If there’s a chance people could get offended by your materials, think twice before publishing.
The Red Cross learned this lesson after pool-safety materials displayed in multiple facilities sparked outrage online.
The poster in question, called “Be Cool, Follow the Rules,” shows children of different races playing together in a pool. The white children are shown diving and swimming, activities deemed “cool.” The children of color are pushing, running, and carrying beverages—and are labeled “not cool.”
Backlash grew after a Twitter user—who complained to a lifeguard and management of the facility where she saw the poster—shared a picture online and called it ‘super racist’:
— John Sawyer (@JSawyer330) June 21, 2016
Others quickly piled on with criticism of their own:
— Emmy Betz (@EmmyBetz) June 21, 2016
— Maria Wich-Vila (@mariawv) June 21, 2016
— Liz Spann (@ElegantGoose) June 21, 2016
Red Cross’ social media team assured individual Twitter users that the poster was being removed:
@EmmyBetz Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’re removing this from our site immediately & are creating new materials.
— American Red Cross (@RedCross) June 21, 2016
The organization also issued a statement apologizing for the poster and said it would seek advice with a “diversity advocacy organization” for future materials:
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.
To this end, we have removed the poster from our website and Swim App and have discontinued production. We have notified all of our partner aquatic facilities requesting they take down the poster. Our organization has emphasized to our partners and on social media that it was absolutely not our intent to offend anyone and apologized for this inadvertent action. We are currently in the process of completing a formal agreement with a diversity advocacy organization for their guidance moving forward.
For more than 100 years, part of the Red Cross mission has been to help everyone be safe in, on and around the water. Countless lives have been saved with our water safety educational and aquatics programs. In order to further support our mission and dedication to inclusion, we launched our Aquatics Centennial Campaign (www.redcross.org/centennialswim) in 2014. We are working to reduce the drowning rate in 50 high-risk communities over a 5-year period by helping to teach at least 50,000 more children and adults to swim. With this campaign, we are focusing on areas with higher-than-average drowning rates and participants who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to take swim lessons.
Once again, we apologize for any inadvertent misunderstanding with regard to the production of this poster, and believe we have taken every step to address the situation.
How would you rate The Red Cross’ mea culpa, Ragan readers? What would you advise differently?