Here’s an interview with the author of “Black Jacks - African American Seamen in the Age of Sail.” It’s an interesting topic and one that, admittedly, I've a lot to learn about. The author W. Jeffrey Bolster says that African American mariners are a lost history for many reasons. According to Bolster, pirate crews in the late 17th century (late 1600s and early 1700s) were African Americans or African men. Once the
“And today, looking at sailing yachts, often the toys of the wealthy, people of color have felt estranged from a sailing heritage. It's important to point out that sailing yachts today are not necessarily the lineal descendants of sailing ships in a previous age.”
In this modern age where 98% of all sports are multicultural endeavors – many defined by black athletes (basketball, football, etc) – how has sailing remained so stubbornly whitebread? The easy answer is, of course, that it’s expensive, only the very wealthy can afford it, etc. To be fair, sailing is also arcane and outside the mainstream. More complex than money or sailing lingo – this has to do with our sailing culture. We all recognize that today's sailing culture is not as open and inclusive as it should be. Our modern age is diverse in most every aspect of society, politics and business, etc – so how will sailing survive if it doesn’t do a better job of reflecting the real world? Many sailors are committed to diversity or causes like enabling poor children to learn to sail (see this post). Many nautical organizations support worthy initiatives, check out Challenged America. But when was the last time you looked down the windward rail and saw a group of people that collectively look like the folks you see every day in supermarkets, libraries, ballgames, business meetings, beaches, ski slopes, golf courses, schools, parks, churches, Starbucks, the local deli…as a group we can do better.