have the fears Jay had, and I had no interest in learning to do things I didn’t like. But then my son started to ask me to come in the water or go on a bike ride with them and I realized that I didn’t want to miss out on the experience & memories. I do wish that I learned it sooner.

  6. The Artist Formerly Known as Valiantly Varnished says:

    Im 41 and still don’t know how to swim. Or ride a bike. Access is a big part of it. There simply aren’t a lot of places to learn in major cities that don’t cost money. I also had/have a fear of water and drowning. So there’s that…
    The bike thing was merely vanity. I fell once while learning as a kid as scrapes up my knee. I was done after that lol. I do wish I had learned how to do both things.

    • BrainFog says:

      You’re young enough to learn both things. Do it!

    • Jensies says:

      If you’ve fallen on a bike, the worst thing that can happen has already happened and you know you can recover. :) you can do it!

    • Anners says:

      Aw! I wish you lived near me – I would teach you to do both! But suss out some of your friends – particularly those who are sensitive to others – and see if they can teach you. Riding a bike feels like flying sometimes with the wind in your face and speeding down a hill. And nothing compares to the weightless glory of bobbing around in water. You deserve to feel both!

    • observer says:

      i can’t ride a bike. i tried to learn as a very young kid, failed. tried again as a teenager. failed. tried again in my 20s….failed. each time i was not trying to learn alone, i had someone (a friendly adult or later, adult friends) experienced trying to teach me and support me.

      i don’t know if this is just me using it as an excuse but i think my inability stems from being autistic. something about biking just does NOT compute to my brain. it’s my impression that bike riding should be something so natural you feel carefree doing it, as natural as running on your own two legs. that’s the goal– but every moment i’ve spent trying to learn how to ride a bike has taken all of my focus, has left me frustrated, disappointed in myself, and still confused and bewildered as hell. i just CAN’T understand how to do it and god knows i’ve tried because i really *wanted* to learn how to bike.

      there *are* autistic people who are very athletic but they tend to be the exception to the stereotype about us regarding physical activity. so yea, i’m going with that.

      BTW, i can’t drive a car either. i want to learn how but i’m not at a point where i could emotionally or practically attempt to try that yet. i am over 30 though.

      i know 2 other autistics who *can* drive and their attitudes towards driving are as follows: the first one is always hyper-anxious when driving and has had multiple panic attacks from having to drive, and the second one of the two literally *sold his car* so he’d have an excuse not to use his drivers license even though he lives in the middle of nowhere and public transport is sparse. when i asked him why he said it is because he had a (autistic) “meltdown” while driving once that nearly caused him to crash.

      thanks for coming to my ted talk, all this to say: don’t feel bad about your inability to bike or drive a car, some of us are just wired differently and maybe that’s just the way it is for us (and you don’t have to specifically have autism to be “wired differently”)

      • Ines says:

        Hi there @observer
        I’m not autistic, but I’m only now learning to ride a bike, and I’m 48. I also tried several times in the past with no success. What is making a difference this time round, is using an actual instructor, not a friend. This guy has experience with all sorts of students: children, adults, people with learning difficulties, etc.
        Still, my experience is different from what my expectation was. I still find it hard to start the bike, even though I’ve done it successfully lots of times. I was told once you got it right that was it, lol. Lies! I now have to practice, practice, practice. Some days are better than others. Some days I do well and then the next day it takes me 10 tries to start the bike. So please don’t give up!

  7. jferber says:

    I saw Jay-Z say this on the HBO sports series The Shop. It’s a great series led by LeBron James and his business partner. They get a wide variety of media figures (athletes, rappers, writers, etc.) and have really good talks. It’s very inclusive too in that it’s had gay and lesbian guests just speaking their truth. The guests are chill and the show promotes diversity and tolerance. I’m really hooked and am glad LeBron is doing this.

    • alecsma says:

      I hadn’t heard of this show before reading your comment. Found it on HBO and am really looking forward to watching it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  8. Imara219 says:

    I’m excited to see a Beyonce adjacent story. She recently dropped photos of the twins when they were younger. Beautiful family and great example of Black excellence. I also saw FB circulating pics of their appearance 20 years ago to celebrate their relationship. 20 years is a long time.

  9. lolamd says:

    I am finally learning how to swim this summer. It was my goal last year but that got scrapped. However I made sure my 9 year old started swim lessons as soon as possible.

  10. Jensays says:

    This is also common in a lot of low income/both parents working type homes. My buddy grew up in East LA in a predominately latin/Mexican area. They had no pools at their city Rec center and even if they did – who would take you? Mom and dad are working multiple jobs. My bud didn’t learn until he was in his late 30’s… when his kids were taking swim lessons.

  11. Busybody says:

    The way he described his motivation to learn made me tear up! The fear of not being able to save/help your kids is such a universal parent experience. He seems like a good dad.

    • Lady D says:

      When my son was 13 months old, he had a febrile seizure. I woke up with him beside me seizing. When his seizure was over he turned dark blue and then started breathing. If he hadn’t started on his own he would have died that night. It was one week later when I took my first, first aid course. I’ve renewed every year since and he’s 33 now. I swore after that seizure that I was never going to feel that helpless ever again, and I’ll never forget how horrible not knowing what to do felt like.

      • Busybody says:

        What a terrifying experience, Lady D! I learned for work CPR before I had kids and thankfully have never had to use it.

  12. Poisonella says:

    Good for him- responsible parenting.

  13. Lily P says:

    Cute! My friend is just learning to ride a bike alongside his five year old – it’s lovely when kids unlock new found skills in their parents!

  14. Shannon says:

    My mother didn’t learn to swim until she was in her thirties. I am glad you mentioned segregated swimming pools because that is why she never learned as a child.

  15. molly says:

    John Legend learned how to swim a couple years ago, and it was really sweet. Good for these men for tackling something like this for the safety of their children.

  16. Amando says:

    I’m glad my parents taught me these basic life skills. It’s wild to me that so many don’t know how to swim or ride a bike!!

  17. Charfromdarock says:

    I love this.

    And I love that Blue is seemingly unimpressed by all her parents- as it should be.

  18. Thirtynine says:

    So sad to hear of the injustices and imbalances that prevent people learning to swim. Swimming is one of life’s great pleasures. In Australia, we all learn to swim at school, right from the beginning, and baby and toddler classes are really common. I couldn’t imagine life without it. I have a lot of respect for adults like Jay Z who learn later in life, and hope he now spends lots of summer days out by the pool with the kids.

    • Lady D says:

      Same. I had swimming lessons every summer at the YMCA, and swimming lessons through the school from grade one to grade ten. In elementary school, we got to use the town pool with the hot springs pumped right in.

    • mahcat says:

      Yep, literally two weeks of school in the summer the class all goes to the public pools and kids learn how to swim in Australia. Such a good idea.

    • Shannon Brown says:

      It’s terrible really because I think the later you learn the worse your skills are. Plus, you’re embarrassed to get in a pool with people who can swim. My parents own a house with a pool and my mother has only ever splashed her feet and gone into the water up to her waist. Again, she learned to swim in her thirties, so she’s not a confident swimmer. It’s sad.

  19. schmootc says:

    My Mom never learned how to swim either, but she made sure I and my sisters all did. I took group lessons at the public pool and never could pass the test. She finally gave up and had me take some one-on-one lessons after that and I finally passed the test that time. (We’re White people from a rural area.) Glad to hear some BIPOC that never learned because of access/racism have the opportunity and can/are learning now. It’s an important skill.

  20. Amanda says:

    I think one thing people forget is that there is a legacy of not knowing how to swim in the Black community due to racism and segregation.

    In many places in the U.S., including yes, above the Mason-Dixon line and throughout the nation, Black folks were barred from using the community swimming pools completely. And if not completely, they were only allowed to use them on the day before they got cleaned. So they were literally forced to swim in dirty water. Additionally, Black people were also often banned to visiting the beach where you at least had a lifeguard on duty. They were also banned from vacation spots near lakes too. So many Black folks never had generational access to public, community swimming pools or lakes where they could learn in the first place. Which meant they didn’t have a culture of swimming for fun in a safe environment.

    Yes, these rules ended with the Civil Rights Act. However, a lot of urbanized Black folks were subjected to living in the projects due to a lack of economic opportunity. This was also due to the racism of redlining in the newly build, federally subsidized, post WW2 suburbs. Despite federal subsidies, written into the Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) or rules for living in the subburbs are that Black people were not allowed to purchase homes. Homes that also came with pools where one could learn to comfortably swim in the safety of their home. Meanwhile, the projects don’t tend to have swimming pools. And on the rare occasions that they do, they aren’t maintained.

    So between racist swimming pool laws, not being allowed to buy a house in the racist suburb and other sundown towns where a private pool is available, not having viable pools in the projects and being racially banned/discouraged from going to the beach or local vacation spot at the lake, a lot of urbanized Black culture does not have a swimming culture.

    So I’m not surprised that Jay-Z learned to swim much later in life. Most of the opportunities that he should have had did not exist due to racism and segregation and likely a generational lack of familiarity with due to those things.

  21. Ines says:

    “He probably had homes/mansions with pools for many years before he learned how to swim, and that makes me sad. He would just sit by the pool and never get in (…)”

    You can still have lots of fun in a pool without knowing how to swim. Many pools are pretty shallow so you can always stand up in them, so you can splash around and even lounge on a floatie, because if you fall from it, all you need to do is stand up.

    I grew up with a swimming pool. My dad was a lifeguard in his youth (back when lifeguards were volunteers without any special training). One time, while conducting the rescue of a panicked drowning swimmer in the sea, the swimmer kept trying to lift himself up for air by pushing my dad down into the water, and since that day, my dad developed a fear of swimming and especially of having his head under water. But in the summer he used to get in the pool, where he could stand up, and play ball with us and splash about and enjoy himself.