Red Cross: Sorry About That 'Super Racist' Pool Safety Poster
The American Red Cross is having a rough go of things lately—a mounting deficit, layoffs, more questions over its responses to recent disasters. And now, a "super racist" pool safety poster.
— John Sawyer (@JSawyer330) June 21, 2016
It's pretty clear what the Red Cross was going for here. Promoting diversity—even (or especially, perhaps) on an innocuous safety document—is good! Baby steps, and all that.
But man are those arrows unfortunately placed. Let's take a quick inventory. Black kids diving, running, swimming unattended in the deep end and pushing white girls into the pool: not cool. White kids cautiously mounting the diving board, swimming with parents and generally obeying pool rules: cool. There's no doubt this was unintentional—look, there's a white guy breaking rules, too!—but it's a bad look regardless.
It was enough to get the attention of Margaret Sawyer, a Colorado woman who saw the poster at two different pools and was so taken aback she at first assumed it was a relic.
"I thought, 'It must be really outdated. This can't possibly be a recent poster,'" she told NBC affiliate KUSA.
But outdated it was not. So Sawyer reported the poster to pool management, then snapped a picture and posted it on Twitter, generating outraged responses and retweets. News outlets took it from there, and before long the Red Cross promised to remove the posters and issued an apology on its website.
"The American Red Cross appreciates and is sensitive to the concerns raised regarding one of the water safety posters we produced," the organization wrote. "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."
The Red Cross also issued an email apology to supporters and said it was working with a diversity advocacy organization for "guidance moving forward."
To fully understand the poster's implications, some context may be required. This wasn't simply a matter of faux outrage at a few misplaced arrows—there's a long and ugly history of discrimination toward blacks at public swimming areas. Ebony Rosemond, head of Black Kids Swim, told The Washington Post that black swimmers were often refused swimming lessons or denied access to public pools, forcing them to swim in more dangerous areas.
Those conditions contributed to a lingering fear of water among African Americans and a dangerous attitude of exclusion—one the poster reinforces, inadvertently or not. Via the paper:
Even now, Rosemond said, it’s often more difficult to find regulation-size pools for swimming and diving in black neighborhoods. Many other communities have turned to splash parks as a cheaper alternative to maintaining pools, which means many children never get a chance to truly swim, she said.
“The current state of affairs is unfortunate, and images like the one created and circulated by the Red Cross make things worse,” Rosemond told The Post. “In connection with the lack of images showing African Americans excelling in swimming, the poster doesn’t make you feel welcome—it suggests to a black child that you’re not welcome here.”
Rosemond believes the damage from the poster was significant.
“We are aware that the Red Cross has put out a statement,” she told The Washington Post. “We want to restate that that apology is insufficient, and their system for creating and evaluating material needs to be looked at, and they need to be extremely diligent to make sure that every poster is taken down.”
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