The American Red Cross on Monday apologized for a water safety poster many have deemed racist after it depicted mostly minority children doing “not cool” things in a public swimming pool.
The poster — titled “Be Cool, Follow the Rules” — shows more than a dozen cartoon children playing in a pool. It points out five instances in which children are engaging in “not cool” activities, like running around the edge of the pool, pushing their peers into the water and diving. Four of the fictional rule-breakers are either black or Hispanic children.
“We deeply apologize for any misunderstanding, as it was absolutely not our intent to offend anyone,” the Red Cross said in a statement. “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 nonprofit humanitarian group said it has removed the poster from its website and Swim App, discontinued its production and ordered all swimming facilities displaying the controversial poster to take it down. “We are currently in the process of completing a formal agreement with a diversity advocacy organization for their guidance moving forward,” it said.
A photo of the poster made its round on Twitter, where it was flagged to the Red Cross. It had been spotted in at least two locations in Colorado, NBC News reports.
The Red Cross declined to say how many of those posters had been placed in swimming facilities nationwide.
An American Red Cross Hospital signboard that carried a “super racist” message about swim safety guidelines for children prompted an apology from the hospital on Tuesday.
The dialogue opened on Twitter after a photo circulated of the poster in Fort Morgan, Colorado. The poster, which has since been taken down, read at the top: “Be Cool, Follow the Rules.” Below the heading were depictions of children playing. The white children were labeled as behaving “cool” while children of color were depicted as misbehaving, or “not cool,” for breaking pool safety rules.
“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.”
But others are still unsatisfied with the hospital’s efforts, including the woman who took the photo of the poster.
“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 said Margaret 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.”
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Sawyer had taken the photo after seeing the poster twice while traveling with her family in Colorado over the weekend.
The mother of two first saw the poster at a pool in Salida, Colorado, where she immediately reported her concerns to the lifeguard on duty and wrote a letter to the facility urging the poster to be taken down.
She initially dismissed the matter after leaving the town, convinced that the poster was an outdated by-product of an earlier time.
She was shocked to find the same poster at another pool in Fort Morgan, Colorado, where she decided to take a photo and post it to social media after reporting the photo to management.
“I think it’s really important to think about the messages that we’re sending kids, I ask for all of us to take that job on,” said Sawyer. “I hope the Red Cross will use this as a lesson for taking their role seriously.”
Sawyer is now mobilizing efforts to send formal letters to Red Cross and to the mayors of both cities, Salida and Fort Morgan, to demand that the posters be taken down and replaced at pools nationwide.