When Margaret Sawyer stopped at a Salida, Colorado, pool during road trip with her kids this summer, she was confused by the pool safety poster—a sort of dated-looking cartoon drawing that was demostrating how (and how not to) behave safely at the pool.
The poster didn't sit right with her—almost all the "not cool" behavior is demonstrated by dark-skinned kids at the pool (plus, one victim of "not cool" behavior is a white girl). The good behavior is attributed to the blonds and redheaded white people.
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Sawyer didn't like the poster and complained to a lifeguard. She followed up that complaint with a message to the pool's managers. Meanwhile, she continued her trip and went to the pool in Fort Morgan, where she spotted the very same poster. This time, she took a closer look and noticed it wasn't the handiwork of the local lifeguards. It was an official document put out by the Red Cross.
The Red Cross.
She told KUSA reporters, and wrote on social media, what went through her mind: "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.'"
Sawyer isn't the only one with concerns about the poster. Ebony Rosemond, Largo, Md., runs the group Black Kids Swim, which provides swimming lessons and pool access to African-American youth. Rosemond told reporters of the history of discrimination of black families at city pools, and that she's surprised at no level of the poster approval process did it occur to anyone that the poster was completely inappropriate.
"When I saw the poster, I 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 said. "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?"
In a statement, the Red Cross apologized for the poster and assured the pubilc it would be removed from swimming facilities and also their Swim app.
"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."
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The statement said it was not the organization's intent to offend.
"We are currently in the process of completing a formal agreement with a diversity advocacy organization for their guidance moving forward," the statement said.
It's great that they're taking steps, but one has to wonder whether the Red Cross needs to look inside its ranks. Are there any people of color on the committees and in the offices, attending the meetings and taking part in the groups, that develop these materials? Oversight from a diversity organization is great, but actually being a diverse organziation—with a culture where speaking up is not only allowed but appreciated—is the kind of institutional change the non-profit and many others like it need to make.
Image by: Margaret Sawyer