Red Cross apologizes for 2014 pool safety poster described as 'racist'

Red Cross poster described as 'racist.' (Margaret Sawyer)

When Margaret Sawyer first noticed the Red Cross safety poster at a pool in Salida, Colo., she thought she was looking at an unfortunate relic of the past.

When she saw it a second time at an entirely different pool in the central Colorado town, she was shocked, according to NBC affiliate KUSA.

"I saw this one and I just kept thinking, 'It looks like they're trying to do something here that shows all kids together of all different backgrounds but they're clearly not hitting the mark,'" she said.

Not only were the poster's designers not hitting the mark, Sawyer thought, they had created an image that was racist.

Sawyer complained to a lifeguard at the first facility and penned a letter to management asking for the poster's removal, she told KUSA.

After seeing the poster a second time, she posted an image of it online.

"I felt really angry," she said.

The poster - titled "Be Cool, Follow The Rules" - depicts various children playing at the pool.

But white children are labeled as behaving in a "cool" way while children of color who are depicted defying pool rules are labeled "not cool."

KUSA discovered that the poster was from a safe-swimming campaign in 2014.

The Red Cross apologized for the "Be Cool" posters in a statement that was posted online Monday.

"The American Red Cross appreciates and is sensitive to the concerns raised regarding one of the water safety posters we produced," the statement said. "We deeply apologize for any misunderstanding, as it was absolutely not our intent to offend anyone. As one of the nation's oldest and largest humanitarian organizations, we are committed to diversity and inclusion in all that we do, every day.

"To this end, we have removed the poster from our website and Swim App and have discontinued production. We have notified all of our partner aquatic facilities requesting they take down the poster. Our organization has emphasized to our partners and on social media that it was absolutely not our intent to offend anyone and apologized for this inadvertent action. We are currently in the process of completing a formal agreement with a diversity advocacy organization for their guidance moving forward."

In its statement, the Red Cross noted that its mission, for more than 100 years, "has been to help everyone be safe in, on and around the water. Countless lives have been saved with our water safety educational and aquatics programs. In order to further support our mission and dedication to inclusion, we launched our Aquatics Centennial Campaign in 2014. We are working to reduce the drowning rate in 50 high-risk communities over a 5-year period by helping to teach at least 50,000 more children and adults to swim. With this campaign, we are focusing on areas with higher-than-average drowning rates and participants who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to take swim lessons."

The statement added: "Once again, we apologize for any inadvertent misunderstanding with regard to the production of this poster, and believe we have taken every step to address the situation."

But others wondered how a racially insensitive poster could have been published by the Red Cross in the first place. John Sawyer tweeted, "Hey, @RedCross, send a new pool poster to @SalidaRec bc the current one they have w your name on it is super racist"

Ebony Rosemond heads a Maryland-based organization called Black Kids Swim, which is dedicated to helping young African Americans engage in swimming.

Rosemond told KUSA that there is a history in America of keeping blacks away from pools and beaches enjoyed by white swimmers. The result, she said, was that African Americans have been denied swimming lessons or forced to swim in more dangerous locations.

"When I saw the poster, I just, was just very saddened that the Red Cross had chosen to put out an image that might, one, discourage African Americans from trying swimming if they were new to it, and also something that would extend a negative stereotype," she told KUSA.

"How can an organization that prides itself on being so open-minded, so understanding of the diverse populations of the world create something like this?" she added.

Sawyer, who spotted the posters, told KUSA that the incident reveals that the Red Cross probably needs to reimagine itself and its constituency.

"I'm just a citizen, I'm not an organization; but I would want the Red Cross to collaborate and build relationships with Black Kids Swim and other organizations that do advocacy around this so that this doesn't happen again," said Sawyer, the former executive director of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project.

"Clearly, they're thinking of themselves as only having one constituency - and that's not true."


Author Information:

Peter Holley is a general assignment reporter at The Washington Post.


(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Peter Holley · NATIONAL



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