Mansfield: Small Victories

A few months back I asked friends and loyal readers to join with me in an attempt to convince Lee Valley, a catalog company that sells gardening equipment, to include persons of color. In every other respect it was a very fine catalog with lots of neat items… the only thing was, all of the models were white. The response from you guys who sent emails to the company expressing your outrage was overwhelming, very gratifying… and also effective. [See “Thoughts of Spring” here]

When I raised the issue to the owner of the company, Robin Lee, we went back and forth quite a bit via email, but in the end fairness prevailed and you can go to this link and see for yourself: See the catalog here. Click on “June 2010 Supplement.” Individuals of all races and skin color are now included in the new catalog.

A small victory for fairness, but to me it was a big step forward. 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.

After a few emails I was convinced that Lee was the furthest thing from a bigot, it simply was an oversight on his part, and one that he eventually saw fit to correct, albeit begrudgingly.

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.

His logic went something like: “Since I’m not a bigot, and have never given much thought to who appears in the catalog, why should I now change and make an effort to be inclusive?” I think that he must have been feeling that, for him to make a change and include minorities would be an admission to some sort of guilt for not including them before.

I ended our initial email correspondence simply by saying that I knew that he would have a change of heart. How did I know? He 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. Sociologist E. Franklin Frazier (no relation), when asked why we Americans struggled so much with race relations, and if he thought that we can solve them, said “No, we’re too dumb.” I pray that he is wrong.

Diversity, inclusion, justice and fairness are all important, and, as other nations attempt to supplant America as world leader we simply have to work harder to correct all of our flaws, so that we are not hobbled in the global financial race. And correcting our faults starts with a correcting bunch of little things … like images in a catalog. I applaud Robin Lee for being inclusive, and I thank all of you who brought the matter to his attention. Now I can buy some of the real cool stuff out of the Lee Valley catalog.

From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting

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4 Responses to “Mansfield: Small Victories”

  1. Lynne

    I think picturing all races in the catalog also promotes that gardening is for all races

  2. Bravo to you! This shows the power of a single voice to effect important change. Thank you!

  3. Carrie Buchanan

    I posted your column on my Facebook site because I’m originally from Ottawa, Canada, where Lee Valley is headquartered. It has already been picked up by some friends, and all the comments commend you, Mansfield Frazier, for your patient, understanding yet firm approach. As you say, many race-related problems stem simply from a lack of consideration. You have made Lee Valley consider this issue!

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