The American Red Cross offered an apology after a swimming guideline poster depicting White children behaving and Black children acting out went viral on social media, NBC News reports.
“Be Cool, Follow the Rules,” headlines the top of the poster. Arrows are used to differentiate who is “not cool,” and who is exercising “cool” behavior.
Margaret Sawyer, a former Executive Director of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project, saw the poster while she vacationed with her family in Salida, Colorado, over the weekend.
Sawyer took action, reporting the poster to the lifeguard on duty and writing a letter to the facility urging them to take it down. Days later, she visited a pool in Fort Morgan, Colorado, where she saw the same sign.
This time, she took it to the court of public opinion by tweeting a photo of the poster.
“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,” Sawyer told NBC News. “I hope the Red Cross will use this as a lesson for taking their role seriously.”
After the viral backlash, the American Red Cross discontinued production of the poster and removed it from the hospital’s website and swim app.
“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 organization said in a written statement to NBC News.
Sawyer also called on the Red Cross to collaborate with organizations like Black Kids Swim, which focuses on promoting water safety for Black children and eliminating the huge disparities in the number of drowning deaths for Black children.
The CDC says that between 1999 and 2010, Black children ages 5-19 drowned in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of Whites. “This disparity is greatest among those 11-12 years where African Americans drown in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of whites,” the report says.
According to the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis, nearly 70 percent of African-Americans can’t swim.
Sawyer is currently working to send letters to the mayors of Salida and Fort Morgan, asking them to join a national effort to ban the posters from pools around the country.