The Red Cross came up with a poster intended to teach kids the rules for proper behavior at a swimming pool. That sounds like it should be business as a usual – except for the poster’s retrograde and racist tone.
The poster, called “Be Cool, Follow the Rules,” depicts a group of children of various ethnic groups playing at a public pool. The children who are obeying the rules are labeled “Cool,” while the kids breaking a rule are “Not Cool.” The tone deaf aspect of the poster lies in the fact that all the kids that are obeying the rules are white, while all the rule-breakers are not.
When Margaret Sawyer first saw the poster at a public pool in Salida, Colorado, she initially assumed it was an old poster. She was shocked to see it again at another public pool, and therefore wrote a letter of complaint to the management asking them to remove it.
When the NBC affiliate KUSA picked up on the story, they learned the poster did not date from several decades ago as Sawyer had initially assumed. It was from a safe swimming campaign in 2014.
On Monday, the Red Cross posted an on-line apology for the offensive poster: “The American Red Cross appreciates and is sensitive to the concerns raised regarding one of the water safety posters we produced. 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.”
The Red Cross added that that it had removed the poster from their app and website and had stopped producing them. Similarly, it contacted the public pools and asked them to take down their posters.
According to Ebony Rosemund, the leader of Black Kids Swim, an organization based in Maryland, racist posters make black children feel unwelcome at public pools, which means they are therefore less likely to use them and less likely to learn how to swim.
Rosemund added that, for decades, black swimmers were not allowed to use public pools, and they were also denied access to swimming lessons. As a result, blacks who wanted to swim had to do so in more dangerous locations that sometimes resulted in their drowning. Even today, many blacks fear the water for they grew up hearing stories about those drownings.
While Rosemund appreciates the Red Cross’ apology, she also views it as insufficient. She believes that they need to reevaluate their methods for producing educational material.