Stop Spreading Negative Stereotypes about Black People Swimming
June 26, 2016
National Red Cross
American Red Cross National Headquarters
2025 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
There is a Red Cross water safety poster hanging in public pools that depicts Black children in a negative light. Black Kids Swim and other concerned citizens want these posters taken down immediately and we want the Red Cross to ensure this never happens again.
The poster shows children doing "cool" and "not cool" activities around a pool. All but one of the "not cool" children are Black. Have you considered how these images have impacted Black children and families? Will images like this encourage people of color to swim? Will these posters welcome a population (70% of whom cannot swim) to the pool?
African Americans' relationship to swimming as both a recreational activity and a competitive sport has been negatively affected by segregation and violent exclusion. The Red Cross water safety poster is building on this unfortunate past and extending negative stereotypes.
We are writing to express our dismay at the racial dynamics portrayed in your “Be Cool, Follow the Rules” swim education campaign and video. In both the poster and the video, the children labeled as “not cool” (i.e. breaking the rules) appear to be African American or Latino, while all of the children marked as “cool” (behaving well) are all white.
This educational series reflects a serious lapse of judgment that we believe is harmful for young people. 70% of African Americans and 60% of Latino Americans cannot swim. Your poster extends existing negative stereotypes and further discourages people of color from participating in swim activities. We call upon the American Red Cross, as a federally-chartered non-profit organization, to portray American values of equality and inclusion in you educational materials.
We are a nationwide group of concerned citizens and organizations. The Not Cool poster first came to our attention when we saw the poster hanging in multiple public pools across the country. We believe these posters perpetuate America’s long history of racist stereotypes and discriminatory pool policies, and we believe it is of the utmost importance that the Red Cross address this issue in a timely manner, in the following ways:
1) Please fully remove all links to both the “Be Cool” poster and video from your website.
2) We note the apology delivered to NBCBLK and ask that you work diligently to ensure all remaining posters are taken down. Please send a letter to all Red Cross affiliated public pools, publicly acknowledging this error and requesting that they remove their “Be Cool” materials immediately. We wish to publicly thank both the Salida, CO and Fort Mason, CO public pools for already taking this steup.
3) Please recreate the safety materials and redistribute as needed.
4) We note that William Fortune, Regional Communications Specialist for the Red Cross stated that the Red Cross currently evaluates public materials with "several layers of scrutiny before production" (9news.com); and ask that Red Cross hire more diverse executive leadership that includes people of color and African Americans to improve the evaluation process of future materials.
5) We request that the Red Cross build collaborations with organizations who actively work to promote diversity in swimming, including specifically Black Kids Swim and Diversity in Aquatics.
6) Finally, we ask that you perform an organization-wide review of how the Red Cross can best provide industry-wide leadership in combating racism in America’s public safety realms.
Swimming pools are uniquely symbolic in American race relations. Throughout U.S. history and until quite recently, many swimming pools enforced segregation and prevented African Americans from swimming in pools and safe open water locations. We ask that the Red Cross use its position of respect to take a strong leadership position in creating images that show children of color in a positive relationship to swimming and other recreational activities. This is an important step in the process of ending racism in swimming. We believe your leadership in promoting the benefits of diversity and overcoming errors in judgment will inspire other organizations to do the same.
Please contact Black Kids Swim to share the Red Cross' plans for recalling all distributed posters and creating positive images to replace the existing poster.
We look forward to further communication and collaboration.
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