Futility of “Colorblindness”: Red Cross Poster Associated Negative Connotations to Nonwhite Characters; Mere “Apology” Insufficient

The Washington Post reported on the following story. A user of a pool looked at an American Red Cross poster and felt uncomfortable because the characters that displayed the so-called uncool pool behaviors were generally nonwhite. The posters were created by the American Red Cross and distributed. Seemingly, throughout the process, no one noticed this particular issue.

American Red Cross former pool safety poster; photo of poster taken by Margaret Sawyer

The response from the Red Cross was unsurprising, denying racial “intent” and promising to correct the situation. However, the situation is not overt discrimination but the formation of mental negative connotations and then representing those negative ideas with nonwhite characters or people.

A quote from Reverend Thomas Merton’s book, “Seeds of Destruction” (Letters to a White Liberal), page 19-20, demonstrates the weakness of reliance on claims of lack of “intent”:

We have been willing to grant the Negro rights on paper, even in the South. But the laws have been framed in such a way that in every case their execution has depended on the good will of white society, and the white man has not failed, when left to himself, to block, obstruct, or simply forget the necessary action without which the rights of the Negro cannot be enjoyed in fact. Hence, when laws have been passed, then contested, dragged through all of the courts, and finally upheld, the Negro is still in no position to benefit by them without, in each case, entering into further interminable lawsuits every time he wants to exercise a right guaranteed to him by law.

(Note: Emphasis, above (in bold), the blog author’s.)

A mere “apology” is insufficient to address this issue. The negative associations in the poster (and elsewhere in the culture of the United States) will have to be unearthed, raised to the sunlight, examined, and dealt with totally. As seen with Antonin Scalia (1936-2016), the United States’ cultural practices need much attention and correction in order to be truly inclusive of all people.

The work of Jane Elliott is a good start to begin the inquiry.