A Red Cross poster designed to teach children swimming pool safety has instead been blasted for its “racial message.” The poster — entitled “Be Cool, Follow the Rules” — was spotted in two pools in Colorado and depicts children playing in a pool with signs pointing to the white children, most of whom were labeled as behaving “cool,” while children of color were depicted as being “not cool” for breaking pool safety rules.
Margaret Sawyer, the former executive director of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project, is the woman who spotted the poster twice while traveling with her family in Colorado over the weekend. She first noticed the poster at a pool in Salida, Colorado, where she immediately reported her concerns about it to the lifeguard on duty. She also wrote a letter to the facility calling for the poster’s removal, per NBC.
— John Sawyer (@JSawyer330) June 21, 2016
Sawyer initially thought the signage was an outdated by-product of the Jim Crow era but was shocked to find the same poster at another pool in Fort Morgan, Colorado. It was there that she decided to take a photo and post it to social media after reporting the offensive poster to management.
“I think it’s really important to think about the messages that we’re sending kids,” said Sawyer. “I hope the Red Cross will use this as a lesson for taking their role seriously.”
The dialogue about the “super racist” poster opened after one Twitter user fired off a comment to the organization and questioned what message they were trying to send out. The Daily Mail notes that John Sawyer wrote, “Hey, Red Cross, send a new pool poster to @SalidaRec bc the current one they have w your name on it is super racist.”
Red Cross quickly responded to the tweet, writing, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’re removing this from our site immediately & are creating new materials.”
Many Twitter users were baffled by the controversy. One user asked, “Don’t see anything racist here – what is happening?” Another wrote, “there’s a “not cool” white kid running and there’s one drinking.” While another Twitter wondered, “just because their skin is a little darker they are black? One of the darker skinned kids looks like a tan white person lol.”
— Kuku (@TheNewKuku) June 26, 2016
The safety guidelines poster prompted an apology from the hospital last week.
“The American Red Cross appreciates and is sensitive to the concerns raised regarding one of the water safety posters we produced,” the hospital released in a statement to NBCBLK. “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.”
“Going forward, we are developing more appropriate materials that are more representative of our workforce and the communities we serve,” the statement continued. “Our aquatic instructors have been notified of these concerns and we will advocate that our aquatic partner facilities remove the poster until revised materials are available.”
— Oliver May (@oliverbmay) June 16, 2016
Despite the apology, many remain unsatisfied, including Sawyer. She is encouraging others to send formal letters to Red Cross and to the mayors of both cities, Salida and Fort Morgan, to demand that the posters be replaced at pools nationwide.
“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. “Clearly, they’re thinking of themselves as only having one constituency and that’s not true.”
Red Cross has discontinued the production of the poster and has already removed it from the hospital’s website and Swim App.
[Image via Shutterstock]