by Kyle Swenson
Over on CoolCleveland, local writer Mansfield B. Frazier’s work is always a good read. He typically uses his column inches to toss a spotlight on blindspots in local race relations, and this week Frazier celebrates a minor victory in the long slog toward justice for all.
Back in spring, gardening fan Frazier sat down with a hot-off-the-press copy of the new catalog from Lee Valley, a high quality Canadian gardening tool retailer. But before long, Frazier realized the magazine was way too lily-white for his tastes; page after glossy page featured bucolic scenes of backyard bliss, but none of the catalog’s models were people of color.
“Oh, wait! Could those two fingers in the photo on page 167 be those of Manny Sosa, or some other person who used to be black?” Frazier wrote at the time. “Nah, I was just hoping.”
Wielding the power of the pen, Frazier encouraged his readers to either write the company to ask for a model pool more reflective of reality, or to simply not buy from the firm.
It appears Frazier’s pressure did the trick. According to his column this week, the June 2010 Lee Valley catalog features “individuals of all races and skin color.” It turns out Frazier had an extensive email correspondence about his concerns with Robin Lee, the company’s president.
Lee’s company, according to him (and I have every reason to believe him), employs people in a non-discriminatory manner. He informed me that he has minorities, gays, and handicapped employees. Indeed, he felt that he was such a fair-minded employer that when I raised the question regarding the absence of minorities in his catalog he was offended and dead-set against making any changes.
Although the company initially shot down the idea, Frazier writes he was confident they would change their tune eventually.
[Lee] was simply too bright not to “get it” once he got past his anger over his misperception that I was accusing him of being something he was not. Intelligence, I knew, was on my side. Simply good business practices were also in my favor; most of the big national catalogs are diverse in terms of the models they use.
In America I think most of our race-related problems stem from a lack of consideration … we just don’t think about things and their ramifications sometimes.
Frazier writes that the new catalogue may be a “small victory,” but still represents a “big step forward” in correcting racial bias. “As a society we simply have to speak up and address issues of lack of diversity, inclusion, and fairness whenever we are confronted with them.”
Now we can all go back to ogling cheesecake shots of pruning sheers and gardening hoes with a clean conscious.